Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Fri, 28 Jul 2000 11:47:36 -0400

Our Kind of Sport

(from RC 314)

One weekend I watched a normal month's worth of televised sports (for me) in just over 24 hours. This included the NBA finals, the disappointing Olympic Women's Marathon Trials and a round of golf's U.S. Open.

I'm not a golf fan; never played the game. I tuned in to the Open for views of the Monterey Peninsula, one of my old homes.

This rare glimpse of golf brought up a thought I've had before: that it is a sport much like ours.

Don't laugh. Don't say when was the last time you saw runners in long pants and collared shirts, swinging clubs and chasing balls? When was the last time you saw golfers running the fairways?

In other ways the sports look alike:

-- Both have fixed standards of measurement, time for runners and par for golfers. Athletes can measure themselves against those standards, not just against each other. Lesser athletes who play or run the same courses can see exactly how far they lag behind the best.

-- The main opponents are themselves and the course. Human competitors lead and follow, of course, but they aren't setting screens or making tackles to interfere with the efforts of others. Only the athletes themselves and the conditions do that.

-- Athletes go the distance on your own, without a team to prop them up or pull them down. And they go on their own feet (at least on the pro tour).

-- Steady pace wins. Tiger Woods, after building a first-round lead at the Open, said, "There are three more more days to go. This isn't a mile, it's a marathon." Even the best golfer sees the similarities.

-- Runners and golfers don't have to finish first to do well. Second or 22nd isn't a victory, but they can see dozens of others who did less well. As in a road race all the best golfers can go head to head on the same course at the same time.

The main reason I like to compare these sports is their good manners. The contrast with the NBA is most striking. Here players sulk, grumble and glare, acting like they can do no wrong while trying to get away with as many illegal acts as possible.

Golfers and runners take responsibility for their own actions. They largely police themselves. The biggest outburst you're likely to see from these athletes is a how-could-I-do-that grimace when the sport humbles them.

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