My jaw hit the floor today as I was perusing ESPN.com. Gene Wojciechowski’s latest column claims that Tiger Woods is the greatest individual athlete of all time. Not just the greatest golfer, the greatest athlete. Why, because Woods just polished off the field for his 12th major championship. To start, this column is classic ESPN instant history. If Woods goes into another mini-slump in the next few years you’ll once again be reading the “Tiger Woods Isn’t As Good As He Used To Be” columns Skip Bayless regurgitates all too often. And to be fair Gene knows he’s making a controversial statement and is putting himself out on a limb.
More disturbing than Wojo’s column, however, is how the ESPN.com readers voted Woods as the 2nd greatest athlete of all-time after Michael Jordan. I hate to be this guy, but golf my friends is not an elite sport. Golf, the game itself, does not allow golfers the chance to prove how great of an athlete they truly are. It’s just not what golf is about. It doesn’t challenge the player like other professional sports. This is why I would rank every baseball, basketball, football, tennis, hockey, soccer, track and field, and boxing Hall Of Famer ahead of Tiger Woods, because simply, golf is not as difficult as these sports. I’m sorry to say.
Baseball: Some people look at Babe Ruth and say to themselves “I’m in better shape than this guy” and they’d be right, but hitting a baseball that curves, moves, and travels at speeds of 90+ MPH, while fans scream at you to fail is much, much harder than hitting a golf ball propped up on a tee, motionless, with absolute silence.
Basketball: Simply put, there is no defense in golf. All these other sports pit you against other athletes just as good as you, working to stop you. Michael Jordan played in the greatest era of NBA basketball, and still no one could stop him. Magic, Bird, and Chamberlain could not be stopped whether they had one man guarding them or three.
Tennis: “But golf is mental, you play against yourself, blah, blah, blah.” Well, what about tennis? Tennis players are some of the most conditioned athletes in the world. They play mind games with their opponent and themselves for 3-4 hours while running and swinging mightily. And they have no coaching to help them through the tough times. If you're so impressed with Tiger Woods, take a look at what Roger Federer is doing in tennis. Golf is a mentally challenging game, no question, but you have a caddy who not only carries your bag, but offers advice and encouragement. Make golfers carry their own bag and hit the links on their own, then come tell me about how mentally challenging it is.
I won’t insult football players, hockey players and boxers by comparing the physical nature of these sports with golf, but I think it’s fairly evident. The thought of comparing what a quarterback or linebacker does in the athletic sense to a golfer is laughable.
The reason golf is a popular sport, especially in the upper class and in business circles is because you don’t sweat too much, you can drink alcohol while you play, and you can smoke cigars while you play. Other sports where this is true: croquet, Pro Kadima, hacky-sack, bocce, darts, lawn darts, beer pong, bowling, cards, and horseshoes. Not exactly the most athletic of activities, but they make for one hell of a summer afternoon.
This begs the question, why then does Tiger Woods get more respect at being a great athlete than he deserves? And why does the fan vote support him as well? The obvious answer is that Woods is amazing, charismatic (though not to me) and the greatest golfer of all time, and people like to be associated with greatness. But this doesn’t answer the question completely.
It’s because we can relate with golfers more than most athletes because we play the game and for the most part suck at it. Golf is an expensive, but easy game to play. Grab a partner drive to a course, tee off. Much easier to do later in life than say call up 17 of your closest friends and play nine innings of baseball. And much easier on aging limbs than touch football, tennis, or basketball. We play it and thus respect the athleticism more than we should.
So Gene, you can have Tiger Woods. I'll take Jim Brown or MJ or Ali and mop the floor with you. Tiger is great, but to rank him as the greatest athlete of all time is utter nonsense.