Celebrity golf: fun or sport?
There’s only one word to describe covering the American Century Championship, otherwise known as the Celebrity Golf Tournament: surreal.
There may not be a mix of serious sporting event and goofy celebrity hijinks in the world like this event. While Rick Rhoden and Dan Quinn provided drama and clutch performances, Charles Barkley and Amy Van Dyken entertained the crowd with one-liners and cartwheels (you can probably guess which one was doing the tumbling).
The hybrid nature of the event makes complete coverage nearly impossible. On Sunday, we had one writer following the leaders around the course and another roaming around looking for interesting tidbits. Following Barkley’s group would have provided plenty of funny copy, but can a writer really justify spending four hours watching one of the worst golfers on the planet just because he’s entertaining? Are we a sports section or Entertainment Tonight?
What I learned was that almost no one takes the sporting side seriously. I’m sure Quinn and Rhoden would disagree, but the golf is really a sideshow for the celebrities and fans. The crowd seeking autographs at the putting green was just as large as the gallery for the leaders, while Barkley drew more fans than any other single competitor.
I must admit to being a little starstruck on my first day with the celebrities. Even guys who were marginal players in their sports go Hollywood at the tournament. Al Del Greco, a former NFL kicker whom I wouldn’t have recognized two weeks ago, suddenly became an intimidating presence. Even Donald Trump, who I find detestable on a personal level, seemed larger than life.
Not that going Hollywood is always a good thing. Kyle Boller, whom I interviewed regularly when he was a struggling young quarterback at Cal, has become a full-blown glam-jock with the requisite colored sunglasses and glib, clichéd answers. It’s a far cry from the 19-year-old who pulled his hood over his face to stay anonymous on the Berkeley campus when things were going badly, and he’s not nearly as interesting to interview now that he’s got his rap down cold.
The worst part of the process was talking to a couple of my biggest sports heroes – Jerry Rice and Matt Williams – and stuttering through the interviews like the host of Saturday Night Live’s “The Chris Farley Show.”
ME: Jerry, got time for a couple of questions?
ME: Um, do you remember that time you caught that touchdown to beat the Rams in 1989?
JR: (Looking around to make sure I’m not kidding) Sure.
ME: That was awesome.
ME: Could I have your hat?
Okay, it might not have been quite that brutal, but that’s sure what it felt like. It’s tough to be professional when your childhood hero is standing right in front of you, even if he’s a little over the hill and has a hairline that’s retreating faster than the French in WWII.
So what’s more important, the celebrities or the golf? That all depends on your perspective. Lake Tahoe doesn’t have a PGA event, so the tournament is probably the closest thing to professional golf locals will see. Then again, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Big Mac and The Donald don’t come to town often either. Sometimes, pseudo-sports is the best we’ve got to offer.
– Tribune staff writer Jared Green can be reached at 542-8008 or email@example.com