These Guys Are . . .

By: Jeff Shelley

There's no doubt that most of us admire the "big boys" on the PGA Tour. Their effortless swings, calm under fire, competitive instincts, flair for the dramatic, feathery touch around the greens, and magnanimity toward fellow competitors are certainly good reasons for adulation.

But what else do we know about these guys? We all have our favorites, and I certainly do after working alongside them for several years in the 1990s. Phil Mickelson, John Cook, Brad Faxon, Ernie Els and Steve Elkington all come to mind as being great guys who aren't too full of themselves. Arnold Palmer is just as you'd think he is: exceptionally personable and undyingly devoted to golf and his legions of fans. Fred Couples is also a gem and, despite his air of standoffishness, so is Boom-Boom's good pal, Davis Love III.

But those uninitiated with the golf world might reach a different opinion after reading the annual PGA Tour player survey that appeared in the March 13, 2006, edition of Sports Illustrated.

The magazine polled 76 Tour players - approximately the number making the cut in an average week - to determine their feelings on a variety of issues. Some of the questions are feel-good no-brainers: "Who is the second-best player?" (Vijay Singh over Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson); "Would you rather have Tiger Woods's long game or his short game?" (Short Game by a wide margin); and "Which job would you rather have, PGA Tour commissioner or Tiger's caddie?" (61% to 39% in favor of Steve Williams).

Other questions delve a bit deeper into some of golf's hot-button issues: "With whom did you sympathize in the slow-play dustup, Ben Crane or Rory Sabbatini?" (Crane by a 33% to 24% margin); "Is the new 2007 Tour schedule good or bad?" (81% approve); "Which best explains why the Europeans have dominated the Ryder Cup: They care more, they have more camaraderie, they've played better?" (not surprisingly, Care More gets almost half the votes); and "Do you favor a rolled-back ball for tournament play?" (Take a guess at this one - 72% are dead set against a deader ball).

Other questions target feminine issues. The most obvious: "Should Michelle Wie continue to play PGA Tour events?" (69% say No.) Another back-breaker: "Jennifer Anniston or Angelina Jolie?" (Brad Pitt's ex ekes out a 52% to 48% win - while one player says, "Jennifer to have my babies, Angelina for one night.") And this tickler: "Have you ever Googled an ex-girlfriend?" (nine-tenths of the PGA Tourers say No, while one asked, "What's Googled?")

Perhaps the last response points toward a broader ignorance by today's pros of what's going on in the world, because some of their views about the state of American politics are somewhat flabbergasting. Maybe that's because PGA Tour players simply fit the game's stereotype: that golf is predominantly a bastion for WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants). Or maybe - because of heavy travel, practice and tournament schedules, and the infrequent time spent with families, they're simply out of touch with society as a whole.

Here's what I'm talking about. President George W. Bush's approval rating has sunk to an almost all-time low of 34 percent among the American people. Only President Richard Nixon's approval rating was lower; it reached about 25 percent just before Nixon resigned following Watergate. Yet when asked, "Did the U.S. make a mistake by invading Iraq?", 88% of the respondents said No, while only 12% said Yes. Apparently, these guys aren't aware that the Iraq quagmire has resulted in over 2,300 American deaths, over 17,000 U.S. soldiers have been injured, and $200 billion have been spent so far (data as of mid-March 2006). Nor that 57% of Americans say that the Iraq War has not been worth the human and financial toll. (Wonder what Vietnam Era golf pros such as Larry Nelson and Orville "Sarge" Moody - like me - think about this war.)

Another indicator of how these guys automatically reset to rote Republicanism is their overwhelmingly positive (91% to 9%) response to the question: "Would you have voted yea or nay to confirm Justice Samuel Alito for the U.S. Supreme Court?" (Tellingly, one pro said, "Are you crazy? I don't watch the news.")

And there was this nugget, perhaps as indicative of the players' ostrich-head-in-the-sand condition as any: "Have you seen 'Brokeback Mountain'?" One-hundred-percent said No.

Other queries that further paint PGA Tour pros as conservative-capitalists include: "Do you have a tattoo?" (95% said No); and, "How many cars do you own?" (9% own one car, 38% two, 29% three, 13% four, and a whopping 11% own more than four automobiles). Looks like the Tour players are doing their part to keep OPEC and the gas companies in business.

I'm not sure what all of this means other than today's PGA Tour players - who earn well into six figures for failing to win a tournament - can be extrapolated thusly:

* They want to preserve the status quo in golf equipment and keep comments about fellow Tourers where they belong - in the locker room;

* They realize that caddying for Tiger is easier than getting their brains beat out by him;

* They either don't believe they should play against women or are jealous of teenage girls named Michelle. Regardless, iconic lovelies from the stage and screen flaunted in People Magazine are worthy fantasies;

* They probably spend more time cleaning their square grooves than getting in touch with the world (though Googling ex-girlfriends IS a weird question);

* And that, without a doubt, PGA Tour players are one of the most consolidated groups of right-wingers on the face of the Earth. (Who knows? Maybe the Tour's tight dress code strangles their sense of adventure and independent thought processes.)

As the PGA Tour never fails to remind us, these guys are good and fun to watch. Yet, because of a lack of common ground, some of us might not enjoy hanging out with them.

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