March 8, 2008

Sirak Says: Things I Don't Get

What to write about when all there is to write about is Tiger Woods

The only thing I could think to write about this week was the fact Tiger Woods returns to action on Thursday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, trying to win his fifth consecutive PGA Tour event. Even before I created a file on which to blather my words, my mind was cluttered with visions of the emails I would get from people saying I write about Woods too often. Let's address that issue because, while I sort of understand it, I don't really get it.

Back in the days when the New York Yankees were winning five consecutive World Championships (1949-53) -- and were doing it on Jack Daniels, not steroids -- it was said that rooting for the Yankees was like rooting for U.S. Steel -- so successful they were boring. Now, I understand there are those who actively root against Woods because he wins so often, just as many despised the Yankees for the same reason. I got no problem with that. But the true sports fan -- the true connoisseur of greatness -- has to distinguish between his or her rooting interests and genius.

Tell me you are bored of Tiger winning, but don't tell me what we are witnessing is not one of the greatest athletic performances ever in any sport. Who else has separated himself from his competition as dramatically as Woods? Babe Ruth in the 1920s? Joe Louis in the 1930s and '40s? Sandy Koufax for six remarkable years from 1961-66? Lance Armstrong? Tiger has dominated his competition as completely as anyone. We can't pretend that's not happening. In fact, we should shout it from the rooftop.

Part of the tight rope you walk as a writer is determining to what degree you let the reaction of the readers affect what you write. Mostly, you can't. If I had my choice of words for my tombstone I'd like it to be able to say with at least some degree of honesty: "He was fair, worked hard and mostly got it right." One thing I know I have right is that the quality of play we have seen from Woods for more than a decade deserves to be celebrated.

That said, I will devote only those first 364 words of this column to Woods out of respect to those of you who want something else to read about. The fact I have been bullied out of my instinct for what the news is this week leads me to this: Things I just don't get. Let's use Woods as a way to get into the bit.

• I don't get people who are bored of Tiger winning.

That's like saying you are weary of breathtaking sunsets. Sports fans a century from now will say how much they wished they had seen Woods play, just as there are those of us now who wish we had seen Ruth hit a baseball or Louis hit an opponent.

•__ I don't get athletes who run their mouth and then blame the media for reporting what they said.__

 Have you ever heard Woods say he was misquoted? I can't think of a single occasion. His words are carefully chosen, and when he takes a shot at someone it is completely calculated. Ask Ian Poulter. Others should be so wise. Don't blame me when you don't like the way your words look in print. And especially, don't be less than truthful. That will always bite you in the butt. Ask Pete Rose.

• I don't get reporters who criticize athletes who won't talk and then hammer those who do.

 One of my favorite people to cover is Colin Montgomerie. He's smart and speaks his mind. His reward? To be called "The Goon from Troon," as he was labeled by one magazine. I asked Dave Anderson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer now retired from The New York Times, what it was like to cover Muhammad Ali and Dave said: "When you woke up in the morning you knew if you found Ali you had a story." Monty's like Ali, only not as pretty -- but imminently quotable.

• __I don't get the careless use of the words "greatest ever." __

 Is Tiger the greatest golfer ever? We'll never know. His record builds a strong case that he is one of the most dominant athletes ever, but "greatest ever" is an unproveable assertion since generations can never compete against each other. And sadly, in the TV era in which we live, "greatest ever" has been reduced to mean, "greatest ever whom we just happen to have tape of." In the play "August: Osage County," the writer, Tracy Lett, has a character, speaking about his parents, say: "Greatest generation? Who decided that? No one asked me. How do we know there wasn't a generation in the Iron Age that was pretty good?" You get my point -- and Lett's.

• I don't get country club dress codes.

 Clubs wonder why young people are not supporting clubs and at the same time ask them to dress like Ward and June Cleaver. Just about all of what Natalie Gulbis wears in LPGA events would not be allowed at most private clubs. Clubs can't reach for the money of the young with one hand and reject their lifestyle with the other. Tastes have changed but, like Austin Powers, the boards of most clubs act like they have just stepped out of a cryogenic chamber.

• I don't get TV commentators who read graphics to us.

 When a visual tells us: "John Daly was withdrawn from seven tournaments in barely more than a year" do we need to be told that, "John Daly was withdraw from seven tournaments in barely more than a year?" By the way, aren't the most annoying words to hear during a broadcast these: "This just moments ago?"

• I don't get people who ask how to pronounce Japanese names.

 This may come as a shock, but Japanese names are originally written in Japanese. And the Japanese language does not use the same characters as English. So English versions of Japanese names are approximations of the sound. So Momoko Ueda is pronounced like this: MO-MO-KO OO-EH-DA. I also don't get people whose eyes glaze over when they see a foreign name and make no effort to learn how say it.

• I don't get people who don't think golf is not a sport.

 The best of the best stand 200 yards from a 4½ inch target and are distressed if they don't get the ball within 10 feet. Tell me that is not an athletic accomplishment.

• I don't get "Caddyshack II."

 If "Caddyshack" is the best golf movie ever made, the sequel is the worst.

And I don't get a golf fan who will not be trolling the Internet on Thursday to see how Tiger is doing in the first round at Bay Hill, hoping the guy makes a real run at win number five in a row. I don't get anyone who doesn't get Tiger Woods. Then again, I'm a Pittsburgh Pirate fan, which might lead many to say I just don't get anything.