Sunday, May 09, 2010

THOUGHTS ON SPORTLAND ESOTERICA: Golf, Baseball, Drugs and the Long Putter.

Now that South African Tim Clark has won the Players Championship, the unofficial fifth major in professional golf, it is time to revisit the legality of the long putter. For the uninitiated, the user of the long putter grounds the club to his body placing his top hand over the hub of the club so it does not directly touch his chest or stomach as the case may be. As any golfer knows the long putter is the last resort for a player who has lost his putting touch. In an age when performance-enhancing drugs are the ultimate stain on an athlete’s reputation this performance enhancing technique is merely frowned upon.

Golf should save itself the embarrassment of a player winning one of the real majors using the grounded putter before it happens. It is as much an affront to the game of golf as the aluminum bat is to the game of baseball. Like the square grooved wedge it should be banned. No exceptions.

Speaking of golf, the demise of Tiger Woods has been dramatic. A year ago Tiger’s march to overtake the record of the Golden Bear Jack Nicklaus seemed certain. Now it is anything but. Given back-to-back poor showings and his withdrawal during the final round of the Players Championship with what may be a spinal injury, a host of new questions suddenly come into play.

Tiger Woods is beginning to fit the profile of an athlete who has used performance-enhancing drugs (steroids or human growth hormones). Typically, the user of these substances has an explosion in performance followed by a sudden and dramatic decline. They tend to have egos the size of Kilimanjaro, confidence bordering on megalomania, extreme difficulty controlling their emotions and their private lives are often prone to train wrecks. Typically, after several years of exceptional performance, their bodies begin to break down. Witness Ken Caminiti, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Mark McGuire, Roger Clemens, on and on.

It is fair to say that the enhancing portion of these drugs is short term and the long term is debilitating.

As a fan of the game I bear no ill will toward any of its players – certainly not the exceptional athletes that have fallen to the temptation of drug enhancement. The corporate sponsors of the game love and reward them as they rise and blame them as they fall. No one can doubt the exceptional talents of these athletes or the tremendous pressures they are under to boost their production.

The thing is: In the long run, the payback is far too severe.

Keep the game pure. If it seems unfair or offends the senses it should be banned. No penalties. No condemnations. No prosecutions or incriminations.

Just protect the game and keep it real.

One additional thought: For those still looking for role models in sports (a dubious practice) look no further than Steve Nash and Los Suns of Phoenix. Staging a protest of their state's unconscionably discriminatory anti-immigrant law was not only appropriate but socially responsible.


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