Professional sports are changing faster than you can kiss a duck. Last summer , when New York Yankee manager Billy Martin attended a hearing before the American League president to appeal a two-game suspension, he brought along four lawyers. Remember when there used to be six teams in the National Hockey League? Now there are 21. What fans once believed, somewhat naively, to be grown men playing at little boys' games is today unmistakably big business: astronomical salaries, players' strikes, and free agents on the open market.
Major league athletics also appear to be getting more and more violent and less and less sportsmanlike. Hockey has long been known for fighting among participants as reflected in the old joke, ''I went to see the fights and a hockey game broke out.'' Now other big-time sports are following this lead. Punching matches are becoming increasingly frequent in both basketball and baseball, and some serious, career-threatening injuries have resulted. Football is so inherently violent that the occasional brawl which erupts is gratuitously redundant.
Even tennis, a competition which once epitomized civilized comportment, has caught the bug. John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl glare viciously and aim high-powered smashes at each other. Jimmy Connors often looks angry enough to go to ''fist city'' on clay, grass, or asphalt. Before too long, perhaps some other full-grown tennis infants will spar a few rounds with each other or maybe with a fan.
But at least one lucrative, televised game has steadfastly resisted the trend toward assault and battery. The sport is golf, and one has to wonder what these folks are thinking. It is not exactly a dynamic, fast-paced contest to begin with. Then consider that the participants are bland, virtually all lily-white Anglo-Saxons who look like skinny accountants rather than professional athletes. If this isn't enough to doom the PGA tour, the point of golf is to score as little as possible while behaving like a mature, gracious human being - hardly the stuff to make the modern-day fan's juices flow.
How can this atavistic entourage compete with the beasts, boors, and bullies in other arenas? Simple. The duffers have to get tough. The play has to get coarser out on the course. No more dinks on the links. Let's face it, more people today will pay to watch a cheap shot than a chip shot.
The road to rhubarbs can begin with the abandonment of golf's traditional civility. Talking, whistling, and yodeling while an opponent is making a shot would be an excellent start. Next, discard the excessively polite habit of not stepping on the prospective path of a competitor's putt. Will this sort of ballroom decorum fill the galleries or impress the ratings-mad networks? Instead , golfers should station themselves in front of the enemy ball, plant their spikes firmly, and dance an enthusiastic Charleston. To inject a bit more action and speed into tournaments, players should be allowed to hit simultaneously, then race down the fairway to make their next shots before their ill-bred foursome mates get a chance to harass them. Last one to the 18th green is a rotten egg.
And what a waste to have a whole bag full of clubs, rock-solid woods and irons, and use them only to hit a tiny white ball.