Quite clearly, Tiger Woods’s parents raised him to be well-mannered, classy and respectful of others, so there was no way he would ever have said Sunday what would have been both appropriate to the moment as well as perfect justice. He had just won the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Ga., and was about to be awarded the traditional green blazer.
How great would it have been if Tiger Woods said to the head of one of America’s most exclusive clubs: “Hey, you old cracker, I have a dream. In memory of Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, Lee Elder, Charlie Sifford and all the others who were restricted from showcasing their talents only because they were black, why don’t you take your nifty little sportcoat and stick it where the sun don’t shine.
“Until a few years ago, the only way you’d let people who look like me onto the property was to buff your boots, carry your bags or serve your lunch. Now you’re trying to suck up to me because I am world famous and just beat your golf course. And even though I make $40 million a year, I’d still have trouble getting past your membership committee because I’m not white enough for you.
“So don’t bother trying to fake being friendly with me because I am on to you, man. If I wasn’t hitting driver-wedge on the par fives, you’d have me arrested at the gate. Thanks for inviting me, though, but next year, try to make this dog track a little tougher because I enjoy a good challenge.”
Of course, Woods is far too polite. Plus, both his parents as well as his marketing and public relations people would have been appalled by such behavior.
But it’s the truth. Many private clubs, like Augusta National, routinely exclude potential members on the basis of race and, sometimes, religion.
It’s part of the history of golf in America. Years ago, there were clubs in every part of the country where Jews or Catholics could never gain admission.
According to local legend, one of the finest courses in New England - The International in Bolton, Mass. - was built after the guy who owned the land was refused membership at Worcester Country Club. At the time, Worcester was run by a handful of thin-lipped, dim-witted, bad-backed Yankee bankers who didn’t want any Irish or French Canadians around unless they were doing something useful like cutting grass or fetching a five iron.
As a result, the Irish went out and got their own country clubs. True to form, they in turn discriminated against Jews. In response, the Jews developed places like Belmont.
Today, women mistakenly feel they are objects of discrimination because they can’t tee it up whenever they want and often have their playing time limited to specific hours of certain days. However, this isn’t prejudice; it’s merely common sense due to the fact that the golf season is about seven months long here and that happens to be just about the amount of time it takes your average female golfer to play 18 holes.
Naturally, everyone discriminates against blacks. So about the only place hereabouts where you see visible evidence of the fact that blacks like to play golf is at Franklin Park in Boston.
None of this is ever mentioned, though, during telecasts of enormously popular events like the Masters. Although it would be historically accurate, I imagine it would have been awkward if Jim Nantz of CBS had happened to point out the irony of Tiger Woods establishing a course record at a place that was still successfully opposing the mere appearance of black golfers a full decade after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Golf is a difficult game. But race is even harder to conquer and comes us at us daily with a high handicap.
It was thrilling to see Tiger Woods hug his dad after an incredible victory. Just as it must have been thrilling to have witnessed Jackie Robinson open the season 50 springs ago wearing the white and blue of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Sunday, a 21-year-old gave the country a win for the ages. He combined enormous talent with incredible mental toughness to run away from the field, but No. 42, Robinson, opened the door for Woods when he began the public process of giving America the conscience it had routinely ignored.
One of the true weights of this society, though, is that race continues to torment us. Put Tiger Woods on the 18th fairway and the crowd bows and applauds. Put him in a project or on a train at rush hour and he gets a whole different look.
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