January 8, 2010 by David Gillaspie
Running, Tennis, and Golf
Coolest Runner of All Time? Hell, yeah. If you’ve run some distance, you know the story. How cool is it to run your guts out? How cool is it to run a marathon and hurting all the way behind two women so in shape that they never stop talking? That’s not cool. But Steve Prefontaine made it cool.
Imagine if Prefontaine were alive. Would Nike be Nike? Or more than Nike.
Prefontaine ran through North Bend on his way to Horsefall Beach. I grew up in North Bend. My junior high pals and I saw him. He looked like he was running from something. Seeing him didn’t make me want to run. Not yet.
Did Prefontaine start the running craze? Well, it wasn’t Usaine Bolt.
Tennis didn’t begin with Billie Jean King, though it could have. And it didn’t end with a mullet wig on a bald man. Tennis began with a man named Pauncho and a woman named Althea. A Mexican-American man and African-American woman introduced a sport America thought it knew. They showed how to play a different game.
Arthur Ashe did his part to move tennis from the country club setting to the inner-city courts. He encouraged any kid to give it a whack. Who’s to tell if giving it a whack means something, or not. Take a swing. Feel the vibrations through the tennis racket. What does it mean? It means more to some than others, just ask the Williams’ sisters.
Some of those same vibrations come through a golf club. Who knows more about that than Tiger Woods? He had the world by the tail from swinging a stick. Turns out he over-swung on some of the courses he played. Tiger didn’t invent golf, and neither did Casanova or Rudolph Valentino, other men famous for their stick work. So, who did?
Picture a gold course in your mind. Do you see a flat meadow with low cut grass? No. Instead, you see rolling hills and long stretches of grass bounded by taller grass. Whether the origins of golf point to Roman times, a Persian Dynasty, or China, one thing is certain: golf is played on land carved by glaciers.
Scotland didn’t need Robert Trent Jones Jr. to come over and add hills and ponds to their country. The ice age did it for them. They didn’t need Arnold Palmer to show them how to knock rocks into rabbit holes, though he did show how to mix ice tea and lemonade. If Scotland is the ancestral home of golf, then the world is dotted with little spots of Scotland.
Anyone can hit a golf ball off a driving range tee. Do it enough and you’ll get the ball out there. But nothing prepares you to hit a ball on a little spot of Scotland from a side hill lie. When you get a ball in such a situation, you find a way to hit out. In that sense, you invent golf with each swing, with each chunk of turf you send down the course, with each club you blame for a poor shot. And you keep playing.
Know your sport, or at least know more about it than those you play with. Strap on a pair of Nikes and take a victory lap with your arms raised. Imagine the crowd roaring at Hayward Field on Pre’s kick.
Whack a ball against a wall and dream what it must feel like for two little girls who grew up to dominate the tennis world.
Walk a golf course. Let the ups and downs, the dips and lifts of the land take you to another part of the world. Whether you’re in Georgia, or Oklahoma, or Oregon, you’re really in Scotland. Wear knickers and a beret to set the mood. Kick a rock into a hole along the way; just leave the golf clubs alone. They are too dangerous.
Part 3: Boxing and Wrestling.