Who cares about golf? Where are the celebs?

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On the surface, it makes no sense.

After all, why would folks come out here to the new Omni Interlocken Resort and watch an assorted group of entertainment and mostly former sports stars - ranging from country singer Rudy Gatlin of the Gatlin Brothers to bowler Marshall Holman - play golf?

All the competitors have made their substantial marks in a variety of places, but in no case has that mark been made on a golf course.

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The regular professional golf tour promotes a catch phrase: "These guys are good." The catch phrase for this eclectic group at Interlocken should be: "Some of these guys are moderately competent - on their best days."

Take, for example, Denver radio sports talk-show host and former NBA player Scott Hastings. His scores of 92 and 93 prompted him to break two golf clubs over his knee. A still-miffed Hastings said afterward, "I love this game, but 93-93? Are you kidding me?" Country singer Charley Pride was four shots worse than Hastings.

University of Colorado football coach Gary Barnett bumbled to rounds of 92 and 88 but tried to reclaim his dignity later: "I'm better than how I played."

Welcome to the burgeoning world of celebrity golf, in this case the Sun Microsystems John Elway Celebrity Classic.

The idea makes sense only when you understand that the golf tournament isn't about golf. Almost all the players are excellent by recreational standards, shooting for the most part 70s and 80s. Only a couple aspire to higher-level tour play, primarily the Senior Tour, and have any reason to think they might succeed. They include former baseball pitcher Rick Rhoden and, a long shot, intense former tennis star Ivan Lendl.

But what all this is really about is our infatuation with celebrities. And there's nothing wrong with it.

Most of the time, fans are kept so distant from the stars that there can be no personal connection. Here, the likes of Dan Marino, Elway, and hockey great Mario Lemieux walk among the common folk and try to exhibit the common touch.

A fan says to former 49er quarterback John Brodie, "Nice putt." Brodie smiles amiably: "I make a few of them."

Sometimes they sign autographs and pose for pictures. Gatlin rumples the hair of young boys. For many, having an interchange with a celeb - no matter how transient -is important. It validates that they were together, at the same place in time, and therefore, briefly equal. Elway and others tossed golf balls to adoring fans on the completion of holes. Those thrilled recipients went home with physical proof of how close they had been to Mr. Big.

Yet, there's something else at work: Watching people of extraordinary accomplishment in other fields look substantially more mortal. It can be difficult for some of us to watch superstars in their primary sports shooting out the lights with superlative performances and earning millions of dollars. Come on, we work as hard as they do - probably harder - and we're reduced to buying specials at Burger King to stay within our budgets. Envy does come into play.

So, when we watch the stars playing their secondary sport, they are not quite as good. OK, they're still probably a lot better than we are. But it doesn't seem as if the gulf separating them from us is such a big chasm.

Baseball catcher Gary Carter was fortunate to break 80 both days. Other noncontenders included the likes of Florida football coach Steve Spurrier (he fired an 81 on Sunday), ex-football great Jim McMahon, basketball icon Bill Laimbeer, baseball's Joe Morgan and Goose Gossage, and Bronco coach Mike Shanahan.

All these people - indeed, the entire field -have rsums that might make ours whimper in comparison. But Gossage, for example, one of the best relief pitchers ever, went out the first day and shot an undistinguished 85. That was fun to watch because, while still a fine score for most casual players, that number at least reeled Gossage back in closer to where we live.

A Gary Carter short putt misses. An observer says, "I can do that."

Too, tournaments afford the celebrities a chance to buff up their images. By showing up, the celebs were able to raise about $750,000 for the Elway Foundation. The money supports the prevention and treatment of child abuse.

Oh, former baseball player (and 1986 National League all-star) Shane Rawley, one of just seven players among 65 competitors to shoot par or better, won. Elway himself was second.

But this, of course, wasn't the point.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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