Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

Golf Fails Executives in Quest to Win at Business

Commentator Frank Deford looks at the connection between the golf course and the corporate world. He thinks its time for executives to take on sports that are more closely aligned with their corporate missions.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Oh, now, let's talk about a slightly less demanding game: golf. Commentator Frank Deford has been thinking about the social aspects of that game.

Mr. FRANK DEFORD (Commentator; Reporter, WSHU): The New York Times recently revealed--on page one, no less--that John Mack--the head of Morgan Stanley--was stocking up his board of directors with golfing buddies. (Laughs) Now, first of all, I hate to be the one to tell the Times, but this goes under the heading of: Dog Bites Man.

It's always been my understanding, that you can't either A.) work on Wall Street, or B.) qualify for a board of directors, unless you do play golf. But, upon reflection, I appreciate the newspaper of record for bringing this gross social injustice to our attention.

This is a diverse nation and we make an effort to see that our boards and executive suites are open to both sexes; to men and women of all races, religions and ethnic origins. Surely, it is time to expect the same sort of diversification of our sporting persuasions.

I don't know about you, but I fear for a nation's economy, that is so dominated by golfers and their cozy links mentality. It's just a vicious circle; from the tee, to the 19th hole, to the boardroom. I say, let's get some bowlers making command decisions.

For example, the Times article quoted the boss of another investment bank, defending Mr. Mack's penchant for isolating himself with golfers, by saying: A CEO wants a guy with shared experience and values. A guy, say, who gives him putts within three feet.

Whoa, there! Fore! Was this country built on that attitude? I don't think so! I don't think your Jay Goulds, your J.P. Morgans, your John Jacob Astors, carved out empires by expecting their adversaries to provide them with gimmies. In point of fact, I suspect that it is precisely this, you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours disposition, which accounts for the fact that China just about owns us today. Somehow I don't think the boys in Shanghai and Guangzhou are letting everybody off the hook so easily. They're saying, putt that sucker out, buster.

The trouble with golf is that you're not really competing against your opponent. It's just you versus the course. The competition is internal. I want my money in the hands of some mano a mano guys; some tennis players; squash players; racquetball players; hard-boiled competitors who pound that ball back right at you; who want to win six, love--six, love. No mulligans out there! No short-selling! No, sir! That's the American way.

And what does everybody have in golf? A handicap, right? Golf Digest magazine actually ranks American executives by their handicaps. And what's the point of handicaps? To make everyone equal. Golf is the only game where the weak are propped up and the strong, penalized. Which, of course, is why so many people play it--there being a lot more weak sisters around, than top dogs.

In fact, if you really think about it, golf is very socialistic. If golf were a country, it would be Cuba. That fuzzy thinking may be the greatest threat to our dear capitalistic way of life. It behooves all of us to go to stockholder meetings and demand full disclosure, about the golf syndicate that rules your company.

INSKEEP: Social commentary from Frank Deford, who writes, without a handicap, for Sports Illustrated. His latest book, The Old Ballgame, is out in paperback. Frank joins us each Wednesday from member station, WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

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Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford