Golf: That's rich coming from these guys

FIRST TEE; LAUREN ST JOHN
THE CAMPAIGN of two of the richest golfers on earth to be paid for competing in the Ryder Cup reached its nauseating conclusion last week when David Duval, multi-millionaire colleague of Tiger Woods and Mark O'Meara, suggested that up to eight American players might boycott the competition if no remuneration was forthcoming.

In the interests of golf, they should be encouraged to do just that. If the Ryder Cup can't do without eight mercenary players, then we might as well abandon all pretence at patriotism and sportsmanship and bow down to the rapaciousness that is cheapening pro golf. To hear the Americans talk, anyone would think they really were competing in the Ryder Cup for free. Instead, their appearance in the match virtually guarantees the US players in the region of $1m in endorsements and bonus money. In addition, they receive $5,000 in "expenses" for a week in which everything is on the house.

"I just think it's sheer greed, myself," said Dale Reid, captain of Europe's Solheim Cup team, the women's equivalent of the Ryder Cup. "These guys are playing for so much money that they should be putting something back into the game, not taking more out. Getting in the team should be payment enough."

Her suggestion? "The way I look at it, there's always someone else who does want to play." In Europe, meanwhile, we hear golfers demanding to be paid for missing the cut. In the real world, the one where teachers and nurses struggle by on sweatshop wages, people aren't rewarded for what they do achieve, yet golfers want a payout for playing badly.

Never has the male professional golfer had so little to complain about and never has he complained more. In addition to the courtesy cars, courtesy meals, sponsor-supplied equipment and prizes for everything you can shake a stick at, there are 38 events on the 1999 schedule with a total purse of pounds 37m.

By contrast, Europe's women players have just 16 events with a total purse of pounds 3.2m. Last year, it took the Spanish player Amaia Arruti six tournaments to earn just pounds 1,896. If she cycled to every event, pitched a tent and dined on baked beans, she might have made a 50p profit. Now she does have something to whine about.

Presenting Pain Steward

WHILE RESEARCHING his recent book, Road Swing: One Fan's Journey into the Soul of American Sports, the author Steve Rushin inadvertently discovered that the humble computer spellcheck was capable of blinding insights into the psyches of professional athletes. Thus the suggested alternative for Bjorn Borg was Born Bore, Ilie Nastase was Ill Nauseates, the erstwhile Hall of Fame pitcher and reformed addict Fergie Jenkins was renamed Forgo Junkies and the Dodgers' star Hideo Nomo became Hideous Gnome.

Having set spellcheck to work to seek out the hidden truths about golfers, I can reveal that Masashi "Jumbo" Ozaki is secretly Massage Osaka, that the popular but painstakingly slow former Masters champion is Bernard Languor, and that the reigning US Open Champion Payne Stewart is in fact a Pain Steward.

Spellcheck saw at once that the aforementioned David Duval should really have been called David Dual, but it was with Costantino Rocca and Jesper Parnevik that it really came into its own. The Italian, whose actions famously lost one Ryder Cup and won another, became the Contention Rocker, while the entertaining Swede became Jester Parvenu, a joker and an upstart.

Going to extremes

THERE ARE two schools of thought on the Open Championship play-off, one that it was riveting drama and the other that it was dreadful farce, but most are agreed that it turned slow play - the cancer of the game - into an art form. Luckily for the R & A, help is at hand. When reviewing the rules before next year's tournament, they need look no further than www.extremegolf.com, where the slogan is: "Speed is par for the course."

The Xtreme Golf website features a photograph of a barechested man in jogging shorts tearing down the fairway with a club in his hand. It offers time-saving tips and puts forward the view that Xtreme Golf is easier because the speed means that golf is played reflexively, without too much thought. Had Jean Van de Velde used the Xtreme Golf method on the 18th hole at Carnoustie, there would have been no posturing with the driver, no wading in the water and no play-off. He would have merely taken heed of the advice of the site editor Bob Babbit: "Grip it... Rip it... Run like hell."

The weighting game

MILLIONAIRE PLAYERS who are fond of making scapegoats of their caddies would do well to remember that they are a lawsuit waiting to happen. A quick glance at the Health and Safety Commission's regulations on the manual handling of loads shows every pro golfer who weighs down the bag his caddie carries with incidentals to be in breach of them.

Under the Health and Safety At Work Act, employers are required to take reasonable care of the health, safety and welfare of employees. The HSC says that, "Even reasonably light loads can cause accidents if their handling requires a greater effort than consideration of their deadweight alone would suggest, particularly if: a) they have to be handled in circumstances when their centre of gravity is not close to the body... or d) they have to be moved frequently during a working period."

A university study in the document shows that when lifting regularly while standing or squatting, with one arm at full stretch, loads should not exceed 10kg. Since the average Tour bag weighs 25kg, and since women are deemed capable of handling only two-thirds of the weight men can, Fanny is in the position to relieve Faldo of a mansion or two.

Earle's a swinger

GOLF USED to be so uncool that the hard-living and effortlessly cool country rock singer Steve Earle (Guitar Town, Copperhead Road) once said that his teenage son's method of rebelling against him was to arrive home with a set of golf clubs. To Earle, golf balls are like cocaine. They're white, you take a hit and you chase them all day.

Now, of course, golf is the first refuge of celebrities weary of the Viper Room and the Betty Ford Clinic. Even the unwatchable but apparently cutting-edge music channel MTV hosts a celebrity event. Alice Cooper, formerly a devotee of more outrageous activities involving toothbrushes and snakes, is a single-figure golfer, Dave Mustaine of Megadeth is a fan and Hootie and the Blowfish are rarely off the course.

Sadly, there is no word yet that Brad Pitt has taken up the game, but Cindy Crawford is known to enjoy swinging. And if that doesn't get you running to the links, nothing will.

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