My son and I were having lunch at the Slippery Noodle a couple of days ago when our discussion turned to Tiger Woods. No, we didn’t discuss his philandering. The ramifications of his marital fidelity should be between his wife and him.
Both of us agreed, however, that the decision by the Associated Press to name Woods as Athlete of the Decade was quite a reach. Personally, my choice would be for Peyton Manning. Yes, I live in Indianapolis and am biased that way, but come on, Tiger Woods, really?
First of all, I will stipulate that Woods is probably one of the greatest professional golfers of all time. He personally has brought golf into the public limelight more than any of his contemporaries and probably more than any of the historical golf champions, including Arnold Palmer. That said, we’re talking about golf, not tennis, not football, not even pole vaulting, but golf. Are golfers really athletes?
I personally do not play golf, except occasionally on Wii. And I do not wish to disparage anyone who does play the game. All I’m saying is that it is a game, not a sport and its participants are not athletes.
I know; maybe I’m getting caught up in semantics. But I don’t think so. Let’s take a look at what an athlete is and what a gamer is, shall we?
An athlete has to be in top physical condition. A gamer might be in top physical condition, but it’s not really necessary. When an athlete competes, his normal pulse rate increases to at least 120 beats per minute during the peak of his physical exertion while playing his sport. A gamer can play just fine with a pulse rate of less than 100.
And then there are the differences between sports and games. Sports require athletic prowess. Games do not. An 80 year old man with a pot belly can play golf if he is in reasonable health. I’d like to see him play four quarters of football.
Most sports also have another factor. They have an opponent trying his or her best to stop you from reaching your goal. Team sports have the opposing team members. Tennis has the person on the other side of the net trying to return the ball where you can’t reach it. But golf has no external opposing forces, at least none caused by those against whom you are playing.
In that sense, golf belongs in the same category of physical games as bowling and billiards. Sure, you have opponent players, but none of them are allowed to disturb your play. While playing pool, your opponent is not allowed to grab your stick while you’re making a shot. You bowling opponent shouldn’t scream in your ear while you’re sighting your ball. And in golf, your opponent is not allowed to even make noise, let alone do something as drastic as knock the ball off course while it is heading for the hole.
Compare that to a true competitive sport such as basketball, where opposing players are definitely allowed to knock the ball out of your hand or steal it away from you. Even in a sport as mild as baseball, the pitcher tries his best to pitch you a ball that you can’t hit, and the outfielders grab the ball out of the air so you can’t advance bases.
While it’s true that sports such as downhill skiing or pole vaulting do not have rival forces working against them either, competitors are still considered athletes because they would be unable to compete if they were not in top physical condition. And participating in those sports still requires strenuous physical exertion. Not so with golf.
I can’t imagine the AP announcing a top-rated bowler or billiards champion as athlete of the year. And if they did, I would probably be writing this blog complaining about who they plan to honor with that title next – a golfer maybe?