By RANDY YOUNGMAN
Uh-oh. A man with a bulging waistline who rarely shows emotion while playing golf with smokeless tobacco between his cheek and gums won the PGA Championship last month.
Now that Jason “Dipping” Dufner is a major champion, what is the USGA going to do?
Ban donuts and snuff and empty stares?
Those long putters were ruining the image of the game, but what can be done about a training method known as “Dufnering” — sitting with your back against the wall, arms by your sides, hands under your outstretched legs with a zoned-out look on your face?
Is it too late for another addition to the sacred Rules of Golf that would outlaw Dufner’s famous pose, even after a video went viral last year and led to a national craze a la “Tebowing”?
The fallout from Dufner’s two-shot victory at Oak Hill Country Club, which included a course-record and major championship-tying 63, could be devastating to a sport that prides itself on its history.
Think about it. Now that fitness-obsessed Tiger Woods is ending his previously unthinkable fifth consecutive year without a major victory, what if some sports fans revert to believing that golf isn’t an athletic endeavor?
What if they point to Dufner – and other accomplished overweight golfers such as John Daly, Boo Weekley, Tim Herron, Kevin and Craig Stadler, Rocco Mediate, Mark Calcavecchia and Angel Cabrera – and rekindle an age-old argument by asking, “Are pro golfers really athletes?”
Even worse, some cynics might wonder if golf – gasp! — qualifies as a sport.
Avid sports fans know that tour pros are spending more and more time in the fitness trailer and in the gym to try to keep up with Woods and the other flatbellies on tour.
But, hey, facts are facts: the pudgy Dufner won the PGA Championship, the portly Weekley (another devoted dipper) finished T12 and Thailand’s 24-year-old Kiradech Aphibarnrat – a 270-pounder with several visible rolls of fat under his shirt – finished T25. Together, they fattened their wallets to the tune of more than $1.6 million.
How will golf be able to defend itself from the appearance that fitness and fatness are suddenly irrelevant on the leaderboard?
Truthfully, it’s been like this for a long time. During the early 1960s, Nicklaus was nicknamed “Fat Jack” before he trimmed down. Billy Casper, Miller Barber and Fuzzy Zoeller weren’t exactly sporting six-pack abs in their heyday. And four-time major winner Ernie Els once declared, “You don’t have to be an athlete to play golf.”
What he meant, of course, is you don’t have to be a perfectly conditioned athlete to play golf well, even at the professional level. We’ll call it his “Theory of Not-So-Heavenly Bodies.”
And how do you defend a sport that can be enjoyed while eating, drinking, smoking, texting, e-mailing, cyber-surfing – and, yes, dipping and spitting – as you drive to your ball in a motorized cart?
I’m an admitted golfaholic, but that doesn’t mean my passion for chasing the dimpled white spheroid around the world makes me an athlete. Let me play devil’s advocate. Is golf any more of a sport than hunting or fishing?
It all depends on one’s definition of sport. My dictionary defines a sport as “a game” or “a specific diversion, usually involving physical exercise and having a set form and body of rules.” Another definition is “an active pastime or recreation.”
By those descriptions, golf unquestionably is a sport, but they also make it sound as if any hobby that induces perspiration qualifies as a sport. That’s why former tennis great John McEnroe doesn’t think golf passes that test. “Don’t you have to run around a little?” McBrat once asked.
OK, John, but does that mean chasing butterflies with a net is a sport? Let’s hope not.
Some people believe the distinction between athleticism and a highly developed skill is what separates a sport from organized recreation. Others believe that it’s only a sport if you keep score or time the competition.
But after watching Jim Furyk back off from a putt sometimes three or four times before pulling the trigger in the final round of the PGA Championship, I’m certainly not going to give golf the benefit of the doubt on the clock.
I’d also have no problem referring to golfers as athletes if they carried their own bags, up and down the slopes on hot days, as they did in high school and college. But we all know who sweats the most during pro tournaments – the caddies, glorified pack mules.
For what it’s worth, a panel of experts ranked golf 51st out of 60 on a list of the “most demanding sports” in a 2004 study conducted by ESPN.com. Factoring in components of athleticism such as endurance, strength, agility, flexibility and durability, golf finished just behind table tennis and just ahead of cheerleading and roller-skating. The top four: boxing, hockey, football and basketball. Fishing ranked last.
There’s no question that golf is difficult to master, but now we also know you don’t have to be sculpted like Tiger to beat him.
“I subscribe to the John Daly theory,” Herron, appropriately nicknamed “Lumpy,” once said. “You can pull a muscle, but you can’t pull fat.”
And then there’s the analogy made by former NFL quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver, who won the American Century Celebrity Championship in Lake Tahoe this summer.
“Swinging the club is certainly an athletic movement, but you don’t have to be an athlete to do it,” Tolliver said. “Golf is like sex: You don’t have to be an athlete to do it. And you don’t have to be good at it to enjoy it.”