I am a golf nut, a would-be Lee Elder with a golf handicap of 12-14, depending on whether my playing partners are good friends.
On a golf course last week, someone brought up Tom Kite's quote concerning the American pro golfers' view of playing in the British Open.
Kite was reported as saying: "Playing one week over there is like playing three weeks over here, it takes a toll on your body and your budget."
There were two immediate reactions among tennis players to his statement. One, playing golf in the British Isles has been a lot of fun for us. Two, if Tom thinks going to British for six days "takes a toll on your body," he ought to try playing tennis all over the world for five or six months. It's not that we golf-loving tennis players didn't have any sympathy for Tom. We just figured he was misinformed.
Like Wimbledon in tennis, the British Open is part of a sport's grand slam. If it deserves to be part of this illustrious quartet (U.S. Open, PGA Masters, British Open) then it deserves the participation of golf's best players. Otherwise, take it out of the grand slam.
Parallels in tennis are difficult to deny. Almost any tennis player ranked in the top 100 gladly pays to play Wimbledon, knowing full well that only four or five players have an honest chance of winning. Preparation for and participation at Wimbledon takes at least three weeks. Depending on whether you stay in a first-class London hotel or apartment, three weeks in England cost around $1,500 minimum.
Kite said playing in the British Open can run a guy between $5,000 and $10,000. . ." Try as I might, I cannot come up with a $5,000 bill for four to six days there. Maybe if he takes the Concorde over and back the total may approach $5,000, but $10,000 is just not in the ballpark.
Tennis players were faced with similar decisions 13 years ago when our open era began. America had the facilities, the players, the money, and the television exposure to monopolize tennis if we had allowed it. But we realized quickly that the more international our game became, the more benefits we would all derive. We were right. Tennis is now the world's most popular nonteam sport. And tennis players make more money than any other nonteam athletes.
We could not have done that in the U.S. alone.
A major effort was made to shore up interest in those places where tradition was important. Even though no Englishman since Fred Perry in 1936, and only two Englishwomen since World War II, have won Wimbledon, this event would become our showpiece.
Two weeks ago almost half a billion people watched John McEnroe take away Bjorn Borg's Wimbledon title. With a little sacrifice on the part of the American players, golf could also becoming a major nonteam sport outside the U.S.
The PGA tournament players should keep in mind that decisions made now affect the livelihoods of future generations of pro golfers. If key non-U.S. events such as the British and Australian Opens lose too much luster because the top American golfers don't bother playing, they may not be able to regain it later, if needed. When some 17-year-old junior star reads that golf pros making $250,000-plus a year pass up the British Open "because it costs too much," what is he to think?