Golf’s Dr. Bob Tees Up Bogeymen as Tiger Soars

Last Sunday, on the fifth hole of the final round of the Memorial Tournament, Tiger Woods hit a shot that everyone except him knew to be impossible: a 249-yard soaring 2-iron that settled as gently as a sparrow (shortly to metamorphose into an eagle) six feet from a pin tucked behind a pond. It may not have been the greatest long-iron shot ever played–you’d have to put Vijay Singh’s atomic effort at the 15th at Augusta last year right up there–but it certainly was as stylish as any I’ve observed or read about, including a 3-iron of my own at Cromer, in Norfolk, some 15 years ago (which was about the last time I carried a 3-iron). Tiger’s was a true and elegant work of golfing art that brought back lovely memories of Tom Weiskopf’s artistry with the 1-, 2- and 3-irons. It would be fun to see what Mr. Weiskopf would do with today’s golf ball, which seems to fly 25 to 30 yards further off the professionally swung club face and then land softly.

The shot turned the tournament around with a three-shot swing. You could just hear the grit ooze out of the field, which I found particularly satisfying, since one of the more agreeable byproducts of Tiger’s long march through the present-day P.G.A. field has been his utter deflation of the notion that pop psychology can enable victory in the flaccid souls of today’s exempt touring pros.

Pop psychology of the type preached by that dreadful fellow “Dr. Bob” Rotella, who writes books with titles like Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect and Parenting Your Superstar (undoubtedly a prize exhibit on the shelves of the Ramsey residence in Boulder, Colo.). The flap copy of Mr. Rotella’s latest, Life Is Not a Game of Perfect , lists his advisees, which I assume he chose from his client list to show himself off. These include the Texas Rangers, a so-so baseball team (G.W. Bush, former C.E.O.) and the New Jersey Nets, the worst franchise in the N.B.A. And a bunch of golfers (Davis Love III, Leonard Mayfair, Brad Faxon and Tom Kite) who have only two majors among them–possibly because they spend time with “Dr. Bob” Rotella that should be spent in trying to emulate some of the things Tiger does. I have to say, finally, that since I am a firm believer–in contrast to the late Scottish king, Duncan–that the mind can be construed from the face, one look at “Dr. Bob’s” jacket photo sufficed to convince me that whatever he’s pitching is hogwash.

Tiger is surely as great a player as ever teed it up, very likely the greatest, and he will break (unless, like Bobby Jones, he quits early) all the records set by Jones and Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan, but it must eat at him that those guys had something he doesn’t–real competitors to try to beat. Tom Watson, Seve Ballesteros, Lee Trevino, Gary Player, Arnold Palmer, Raymond Floyd. Guys with fire in the belly that glinted from their eyes. The people Tiger’s playing against seem merely to be marking time in the big tournaments, making bogey among themselves to see who gets the six-digit money that goes to place, show and worse while waiting for next week, when the kid stays at home at Isleworth and they can compete spiritedly for the trophy that goes with the first-place check at the Greater Bupkis Used-Car Open. One funny thing: They all walk like Charlie Chaplin, feet splayed outward, which may be a “Dr. Bob” Rotella ploy for remaining cool under the pressure that goes with perpetual second place. It seems more likely that it’s an unconscious physical reflection of an inner awareness that they’re all merely clowns under the kid’s big top.

But what, them worry? Why should they? Why win, anyway? Golf isn’t about winning–it’s about the money, stupid! As of June 3, two dozen touring pros had already won $1 million this year, thanks to the exempt tour presided over by Commissioner Tim Finchem. He’s another one of those over-tailored midgets with an overly deep tan (its oaken hue raising suspicions concerning dermatological chemical dependency) who have leveled so much of what used to be varied and interesting terrain in American life and action. Whenever CBS, NBC or ABC puts Mr. Finchem on, as I suppose their contracts call for them to do, I change channels. Anyway, the great achievement of the Commissioner (doesn’t that have a nice Stalinist ring?) is that when matters conclude in late November, during what golf fans think of as “the silly season,” you will probably be able to triple that number of P.G.A. mediocrities who will have “won” a million in 2001. I can think of no greater argument than the P.G.A. tour-money leaders’ list–unless it’s the Fortune 500 or the Mets’ pitching staff–for a performance-based graduated income tax.

Anyway, last Sunday, much as I wanted to stick with Tiger’s virtuosity, high art of another time had a claim on me. Peggy and I had tickets for Barge Music, the incomparable Olga Bloom’s chamber-music operation just down the street, which is as agreeable a way to spend a summer Sunday late afternoon as I can think of. The program was appealing: Ned Rorem’s Night Music , a group of Fritz Kreisler pieces in violin-piano-cello arrangements and Brahms’ great Piano Quintet, Opus 34.

Now back in the old days, I’d have been deeply conflicted. The listed performers, as always at Barge Music, were top-drawer, the program attractive. But, hey, at 4 p.m., Tiger was doing his thing at Memorial, too.

Not to worry. I set off for Barge Music with a full, fair, free heart. Not once in the afternoon did my mind drift from the music to possible golfing doings in Dublin, Ohio. The performance was all one could ask. I would cross the Gobi desert to hear the violinist Ani Kavafian play chamber music–she has such sparkle as a performer–and she was joined by the pianist Anne-Marie McDermott, who plays as good as she looks, and a wonderful, passionate young violinist, Nai-Yuan Hu, along with violist Paul Neubauer and cellist Ronald Thomas, all of whom dug into their parts with vigor and virtuosity. Special tribute is due the latter: Only a true artist can arrive late, thanks to the horrors of the B.Q.E., and still do right by Kreisler and Brahms. The last time I heard the Brahms live was a performance by Pollini and the Quartetto Italiano in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, close to 20 years ago. This was every bit as exciting. Anyone who does not do themselves the favor of a dozen Barge Music concerts a year is an idiot, let alone a philistine (you can get tickets and programs at 718-624-2083, or http://www.bargemusic.com). It is also as good a venue as I know from which to appreciate the visual splendor of New York City.

Afterward, we had an early dinner, and when we got home, I watched Tiger complete his evisceration of the Memorial field. Never a man had a fuller, more satisfying Sunday plate.

Because, you see, I have TiVo. And here endeth the lesson and beginneth the sermon.

TiVo is a TV recording system that works through boxes made and marketed by Sony, Philips and others. Unlike VHS, TiVo is simple to operate and program; it always delivers what you tell it to do. When I bought mine, I made the salesman at Circuit City promise that it wouldn’t take me more than 20 calls to TiVo tech support to get it installed and running. By 19, all was tickety-boo. It has changed my life. I don’t watch a whole lot of TV, but what I watch– Law & Order , golf, selected Seinfeld reruns, The Sopranos –I watch hard. I like to watch European Tour golf on the Golf Channel (the announcer, Renton Laidlaw, sounds like the late Roger Livesey–along with Gielgud’s, the greatest of British voices), but since the time difference means it’s shown here in the morning, and since I consider TV before noon the equivalent of whisky with breakfast, TiVo sets that to rights.

According to a piece in The Wall Street Journal a while back, TiVo–despite being a palpably better mousetrap–is having a tough time of it. And it may get worse, because now Microsoft is in the field with a box of its own.

It won’t be Microsoft’s box that TiVo will worry about. It’ll be Microsoft’s money. Money that has flowed from a virtual monopoly position. I’m writing this on a computer that uses Microsoft Windows 98 as its operating system. When I go to the Net, I use Internet Explorer 5.5. I really don’t have much choice, since the programs I use are mostly Windows-defined or Windows-based.

One or the other will crash today. By now, that’s a given. Crash, and oblige me very likely to go through a Scan then Safe Mode reboot that will eat up time and psychic energy. If Windows 98 were a Ford Explorer, I’d be dead by now.

TiVo never crashes. There’s the rub. A great product, but no success, while Microsoft piles up billions. I doubt that any company in history has ever been enriched, in terms of cash flow and market valuation, on the basis of lousier (broadly speaking) products than has Bill Gates’ brainchild. Complicit in that success were computer manufacturers who, in a manner befitting Sotheby’s and Christie’s, stood by greedily and unresistingly and boosted Microsoft to a monopoly position.

Monopolies stink. Unless you watch them and rein them in, monopolies compete 99 percent on price, and 1 percent on everything else, until they own the business–and then, watch out! If you don’t believe me, ask anyone in California who uses electricity. Higher prices for less service: the monopoly way. The Microsoft way.

We’ve been tending toward a monopoly-run economy for a decade now. What I really don’t like about Bush II Economics is that it seems ideologically committed to supporting monopolies blindly, in the name of free markets, without looking at the specifics of cases. I agree with Paul Krugman: There’s an emergency in California. There seems to be profiteering. Under these circumstances, the Greatest Generation would have invoked and enforced price caps. So why shouldn’t we?

Tiger Woods doesn’t win every tournament he’s really interested in winning simply by throwing his bank statement down on the first tee. He still has to go out and hit shots. That’s what I was brought up to believe is the American way. George W. Bush and Commissioner Tim Finchem notwithstanding, I think we should go back to it. No play, no pay.