Golf’s colour line

The golfer, Eldrick “Tiger” Woods is back in the news, after winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational tournament on the Professional Golf Association (PGA) tour. This was his first PGA tour victory in 2-1/2 years. In that period of time, Woods has been in the news, not for his golf, but for his personal life. He is not the first successful PGA professional to from time to time have his personal life trump his golf game. John Daly comes to mind. But Daly is white, and Woods is black. The different colour of their skin has resulted in their personal “indiscretions” being treated by completely different standards.

Many of us have become familiar with Woods’ issues. While married, he had several relationships with women other than his wife. When this came to light in the press, his golf game fell apart. Ultimately, he and his wife separated and are now divorced. But let’s emphasize a few things. There was never an allegation of sexual violence in this story. He never faced criminal charges. The only charge he received was for careless driving (Schneider, 2009).

However, for his sins, Woods became one of the most ridiculed public figures in North America. Coverage of his marital difficulties made the front page of the mass circulation New York Post for 20 consecutive days, more front-page coverage than that paper devoted to any other story in its history, including the attack on the twin towers September 1, 2001. Lest you think that was just rude Yankee journalism at work, in polite old Canada, the mass circulation Toronto Sun devoted a front page to Woods’ face behind the highly suggestive headline – all in capital letters – “NO BALLS” (Kellogg, 2011).

Now, for just a minute, focus on the story of that other professional golfer whose marital difficulties went public. In December 1992, John Daly was charged with third-degree assault on his second wife “after allegedly hurling … [her] against a wall, pulling her hair and trashing the house”. During their investigation, “Sheriff’s officers found broken glass all over the home, smashed pictures on the floor, windows broken, a big-screen television pushed over, broken liquor bottles on the floor, two large holes in the basement wall and blood splattered on a wall in the basement”. Daly was charged, not with careless driving, but with third-degree assault. He eventually pleaded guilty to a charge of misdemeanor harassment, and received two years’ probation including entry into a domestic-violence treatment program (AP, 1992; Markus, 1993; Nelson, 1994).

How is Daly covered in the press? One headline tells us that: “Unpredictable Daly is still endearing”. We encounter that adjective again in a review of his autobiographical, My Life In & Out of the Rough – the book had an almost “endearing effect because it is so real and unpretentious”. In 2005, Daly was called a golfer for the working class”. In May 2007 he was “a big favourite on the PGA Tour” (Daifallah, 2006; Daly & Waggoner, 2006; Ferguson, 2007; Rubenstein, 2004).

Then in June 2007 Daly’s fourth wife sought a restraining order against him because of what she described as a sexual assault by her drunken husband (The Ottawa Citizen, 2007). The New York Post didn’t devote 20 consecutive front covers to the issue. The Toronto Sun didn’t do a front-page headline with Daly’s face behind a headline saying “STOP VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN”. One year after this second charge of domestic violence, he was affectionately referred to as that “big lug” (Miller, 2008).

The black man marries a white woman, and then has some intimate relations with other women. He is reviled. The white man is twice charged with violence against a spouse. He is a big, endearing, working class lug. The double standard is sickening.

Golf is a white man’s game. It was only November, 1961, that the PGA took out its “Caucasian-only” clause (Rubenstein, 1992). The signature event of the PGA tour is the offensively named “Masters.” Why offensive? Well, just think for a minute about the history of master and slave which so defiles Augusta Georgia, the venue for this tournament. Until Lee Elder was allowed to compete in 1975, no black man had ever been allowed in the event. “Until 1982, to get on the course at all as a black man, you had to be a caddy. In fact, until 1982 – when for the first time PGA tour golfers were allowed to bring their regular caddies – every caddy on the Masters course was black” (Kellogg, 2011).

You have to know this history of systemic racism to understand the ridiculous amount of attention paid to Woods’ personal life, to understand the contempt heaped on his head by the press in both the U.S. and Canada. In this white man’s game, the world’s best golfer has the wrong colour of skin.

And Tiger Woods is without question the best golfer of his generation, maybe of all time. Four tournaments are considered “majors.” The great Jack Nicklaus won 18 of those, more than any other golfer. Woods has won 14. Of currently active players, the next on the list is Phil Mickelson – with four (4). In total, Woods has won 72 times on the PGA tour, trailing only Jack Nicklaus (73) and Sam Snead (82). Again, of currently active players, it is Mickelson who is next to Woods – 32 wins behind with 40 (Kelley, 2012a, 2012b).

The greatest golfer ever to come out of Canada, Mike Weir, has won eight times on the PGA tour, putting him in a multi-player tie for spot number 119 on the all-time PGA tour winners’ list. So dominant is Woods, that if you only counted one tournament – the Arnold Palmer Invitational with which we opened this story – he would sit just one spot behind Weir, because Woods has won that single tournament seven (7) times.

The formerly whites-only Masters is teeing off in a few weeks. With Woods rounding back into form, it is likely that the leaderboard will have just a little bit of colour on it. We can’t expect 20 pages of front-page coverage about this from the New York Post. But perhaps the paper will be endeared by Woods’ return to golf’s elite. Perhaps the Toronto Sun will run that headline condemning violence against women.

Or perhaps we will still be faced with the task of building social movements to challenge both systemic racism and systemic sexism.

© 2012 Paul Kellogg

References

AP. (1992, December 26). Daly hit with assault; He “just lost it,” accusing wife says. The Gazette, p. F6. Montreal.

Daifallah, A. (2006, June 10). Life lessons from the fairway: John Daly lets loose; a son shares famous dad’s wisdom. The Gazette, p. J10. Montreal.

Daly, J., & Waggoner, G. (2006). My Life in and out of the Rough: The Truth Behind All That Bull**** You Think You Know About Me (1ST ed.). Harper.

Ferguson, D. (2007, May 23). Keeping ’em guessing; John Daly show still remains a big favourite on the PGA Tour. The Spectator, p. SP16. Hamilton.

Kelley, B. (2012a). Men’s Majors – Most Victories. About.com Golf. Retrieved from http://golf.about.com/cs/historyofgolf/a/menmajorwins.htm

Kelley, B. (2012b). Most Career Wins on the PGA Tour. About.com Golf. Retrieved from http://golf.about.com/cs/historyofgolf/a/pgatourcareerw.htm

Kellogg, P. (2011, March 11). Focus on Tiger Woods – The Issue is Racism. PolEcon.net. Analysis and commentary with a political economy slant. Retrieved March 26, 2012, from http://www.polecon.net/2011/03/focus-on-tiger-woods-issue-is-racism.html

Markus, D. (1993, May 20). Charisma, controversy characterize Long John Daly on and off tour. The Vancouver Sun, p. D10.

Miller, R. (2008, August 6). Fans still drawn to the big lug, er, John Daly. The Spectator, p. SP.16. Hamilton.

Nelson, M. B. (1994, June 23). Jock violence hits home. The Globe and Mail, p. A.19.

Rubenstein, L. (1992, August 25). GOLF As plain as black and white Racism remains 30 years after PGA removal of a whites-only clause. The Globe and Mail, p. D.12.

Rubenstein, L. (2004, February 18). Unpredictable Daly is still endearing. The Globe and Mail, p. S.2.

Schneider, M. (2009, December 2). Tiger won’t face criminal charges; Only $164 fine for careless driving. The Spectator, p. SP.5. Hamilton.

The Ottawa Citizen. (2007, June 13). Daly denies wife’s claim of sexual assault. The Ottawa Citizen, p. B3.

2 thoughts on “Golf’s colour line”

  1. What about the construction of masculinity? One of the reasons why Woods became so rediculed was the image of him being chased down his driveway by a golf club wielding woman (his wife).Daly was violent towards women, while Woods was (possibly) the victim of violence.

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