No. When you think of hockey or football, you think of massive men decked out in tons of equipment, getting sweaty and aggressive in the name of their respective sport. When you think of basketball or baseball, you think of running and speed as vital to winning.  And then there’s golf, the sport that most athletic men take up when they’re on the off-season or retired.  It’s probably the most “chilled” sport out there, which begs the question – are golfer’s really athletes? According to Webster’s Dictionary an athlete is “one who takes part in competitive sports” and “a person possessing the natural aptitudes for physical exercises and sports, as strength, agility and endurance.”  

Tennis legend John McEnroe once said that golf wasn’t a sport because in a sport “Don’t you have to run around a little?” Scratch golfer and former NHL great Brett Hull disagrees saying, “Golf is a sport. Just because golfers don’t wear running shoes and don’t run down the fairway doesn’t mean they aren’t athletes.” Why does an aging, couch-potato like Tim Geary think golfers are athletes? I believe golfer’s never have been and never will be considered athletes.  Here’s my argument: What sport allows you to drive around in a cart, drink beer, smoke cigarettes, check email, text, don’t break-a-sweat and don’t get exhausted while participating? What athlete hits a shank? Duck hook? Slice? Skull? Skyball? Do real athletes carry a ball retriever? Have custom pompom head covers? Use non-destructible plastic tees?  Or carry a lightning-proof umbrella?

The game already has a sullied reputation of players being pot-bellied, sandbaggers, many with checkered pants, polo shirt, winged-tip golf shoes who sit around the alcohol-fueled 19th hole! If golfers are to be considered athletes then shouldn’t the criteria require the player to break 80?  Let’s look at some of the great golfers of the past 50 years, not to be confused with great athletes of that period. In 1974, at the height of his career, Jack Nicklaus co-authored with Ken Bowden, one of the top selling golf books of all time titled “Golf My Way.”  Care to guess whether Jack’s waistline was over-orunder 44 at the time? How about all those photos of Arnie in his prime with a butt sticking out of his mouth? It was widely reported that Tom Kite, winner of 19 PGA Tour tournaments, could not bounce a basketball because he lacked coordination skills. Prominent PGA Tour players that are worthy of Weight Watchers membership include: Lee Trevino, Billy Casper, Miller Barber, Fuzzy Zoeller, Mark Calcavecchia, Craig Stadler, Rocco Mediate and John Daly.

If you really want to see some out-of-shape grumpy, old men, then from your recliner, grab the clicker, and check out the Champions Tour. These guys can’t spell “athlete” never mind act like one. No wonder sponsors, other than Cialis, have pulled the plug. The senior tour has evolved into bulging waists, cigars, big cars, wine & trophy second-wives half their age! These guys might be good but please don’t call them athletes!  Today’s young guns on TOUR like Camilo Villegas, Matt Kuchar, Bubba Watson and Rory McIlroy way have exceptional hand-eye coordination, strength and mental intensity, but I doubt any of them could sink 3 of 10 foul shots.

Finally, if you’re in denial and your 12-step program is not working, and you truly believe in the bottom of that beer-gut that a golfer is an athlete, the results from a recent ESPN poll are conclusive evidence. The poll results from a panel of ESPN experts asked to identify the most demanding of 60 sports, graded on 10 components of athleticism: endurance, strength, power, speed, agility, flexibility, nerve durability and aptitude. Boxing ranked first, followed by hockey, football and basketball. Golf ranked – take a deep breath – 51st out of 60 sports, just behind table tennis and horseracing.  Golf did, however, place just ahead of cheerleading and roller-skating, with fishing finishing last. Swinging a golf club is certainly an athletic movement, but you don’t have to be an athlete to do it. And, to the delight of 26 million in the USA who play, thank goodness, you don’t have to be an athlete to enjoy it!

Tom Gorman, a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, International Network of Golf and Golf Travel Writers of America, is a Boston-based freelance golf writer.