Green, Not Black, Defines Who'll Succeed This Weekend At The Masters
Augusta National, home to this week’s Masters, is a place where tradition is revered. When the players arrive today and tomorrow they’ll find a setting that rarely changes. Magnolias. Amen Corner. The green jacket. Even the prices on the sandwiches reflect the 1950s more than the present day.
One tradition familiar to longtime fans of the Masters has disappeared, however. Once, touring pros having a local black caddy to steer them around the holes was as much a part of the tradition as flowering azaleas. Jack Nicklaus’ annual tandem with Willie Peterson was legendary through five Masters titles. But since the organizers relented and allowed the PGA Tour pros to bring their own caddies to Augusta, the number of black caddies has shrunk to almost zero.
(In a delicious irony, Jordan Spieth, who has gone first/ second in his first two trips to the Masters, employed one of the local caddies to help him and his regular caddy Michael Greller read the nuances of the ever-so-subtle Austa layout before the tournament.)
The demise of black caddies at the Masters prompted radio host Bob McCown to examine the issue in a broader context on his Sportsnet Radio Prime Time Sports program. The lack of black faces in general at Augusta prompted McCown to ask, “Where are all the black golfers who were supposed to appear in the wake of Tiger Woods?”
One of the great media assumptions when Woods first laid waste to the Tour in the 1990s was that he’d inspire a generation of black kids to take up the sport. While Tiger’s Asian heritage is duly celebrated in many players on Tour these days, there is no black Tiger patrol teeing it up every week. Not even a Tiger twosome. Indeed, there is just one black player as a regular on Tour this season (Harold Varner III) as Woods continues to convalesce from injuries.
McCown’s guests attributed the absence of Tiger successors to a lack of facilities in inner cities and the cost of equipment and range time for black youth. Woods may have changed the perception, they said, but he hasn’t changed the reality of inner city life for black kids. Easier to take up hoops, which can be played on any school yard or driveway. McCown noted that there are many middle and upper class black neighbourhoods now in America where a future Woods could be produced.
But he didn’t argue with the thesis that there might be some element of prejudice in the failure to produce another golf star of colour.
Much to the chagrin of those in modern society who wish to attribute everything to race, the fact is that the failure of golf’s star pipeline has much more to do with finances and city size than skin colour. While it appears anecdotally to be a whiteout in golf, a glance at other sports demonstrates that economic class, not colour, is revolutionizing who gets ahead in pro sports. (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/17/your-money/rising-costs-of-youth-sports.html?_r=0)
It’s just as hard now for a poor white or Latino or Asian child to break through the economic glass ceiling. For instance, it’s been pointed out that neither Gordie Howe nor Bobby Orr, products of small-town Canada, could have become a star NHL player in this age. The notion of the kid from humble means who learns his craft on a frozen pond has passed for good. (Don’t tell Hockey Night In Canada which still dines out own this narrative.)
Stars are also far more likely to come from urban rather than rural backgrounds, places where they can access the training and resources to thrive.
The care and feeding of a prodigy in any sport has risen to stratospheric heights for parents. Between travel, nutrition, private coaching, promotion and mentoring it can cost in the six figures to bring an athlete to prominence. The payoff is in the millions, but the payout is crushing. So we see educated professionals and former stars getting their kids to the top of the heap, while kids from impoverished backgrounds never surface in the way they once did.
The same goes for even less-expensive sports such as baseball, soccer and basketball. While the equipment is cheaper, getting the training needed is just as expensive in sports such as hockey, football and golf. So admire the dazzling colours this week at Augusta. Just don’t go looking for a lot of black in the scene. The reason? A lack of green.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy
Bruce's career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity and breadth of experience with successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013).