Those of Us Who Know the Least Often Unleash Dark Side on Competition
We are almost a week away from an impressive Masters tournament, in which a good share of the greatest golfers each had a shot at it, and came up short. This was due to Patrick Reed’s nerves of steel and gifted shot-making under pressure. As an international gallery of spectators, we continue to air our personal slants on the tournament, and the fallout we have produced is still coming. For a lifetime, I have watched as fan likes and dislikes, some based on rivalries on the field or court or course, have been taken far beyond whatever is going on in the sport or game. From the 1950s into the 21st century, we have turned the great competitors into good guys and bad guys, paralleling Roy Rogers and Star Wars. Visit many of the golf chat rooms, and brace yourself to be appalled. On the course, great competition usually breeds mutual respect, even if some players don’t click with one another. Among the fans who need a white hat-black hat scenario, it often goes the other way, far the other way.
When Jack Nicklaus began his rivalry with Arnold Palmer, we thought we were witnessing the prototype for Darth Vader. Despite the absence of internet, people said and printed some of the most disgusting tripe imaginable about the new intruder. Fast forward a few years, and you see two friends and rivals serving as pillars of the game’s greatness. If they had any tense moments together, those instances were vastly magnified and stigmatized by us, the spectators who know less about the reality than anyone. But, we needed our heroes and villains, so we created them out of the available headlines. Half a century later, the sentiments and use of language are worse, directed at people we have never met, and who play a game at a level we will never reach. There’s nothing like a chat room for anonymous venom, a sort of perverse competition in itself.
Among the milder epithets to come out of this year’s Masters was the description of Tiger Woods as “a sad old man” for failing to reach contention. Some young people have such a skewed view of what age represents in every decade along the way that to reach 40 means wheelchairs, canes, and film over the eyes, not victories. Older people often harbor a similarly grotesque view of youth. Generational insults over the players of different eras is more than rough in the chat rooms. Fans wax ignorantly and brutally eloquent on the dynamic of Rory, Jordan and Jason with semantics and sinister depictions none of these players would ever heap upon the other. For these anonymous cowards, the 2018 Masters has created a new object of scorn in Patrick Reed. “Well, I don’t like him…don’t know why…just don’t.” Then there’s “Well, in 1988 he said or did such and such.” This sentiment was obtained from a source so far removed from a primary one that if it were a golf shot, we would never find the ball. It goes on and on. Since we don’t really know anything about the individuals on tour, some of our darker impulses tend to write a script to fit the situation, one that makes us feel good. In turn, that takes us farther away from healthy competition, and sours the enjoyment we may glean from seeing the game played brilliantly.
Like most fans, I have players that I root for. None of us can entirely avoid natural reflexive preferences. However, the type of abuse we see from time to time represents a painfully obvious mirror. Held up by the abuser, his or her self-reflections are put on those they see as living with the wrong family situation, bad politics or religion, bad fashion sense or an off-putting personal style. When passion takes us too far, we need to remind ourselves at regular intervals that we’re here for the golf, and that the human expression of it is endlessly varied and fascinating. The tour is not Jerry Springer TV, it’s high-level competition. Arnold and Jack played some pretty exciting rounds for our enjoyment. Tiger blitzed the golf world like a tsunami – there;s nothing old or sad about him in the sense the abusers intend it. And for all we know, Patrick Reed and his impressive game will be the tour’s warm fuzzy twenty years from now.