Ladies and gentlemen, now on the 1st tee...everyone! Golf's not just cool anymore, it's mandatory. Did every Baby Boomer pick up a club in 1997, or did a kazillion other folks simply conclude that they liked the way the game looks on people such as Kevin Costner, Bob Dylan, Michael Jordan and Robert Ludlum and decide to try it on themselves?
It's easy to blame Tiger Woods for the overcrowding. His performance and presence created so much interest in the game among so many nongolfers—especially kids—that TV ratings doubled for tournaments in which he played, as did the lines for rest rooms and concessions out at the course.
Yes, everybody played golf in '97, and the game was constantly working itself into the news. Did you know that the last thing John Denver did before his fatal crash in an experimental plane was play a round at Spyglass Hill? Friends tried to talk him into another 18, and if Denver had gone along, he might still be with us today.
Guess where Stanford economics professor Myron Scholes was when he learned that he had won the Nobel Prize? He was about to play a round at Pebble Beach.
Oscar De La Hoya, the WBC welterweight champ, built a putting green at his training compound near Los Angeles. We can hear him now: "This putt goes to the left...and a right...and another left!"
Alice Cooper and Dennis Miller appeared in golf equipment commercials in 1997. Pat Boone played in knickers one day at Cooper's charity tournament and in a kilt the next. We assume he wore white bucks in both rounds. Jordan and fellow golfaholic Charles Barkley skipped the media day at the NBA All-Star Game in Cleveland so they could play golf. Oscar Robertson gladly donated one of his kidneys to his daughter, Tia, but hated that the operation kept him off the links for a while. The Big O learned later that Tia wanted more than just a body part. "I need titanium clubs to keep up with dad," she said.
A bunch of Green Bay Packers players were miffed at coach Mike Holmgren during Super Bowl week last January in New Orleans. Practices too tough? No, the players were upset because Holmgren issued a no-golf edict. Jacques Demers did the same thing, and got the same reaction, when he took over as coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning last month.
We always thought that guys like Billy Graham didn't have a prayer on the golf course, but in his recently released autobiography, Graham writes that he often uses the game as a chance to exercise his ministry. He cites the round he played with Richard Nixon in 1967, during which he advised Nixon, who had suffered bitter losses in the 1960 presidential election and the '62 gubernatorial race in California, to run again. If only Nixon had instead done what most golfers do when they're feeling down: Play an emergency nine.
Golf became politically correct this year. Even First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton played nine holes. She ripped her opening tee shot only 40 yards, but unlike her husband, we're happy to report, she didn't take a mulligan. Looking back, 1997 doesn't need one either.