Finally, golf’s voice — Tiger — is heard on the murder

© Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

You’re alone in golf. So, virtually, was Tiger Woods as the game’s spokesman.

We heard LeBron James. We heard Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. We even heard from Tom Brady.

Icons of their sports, they were quick with condemnation of the crime that has convulsed America, the murder of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, by a policeman in Minneapolis, captured on camera.

We didn’t hear from the only person who, in some eyes, is the only person in golf, Tiger, an African-American as was Floyd. Or, as he would label someone with a black father, a Thai mother and a mixture of other races in his background, Cablinasian.

Did I mention you’re alone in golf? It’s you against everyone else. It’s you who swings the clubs, you who keeps score. With rare exception, there is no team competition.

No coaching on the course how to act. No officiating. A golfer is supposed to know right from wrong.

Tiger’s late father, Earl, was a Green Beret. Woods grew up with discipline. And compassion. Tiger’s words about the Floyd killing, which has outraged thousands and led to marches and nighttime looting, seemed almost conciliatory.

“My heart goes out to George Floyd,” said a statement on Woods' Twitter account, “his loved ones and all of us who are hurting right now, I have always had the utmost respect for our law enforcement. They train so diligently to understand how, when and where to use force. This shocking tragedy clearly crossed the line.”

No allusions to racial separation or anger. No joining the voices and words of others in sports; no linking with the group.

Because golfers always have had their own voices, although they seem to speak as one.

This was long ago, 1972, the national election, Nixon vs. McGovern. I was the golf writer for the San Francisco Chronicle and asked numerous players on the PGA Tour which candidate they supported. All except Mike Morley was for Nixon. Morley was from South Dakota, as was McGovern.

An NFL coach would be thrilled with such unanimity. The idea in football is to have every player think as every other, to buy into the team concept. Yet in golf, the lonely game, where you’re on your own, each player seemed philosophically identical to every other. No individualism.

Was it because so many golfers grew up at country clubs? Bunkers were to be raked. Boats were not to be rocked. The golf balls were white. So were the members. Not like basketball games at the gym or flag football in the streets.

Blacks weren’t allowed in those clubs, except as caddies. Some were persistent enough and skilled enough to go pro, but where could they play? The PGA of America had a Caucasians-only clause in its by-laws. In 1948, the Richmond (Calif.) Open allowed a black pro, Bill Spiller, to enter, and executives removed him from the course.

The California attorney general at the time, Stanley Mosk, said if the clause wasn’t eliminated all the events in the state — the L.A. Open, San Diego, Pebble Beach, San Francisco Open — would be.

When Charlie Sifford, a black pioneer in golf, won the L.A. Open in 1969, he sent a telegram of appreciation to Mosk.

Woods has spoken of Sifford’s efforts. Now the struggle is about life, not golf.

Tiger entered the Tour in 1996 accompanied by a commercial about the places that, because of his ethnic background, he wasn’t permitted to play.

He’s welcome everywhere now. He’s establishment. He’s a star.

Tiger doesn’t have to hold a sign of protest. He only needs to hold his 5-iron and his head high, and embrace a movement that so many, famous or not, believe will make America a better place.

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