No Panty-waists Allowed 

At the Colonial, Vijay won’t be missed

At the Colonial, Vijay won’t be missed

I thought I had this whole Vijay Singh deal ciphered out, and then I had to start over. Circumstances forced me to change my opinion of the fellow. Because my mother always said you should give folks the benefit of the doubt, I initially had thought that Vijay couldn’t really be as Cro-Magnon as he sounded in his rants that Annika Sorenstam should be barred from competing against the boys in this week’s Colonial Tournament. Now it looks like I was wrong. After his surprising announcement that he was withdrawing from the Colonial, it looks like Vijay is not only a rank chauvinist, but a wuss to boot.

The way I had it figured, Vijay’s anti-Sorenstam sound bites—he expressed hope she wouldn’t make the cut and pouted that he wouldn’t play if they paired him with her—were all part of some carefully orchestrated ratings stunt. CBS and the USA Network got Vijay to denounce Annika and then quietly wrote him a check for a million dollars.

For the network boys, it would’ve been worth every penny and then some. The Colonial, after all, ain’t Augusta or Pebble Beach. Tiger is skipping the event, which has roughly the same effect on TV ratings as a report claiming that Alan Greenspan has an inoperable brain tumor would have on the Dow.

This way, everybody and his dog (and her dog) would be watching the Colonial to see whether Annika could hang with the Tigerless guys in general and could smoke Vijay in particular. Better still for the network, the viewers wouldn’t just be watching on Saturday and Sunday. They’d tune in to USA on Thursday and Friday, too, to see if Annika could make the cut, or if she would cut Vijay, or if Vijay would get behind Annika’s foursome and ask to play through.

The TV Geniuses, it seemed, couldn’t have been this lucky. Outside of Vegas, it’s un-American to believe in such extraordinary luck when a conspiracy theory sounds just as plausible. I was going with the conspiracy. To whip up the viewership, the network brilliantly imported a little of the smackdown ambience of Monday Nite Nitro, and, boy, they could have had a wang-dang-doodle.

It would be even more fun, of course, were the networks to carry this idea to its logical conclusion. Like wrestlers, pro golfers could develop good-guy and bad-guy personas. Nothing like having a latter-day Tojo Yamamoto on the fairway to get the gallery stoked. Let Vijay or Fuzzy Zoeller step in front of a microphone before the first round and vow to crush some competitor like a bug.

Anyway, as to Vijay, his motivation in all this—if you were giving him the benefit of the doubt, at least—was pretty easy to figure. Like any red-blooded Indian-Fijian-American, he was in it for the money. Annika was going to play in the Colonial regardless of what he said or did. So he might as well get a seven-figure payday from the networks out of the deal. Besides, he’d be helping to boost ratings for the sport, and fueling the kind of excitement we haven’t had since Bobby Riggs was talking trash about Billie Jean King. My theory seemed so neat and clean you could tie it up with a bow.

Then, suddenly, Vijay burst my bubble big-time. Now he’s going to skip the Colonial. He’s going to take the first-place money he won last weekend and go home. He said he was tired of answering questions about Annika. Nobody wanted to ask about his own game. (True enough, but that was no one’s fault but his.) He said he needed a break after playing for four straight weekends. Well, wa-a-ah.

It would be one thing had Vijay never said a word about Annika in the first place. Her presence this weekend will cause a media frenzy. (It already has.) He could have cited the inevitable distraction as a reason for skipping, and no one could gainsay him.

But Vijay didn’t do that. Yeah, he asked for a mulligan on one of his inflammatory statements, but his overall sentiments remained clear. Worse, he threw down the gauntlet, then threw down his clubs. He started this mess and wouldn’t finish. At least Bobby Riggs took his whuppin’ like a man.

Of course, I can’t quite dope out why Vijay—or the many other boys who agreed with him but had the sense to keep quiet—were bothered by Annika’s participation in the first place.

Golfers have always prided themselves in being part of the most gentlemanly sport. It’s the only game (other than Ultimate Frisbee, of course) that has its own code of honor. So you’d think that most of the boys on the PGA Tour would have chivalrously welcomed an eager challenger—particularly one who was competing at a disadvantage.

The relatively short Colonial course will certainly reduce that disadvantage. Still, hardly anyone but Annika imagines she has a fiddler’s chance of winning in Fort Worth. A lot of golf watchers think she’ll be lucky to survive the cut against the bigger, longer-driving males. If she’s even remotely in the running on Sunday, or even manages par for four days, her achievement will be hailed as a miracle of biblical proportion.

Not even Babe Didrikson Zaharias, perhaps the greatest all-around female athlete ever—and the last woman to play in a PGA event, nearly 60 years ago—ever managed a round better than 76 from the championship tee. Even so, she still beat a whole slew of the boys.

Maybe this is the real issue for Vijay and his buds. They’re afraid they might lose to a—bwok! bwok! bwo-ok!—female. Just as I’ve always suspected that the noisiest gay-bashers were the men least secure about their own sexuality, you have to wonder whether golf’s gender segregationists aren’t just a bunch of little weenies.

Or maybe it’s just that Vijay’s mother never read him any of the Berenstain Bears books. (Perhaps Annika could donate a set to the main library in Fiji’s capital, Suva.) Most of the rest of us learned a long time ago that it’s perfectly OK to play with girls.

Happily, not all the boys share Vijay’s sentiments. Tiger, who has often been criticized for not speaking up for the idea of female members at Augusta National, spoke up this time on behalf of his friend Annika. Speaking of Augusta, does anyone really doubt that old chauvinist swine, Hootie Johnson, would have sportingly allowed Annika to compete in a tournament on his course?

Hootie, who has seen a lot better golfers than Vijay Singh over the years, knows that Annika’s bid is no mere publicity stunt. A forgotten old hustler like Bobby Riggs needs publicity. Sorenstam doesn’t.

Annika is a competitor without real peers in her own field. From here, her entry in a PGA event looks like a champion seeking to find out how good she can really be.

And maybe she won’t find out just for herself. More like her may be coming. Michelle Wie, a 13-year-old who has competed in a handful of LPGA events, can already drive a ball almost 300 yards—effectively closing golf’s one gender gap.

In contrast to football or basketball, physical size is not necessarily determinative in golf. Nor is it a contact sport with opportunities for inappropriate touching. If women are good enough to qualify for men’s events, I say let ’em play. Integrate the game. Real gamers should welcome them.

I agree with Vijay on one thing. No pantywaists should be allowed in a PGA tournament. That’s why it’s good he’s staying home.

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