June 9, 2008

The Great Divide

There's three sides to every story... Your's, mine and the writer's

"There is an old saying that it's never smart to argue with someone who buys ink by the barrel"

Apparently, on the other side of the pond, there has been a great hullabaloo over Peter Alliss making disparaging remarks about a few players in places other than the local pub. He didn't exactly call them witless dopes on air, but it seems as though some of them took it that way. Then, a writer described the 77-year-old Alliss as an "Edwardian pot-plant." And that was in his defense. Just because Alliss played back in the days when you actually had to control the golf ball and think your way around a course, we shouldn't think any less of him.

There's nothing wrong with thinking poorly of the chattering class, however. There really isn't much to like, when you get down to it. Two of the best writers I know in all of golf have sets of hands too delicate for cross-stitch, much less ripping a ball out of six-inch rough. By comparison, Arnold Palmer's hands look like two of Smoky Burgess' catcher's mitts.

With the exception of a couple of TV guys who made the mistake of squandering their youth winning championships instead of making sure their hair was perfect -- a craft they have diligently developed in their later years, along with new personalities -- not a one of us can play a lick, even the ones who think they can. No, especially the ones who think they can. We are uniquely qualified to identify a choking dog because we are it.

The uneasy relationship between those who do and those who watch is long-running, contentious and often hilarious since both take themselves too seriously. But the truth is, we wouldn't cut Pheidippides a break after the Battle of Marathon much less Nick Dougherty in the Stella Artois Four-Ball. There is an old saying that it's never smart to argue with someone who buys ink by the barrel. (If anyone remembers what a newspaper is, explain it to the bloggers.) On the other hand, we wretches are not immune.

Tommy Bolt, on the way to winning the 1958 U.S. Open at Southern Hills, upbraided the local reporter of the Tulsa World for printing his age incorrectly as 49. The writer demurred, explaining to Thunder it was an innocent enough mistake, a mere typographical error. Though his response has no doubt been embellished over the decades, in its most vituperative rendition, Bolt is supposed to have replied to the poor scribe, "Typo my [bleep]. It was a perfect [bleeping] four and a perfect [bleeping] nine."

We get to make mistakes. If they make mistakes, they're down the road or, in the modern vernacular, up the Learjet. That's also why they get courtesy cars, and we park in East Gopher Hole.

This dichotomy between the reviewer and the reviewed spans all human endeavors where someone stands up in front of someone else and does something better than the rest of us, be it golf or theater. P.G. Wodehouse once said, "Has anybody ever seen a dramatic critic in the daytime? Of course not. They come out after dark, up to no good."

This week there will be much wailing about the conditions at Torrey Pines. That wailing will give us a wonderful opportunity to be critics. What are the chances we'll take a pass on that, and when we don't, what are the chances they'll like it? Nonetheless, the show must go on and, for better or worse, we're both part of it.