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Spectator And Participant Sport

Forget all the lessons you took from golf pros. Forget the straight left arm, proper posture, head still, full shoulder turn, pronate, supinate, belt buckle to target, complete follow through, right elbow in pocket and the zillion other things some guy charged you $40 a half hour to remember. Don't ever forget this: All club pros are jerks. All club pros ever think about is what could have been, so it leaves them in a constantly pissed-off mood, and that's why they treat everybody like crap. When they give you a golf lesson, it's because they want your money for that fresh bottle of Jim Beam later. They won't tell you the real secrets of golf. Lesson One: Have someone you respect tell you that you suck in golf. Lesson Two: Pretend you have a dime stuck between your ass cheeks, and you can't let it fall out during the swing. Why, in no time, you'll be a great golfer and can go around acting like a jerk.

We all love golf course rankings, but there's quite a bias involved, huh? Host a major championship and you're basically guaranteed a spot on the list. The average duffer is more impressed with the beer list than the slope/rating - or prefers friendliness over the fine, imported lotion in the locker room? The Pedernales Golf Club in Spicewood, Texas, is owned by Willie Nelson and local rules state: "No more than twelve in your foursome," and "No bikinis, mini-skirts, skimpy see-through, or sexually exploitative attire allowed. Except on women."

The older PGA Tour players had class. You never saw Arnie or Jack swear like a drunken sailor whenever they hit a bad shot. There's another thing Arnie did that the younger tour players should emulate. He shook fans' hands and looked them in the eye while walking between holes. Whether it was true or not, he looked like he was happy to see you. It's a bitch getting old. He'd probably sell his soul and give up his zillion dollar bankroll to just be able to hitch up his pants, flip his cigarette to the turf, draw a 5-iron 200 yards and land it next to the cup for an eagle putt.

An appointment with my doctor
Yesterday I had an appointment with my doctor and he asked me what I did yesterday, so I told him about my day: Well, yesterday afternoon, I waded across the edge of a lake, escaped from an angry 14 point buck in the heavy brush, marched up and down a steep hill, stood in a patch of poison ivy, crawled out of quicksand, jumped away from an aggressive rattlesnake, then outran an alligator!

Inspired by my story, the doctor said, "You must be an awesome outdoors-man!" "No," I replied, "just a shitty golfer."

The popularity of golf today - both as a spectator and a participant sport - probably owes more to the influence of Arnold Palmer than to anyone else who has ever played the game. The arrival of Palmer on the golf scene, coinciding as it did with the explosion of television as the medium for the masses, brought the game to the attention of millions. Arnold Palmer brought something new and different to the game: excitement and naked aggression. When Palmer hit a golf ball, the crowds came out by the thousands to cheer and join what became known as "Arnie's Army." Golf hit the big time.

Golf has always been a game enjoyed by the privileged, excluding more people than it has embraced. "Golf has been labeled a snob sport, and was," Palmer concedes. But Palmer's story runs contrary to the norm, because his background is humble. "One of the reasons that I [think] the people accepted me, and took me into their hearts and minds, was the fact that I was a steel-mill-town boy," he says. "I was born in a depression. We had nothing."

Arnie came into the world six weeks before the Wall Street Crash. There have been few more challenging times in which to grow up than the Great Depression. Yet he was also born into a golden age of golf. It was shortly after his first birthday that Robert Tyre Jones Jr. - better known as Bobby Jones - thrilled America by winning the U.S. Amateur in Philadelphia. By doing so, he achieved his historic Grand Slam, which comprised winning in one season what were then considered the four major championships - the Amateur and Open championships of both Britain and the United States.

Perhaps surprisingly, part of his inspiration was Mildred Didrikson "Babe" Zaharias, who became a great celebrity in women's golf in the 1940s after an early career as a gold medal-winning Olympic athlete. The Babe, as she was known, made the cut in several men's tour events, proving that women could compete against men in golf and that the public enjoyed seeing them play against men. When Arnie was a boy, the Babe gave an exhibition of her golfing skills at Latrobe Country Club, and he was deeply impressed by the excitement she caused. Wouldn't it be wonderful to bask in that kind of attention himself?

Palmer, the son of a professional, took to the game at a very young age. He had plenty of natural ability, but an early incident helped turn a young man with considerable talent into one of the greatest names in the history of sport. Playing in a junior match while still in school, the young Arnold Palmer, furious at duffing a shot, threw his club over some trees in a fit of temper. On the way home his father, Deacon, turned on him. "Pap told me," Palmer recalled, "that this is a gentleman's game and he was ashamed of me. If I ever did such a thing again he was through with me as a golfer.

In 1946 he competed in the state high school championship and had a little gallery of local people following him around the course. At one stage in the latter part of the tournament (which he won), Arnie found himself in the rough with a choice between a conservative recovery shot to the fairway and a risky shot through the trees to the green. He took the latter option, and the excitement he caused when he successfully shot the ball through to the green showed him that he could get the kind of attention the Babe had received. It was just a matter of having a distinctive persona, something slightly different, and in his case recovery shots would become one of his trademarks. By getting into the same kind of trouble as weekend golfers but having the ability to blast his way out, often daringly, Arnie connected with everyday players. His willingness to acknowledge and exploit this bond showed Arnie's natural desire to be a star. It is important to understand that he always wanted to be popular.

A singular image looms large within the national subconscious - a lone man with a rifle snugged in the crook of his arm, or a pistol in his fist. It is the Minuteman at Concord Bridge, Daniel Boone at Cumberland Gap, Jeremiah Johnson in the Shining Mountains, George Armstrong Custer at the Little BigHorn, Teddy Roosevelt at San Juan Hill, Alvin York in the Argonne Forest, and GI Joe on the beachhead at Anzio. The weapons change, but not the nature of the man-alone, fearless, confident, doing what has to be done in a world in which ambiguity is not allowed. And out of the past he whispers a rifleman's verity: "God, guns, and guts made America free."

There was a time not long ago when guns were getting bad press. And so were hunters and sportsmen. A hunting-and-fishing magazine was thinking of changing the magazine's tone by eschewing traditional bag-limit lore, the literature of vicarious slaughter. Despite all the adverse publicity, the antigun sentiment, the legislative efforts to make owning a gun as difficult as possible, the fact of the matter is that Americans are going out as often as they ever did in postwar times. Each year there are more of them.

Between 1960 and 1976, the number of licensed hunters in this country increased more than 14 per cent (to 16,300,000). This is only three points off the per cent of increase for the U.S. population as a whole during the same period. Not a bad record for the enduring Nimrod tradition, especially if one considers that, during those sixteen years, America witnessed its greatest loss of huntable land (to "Posted" signs and suburbanization). Moreover, dollar-volume sales of arms and ammunition continue to increase. Inflation accounts for much of this, but not enough to indicate any slackening in the number of units sold; not when rifle and shotgun sales of $269,700,000 in 1975 showed a 27 per cent improvement over sales in 1972, and surely not when handgun sales of $125,500,000 showed a 39 per cent gain in the same three-year period.

Statistically, it would be impossible to construct an accurate profile of the gun owners of this country. They simply refuse to be placed into neat little squares. It does seem feasible, however, to arrive at some general categorical conclusions about them. One might divide the lawful gun owners of this country into four parts. There are (1) hunters, (2) competitive shooters, (3) collectors, and (4) defenders. By weight of numbers, competitive shooters and collectors do not count for much, nor do they particularly trouble the sensibilities of the antigunners.

Bicycling gained respectability as society people began riding. Members of European royal circles took up bicycling early on. Members of the international monied set like the Vanderbilts and Goulds bought bicycles. Justice (later Chief Justice) Edward D. White of the US Supreme Court was a notable rider. Cycling clubs were formed across the US. Some clubs staged night rides carrying Japanese lanterns. Other cycling clubs in their enthusiasm developed chants that they yelled while riding together.

Bicycling became the rage in Europe and in the US in the 1890s. There are estimates of 10 million bicycles in use in the US by the 1890s, this in a population of 75 million. The prospective expansion seemed limitless. but a dark speck was advancing on the horizon. A new vehicle known as the horseless carriage began appearing on the paved roads that bicyclists had lobbied to create. In another twist of fate, bicycle mechanics J. Frank and Charles E. Duryea of Springfield, Massachusetts, had designed the first successful American gasoline automobile in 1893. They went on to make the first sale of an American-made gasoline car in 1896. The car really emerged as America's vehicle of choice when Henry Ford introduced the Model T in 1908.

By the 1950s, bicycle riding was largely confined to children and teenagers. However, in the 1970s the birth of the mountain bike revived cycling as a leisure activity for adults, allowing off-road riding in wilder areas. Road racing, represented by the famous Tour de France, is a major organized sport characterized by the stunning performance and courage of recent three-time winner Lance Armstrong. Like all aspects of life today, technology has advanced the bicycle far beyond the high wheelers of the past. This amazing growth curve has sparked renewed interest in all forms of cycling.

Innovations in equipment have dramatically reshaped many sports, often in very unexpected ways. In the 1980s aerodynamic engineers redesigned the javelin so that with a precise, technically perfect throw, it would fly farther than the strongest athletes had ever thrown it before. In the hands of techniqueoriented athletes it set new records, but it proved dangerous, too, when it landed in a judges' tent at the 1984 Olympics. Authorities returned its center of gravity to its original position, and the most powerful athletes became the champions once again. In skiing, new plastic boots and bindings have replaced metal and leather ones, and ski patrols respond to fewer broken legs but many more knee injuries.

Such consequences of technology are hardly new. Way back in the 1870s the introduction of the sliding seat in rowing transformed a choppy upper-body sport into a graceful full-body exercise. In football the rise of the plastic helmet in place of leather, around 1950, allowed the sport to become more brutal, more than tripling the number of neck injuries and doubling the deaths from cervical spine injuries. Changing technology affects the nature of a game, the kinds of athletes who succeed, and how everyone gets hurt.

In tennis the first new technology to upset the status quo was the racket itself, which appeared around the fifteenth century. Playing tennis with the hand was considered excellent exercise, and the racket reduced effort and sweat. Not only that, but for the Renaissance nobility to which the game belonged, grace and elegance were more important than the power and efficiency the racket could provide. Most players chose simply to ignore it.

The Brunswick Mineralite bowling ball, introduced in 1914 and made until around 1980. One of the most durable consumer goods ever manufactured, it sold in the millions with a lifetime warranty, yet only a handful were ever returned as defective. By replacing the easily deformed lignum vitae ball, it helped make bowling America's most popular participant sport.

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