Charisma on Tour – Who Has It?

Where is the Charisma of the Old Days? 

It’s interesting to see 1950s television devotees speak of the good old days. It was a time when we could immediately tell the difference between the black hats and the white hats. Heroes and villains had no sub-motives or parallel plot lines. It was ‘rob the bank’ or ‘stop the guy robbing the bank.’ For us, as little kids, golf was a little bit the same way, although the good guy and bad guy would switch places in our brains here there through the years. We loved our superficial perception of these men and women, whether they were even close to the truth of this or that individual. They had charisma, and if they didn’t, we gave it to them anyway. But, who are these modern Sunday afternoon matinee idols that play such great golf in the modern age? I couldn’t possibly tell you.

Pebble Beach, California: 1950.
Babe Didrikson Zaharias pays homage to the golf gods at the Weathervane tournament. Pebble Beach, California: 1950.
(Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)

No one from either tour has dueled with the air, with the putter of course, the way Chi-Chi Rodriguez did, or put his hat over the hole to keep the ball in. No one could play a round with a goofy swing like Lee Trevino’s, win the tournament, and crack the best five jokes about it standing in the winner’s circle. For charisma, these guys were pure gold. A great somber cloud hung over the green when Gary Player and his Einsteinian level of concentration appeared on the fairway.  One might have thought he was Montgomery hitting the beaches. Arnold Palmer was pretty much the same thing to golf as Elvis Presley was to…almost everything else. Over on the women’s side, the generation before mine had Babe Didrikson, who sauntered into locker rooms and queried aloud about who wanted to come in second. Patty Berg blew a drive, and during play, turned to quip, “I hit it on the wrong waggle.” The women had charisma as well, lots of individualistic charisma, not the type turned out by conveyor belts. So, what happened, or did anything? Oh no, was it me?
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For me, the PGA is easy to see. I can’t tell you why it changed, but I can see it. In the good old days, Jordan Spieth would have had nicknames, his own brand of cigars, and monikers like Arnie’s Army. Now, he is one of a bunch of clean-cut guys who play great golf. Anyone who does stick out has probably done something rude, or at least unsportsmanlike. For the LPGA, I can’t figure it out There is charisma, but I can’t point to any one person who has a dose of it completely different than anyone else. I’ve been around the LPGA players much more than I have the men, and in a short time, one can sense who the nicest, testiest, and funniest people might be – but it’s not obvious from the gallery. Everyone is concentrating like they should, but I don’t see anyone using humor or natural flair as an aid to good golf. Maybe adult women don’t want to act like little boys, the way PGA people sometimes do. Maybe their distinctive personality traits are more finessed, more subtle. And yet, the tour, as a collective, has a great deal of charisma. I read that Shanshan Feng has a riotous sense of humor, but I don’t get to see it on camera. Michelle Wie was much more approachable than I expected, but she stuck to the business of the question asked. Suzann Pettersen was too scary to approach at all – not her fault, I just felt the vibe that way.

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Maybe the phenomenon is an “old days versus the modern day” thing. There’s so much money at stake that hanging loose is too risky. There’s so much travel and pressure that the time for letting the guard down is shorter than it once was. I guess the game has enough charisma without turning players into heroes and villains, the way we did as kids. Still, I hope that someday, someone will hit it on the wrong waggle, turn to the crowd, and just ‘fess up. That’s charisma.

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