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

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

In golf, the St. Jude Classic is underway in Memphis. For the big name players, taking part in the charity tournament, it is the last stop before the U.S. Open.

Commentator Frank Deford says he'll be doing the difficult double act of paying attention to the action on the course while rolling his eyes.

FRANK DEFORD, BYLINE: When my old pal, the Sports Curmudgeon, had some mildly churlish things to say about golf a few weeks ago, both he and I were upbraided by loyal linksters. As one snapped at me: You don't know anything about golf. Perhaps, but I know all about golf propaganda.

Because major golf tournaments continue to maintain a 19th century pose, and require golfers to keep their own score, instead of having a paid scorekeeper and a 21st century electronic device to tally the number of shots - as is the case in every other big-time sport - golf loves to pretend that this somehow makes the sport more noble. The tiresome network shills can never stop boasting about how golf is a more honorable game than all the others.

But really, it's just silly. Is there anything more archaic than after a round - which has dragged on for several hours, every shot dutifully recorded on TV - the golfers must repair to some secret rendezvous where, I believe, there is an abacus to make sure that everybody can count to 71. Then they sign their scorecards like they were the Declaration of Independence.

Imagine: Sign here, Mr. LeBron James, to certify that you really did make the 36 points that we all saw you score on network television.

Now, to start with, the primary contention that it is golfers alone who keep their own score is itself a shibboleth. Go to any club or public park, watch the tennis players, the handball players, the guys playing basketball; they all keep their own score - just like golfers. And for that matter, you don't think it's more ethically challenging calling a cross-court shot that your tennis opponent slugged into the corner, than it is hitting your own stationery ball sitting there still on a tee?

The only difference between golf and every other sport, is that golf alone ludicrously persists in having its professionals play by the same antiquated rules as weekend duffers. Oh, I've got a good idea: Let's get rid of linesmen and have Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray keep their own score at Wimbledon to prove how honorable they are.

Look, golf may be a fine game. But nothing is more irritating than to hear this con that its players are pure and chivalrous, while all other athletes are immoral scoundrels. Cut the P.R. folderol. I guarantee you that Diogenes didn't put away his lantern when he first stumbled onto a golf course.

WERTHEIMER: Frank Deford joins us each Wednesday from WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut. His latest book, "Overtime: My Life as a Sportswriter," is now out in paperback.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

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