The Flash hauled a friend from San Francisco to the Phoenix Open. This pal had never been to a golf tournament and scoffed at the notion of watching wealthy men smack little balls around a manicured lawn.
The visitor's disdain for the game sounded remarkably like the objections of Arizona Republic columnist David Leibowitz, who sarcastically marveled that no one had been known to die of boredom at a golf match. Republic sports columnist Dan Bickley, meanwhile, carped about the flocks of hoi polloi who follow the game's phenom, Tiger Woods, from hole to hole. Bad for the sport, Bickley concluded, when he saw that half of the 90,000 spectators were following the young Afro-Thai sensation.
On Saturday and Sunday, we joined the throng following the battle between Woods and eventual winner Rocco Mediate. Within a few holes, the out-of-towner who had looked down his nose at the game was hooked.
"I had no idea the game had such a narrative arc," uttered the visitor, who writes for a living and often speaks in literary lingo. He was astounded at the drama of the match, the mastery of the players, and the invigorating environment--spectators, after all, get a good walk in the park.
The frisky Friscoite was also amazed to find that the Open actually suffered far less commercialization than so-called working-class sports. Sit through a football game at Sun Devil Stadium, for example, and you quickly realize that the game is just a by-product of a three-hour corporate media blitz. Fans at America West Arena are also subject to a barrage of corporate meddling.
But on the links this past weekend, Woods' loyal mob moved from hole to hole with nary an interruption by pitchmen--the golfers teed off when the way ahead was clear, not when a CBS technician told them they could.
Corporate glitz does permeate the event, of course, but it's largely concentrated in various tent cities that act like roach motels for gentrified insects. Stay away from these; they aren't about golf so much as they serve as mating grounds for college Greek system graduates. On the course and away from the flesh-pots of Mammon, pure sport reigned.
Reports of unruly fan behavior have been exaggerated. Sure, there was the fanny-pack cowboy on the sixth hole Sunday who thought it would be fun to taunt a Scottsdale cop by pointing out that he, too, was carrying heat. But complaints that the gallery was filled with disruptive louts were overwrought. Sure, the game may be less of a genteel julep fest than it used to be, but the closest the Flash has come to Zen meditation was to participate in the mass silence of thousands of fans standing perfectly still around a green awaiting a Tiger putt. If a few taunts were aimed at Woods' competitor, Mediate, the champ obviously wasn't adversely affected by it.
This is, after all, a sport where hundreds of thousands of dollars divide first place from the rest. (Woods' missed birdie putt on the final hole cost him $120,000. Think about that the next time you line up a 10-footer.)
Some golf fans, however, seem unhappy that a young phenom has transformed their polite avocation into a mainstream sport.
Woods is hardly the first golfer to attract a huge following. Decades ago Arnold Palmer electrified the gallery, and "Arnie's Army" was celebrated for swarming around the golfer. Woods' army, largely made up of young people and fans of color, hasn't enjoyed such acceptance. The Flash noted a nearly constant grumbling by some spectators--invariably white and older--who openly rooted against Woods and found his fans contemptible.
But Woods' fans were not to be denied. They were prepared to move heaven and earth for their idol, which became obvious on Sunday when nine spectators moved a half-ton rock that had the audacity to block Woods' second shot on the 13th hole. Woods then punched out of the desert and into a bunker, which elicited an angry "You deserved that!" from an old-timer. In the TV booth, meanwhile, Ken Venturi became so apoplectic over the ruling he nearly did us all a favor and dropped dead of a stroke.
The moment was emblematic. Woods did enjoy an advantage--not when officials correctly determined the rock could be moved, but when a phalanx of Woods fans proved happy to help move it. What Venturi and other old-timers seem to object to is how Woods--one of the most strictly ethical pros in golf--has changed the game not by bending the rules but by simply being brilliant.
Mediate, to his credit, was unfazed by the episode and ignored a crowd that wanted to know his opinion of the call.
By the final hole of the tournament, Mediate's grip on the championship was a certainty, but the Flash's friend would hear nothing about leaving early to beat the crowd. Standing just a few feet behind the tee, the writer gasped with the rest of the crowd as Woods unleashed a monster drive over the entire expanse of water that mere mortal golfers avoid. "No one else has done that all day!" exclaimed a sunburned spectator who had camped out at the 18th tee.
The Flash's friend announced after the last hole that the Phoenix Open had been the most exciting sports event he had ever witnessed. Heading back to the Bay Area and his left-leaning, intellectual friends, he predicted that none of them would believe he'd not only spent the entire weekend watching golfers, but had actually enjoyed it.
Julie Does D.C.
The Flash managed to smuggle out of the Arizona Republic a confidential schedule of ersatz impeachment-trial columnist Julie Amparano's upcoming week. Look forward to the following insightful columns as Amparano gives depth to the historical nature of our times:
Friday: Hot dog vendors. Isn't it amazing they couldn't care less about the impeachment trial? Gee whiz, what gives?
Saturday: Cab drivers. More informed than your average working Joe, but, gee whiz, they still don't give a hoot about the trial. (Do short jag on driver's colorful past from Kazakhstan/Pakistan/Malaysia.)
Sunday: Attend church and marvel at the complete lack of references to the trial in the sermon, etc. Don't these people know what's going on? Geez!
Monday: What if Barry Goldwater were still a senator? A fanciful exposition in plain speaking.
Tuesday: More what-ifs, thinking locally. What if we impeached Skip Rimsza? Would the Phoenix Channel cover the trial?
Wednesday: Get the Pope on the phone. If he won't talk, settle for a Cardinal. Aeneas Williams ought to do. No opinion on the trial? But hey, that wild card game was outta sight!
Thursday: Cigar sellers. How have sales been affected by the trial? On second thought, better avoid this.
Sheriff Joke Arpaio's main man and fellow partner in (fighting) crime, David Hendershott, saw his financial woes splashed across the front page of the Republic last week. In an uncharacteristically denunciatory piece, the daily asked how Hendershott could assume a new "chief of operations" role in the sheriff's office--making him hold the purse strings of a billion dollars in county money--when his own finances are so rotten.
The article contained delicious details of Hendershott's bill-paying problems and his multiple bankruptcies, such as his assertion to a bankruptcy judge that he needed to spend $300 a month to cut his lawn because of his allergy to grass.
For some reason, however, the Republic recitation left out a key detail of Hendershott's financial shenanigans: Despite his healthy sheriff's office salary, Hendershott amassed huge amounts in tax debt. At one time, he owed state and federal taxes of more than $80,000.
In a single week in March 1996, however, Hendershott managed to pay off several state tax liens totaling nearly $15,000 of that debt.
Hendershott told New Times that he was able to pay off the debt when he refinanced his house.
But that's also right at the time when former Arpaio aide Tom Bearup was telling Arpaio that deputies were complaining that heaps of cash, raised by the sales of souvenir pink boxer shorts, were passing through Hendershott's office unaccounted. In court testimony, Bearup has repeatedly asserted that he twice told Arpaio about deputy complaints over the boxes full of cash moving in and out of Hendershott's office. Despite those concerns, Arpaio refused to investigate.
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