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Daytime TV: It's The Putts

As a grade schooler, it was a dream come true: A week at home, unable to go to school or do anything but lie motionless in front of the TV. Of course, when I was a grade schooler, The Jerry Springer Show was just a gleam in Satan's eye.

Nowadays, the possibility of a week in bed with nothing to do but stare at daytime television is as good a vaccine as anything Jonas Salk could ever dream up. "I Married My Sister!" on Springer or a day at work coughing up blood and swatting at the fever-induced leprechauns dancing through my hair?

I'll be there 10 minutes early, boss.

This is not a story about daytime talk shows, however. This is a story about a television event far more shocking: miniature golf. As in, miniature golf on television. More specifically, the 1999 Putt-Putt World Championships. Did I mention it was on TV?

OK, world. It's nice to see you've settled into the handbasket. This should be a short trip. Hell's just down the block.

It's not like miniature golf is a great affront to the lofty morals of our forefathers. There are very few people marrying their sisters on tattered blue Astroturf with a eight-foot windmill behind them, so Springer's got the Lowest Common Denominator Emmy sewed up once again.

Yet miniature golf is an affront to broadcasting morals. I mean, if you're going to showcase Putt-Putt on television, what won't you show? It was bad enough when ESPN2 featured the Magic: The Gathering World Championships. At the time I thought there was nothing less athletic on TV. I was wrong.

And it's not like the 1999 Putt-Putt World Championships was even real miniature golf. Real miniature golf is hot pink Astroturf so mangled it looks like it's straight off the field at Veterans' Stadium. Real miniature golf is the two guys behind you in black Poison muscle shirts, shouting back and forth about new Trans Am carbs. Real miniature golf is their girlfriends in powder blue tube tops and hair big enough to be seen from space with the naked eye, smacking gum and gauging your manhood solely on the basis of your ability to thread a 12-foot putt through three concrete obstacles and into the small tube that means an automatic hole-in-one.

Real miniature golf is the windmill. God, how I hate the windmill. A silent sentinel standing guard over the 12th hole, mocking my every attempt at miniature golfing immortality. One day, windmill. One day you too shall be judged and found lacking...

(Editor's note: The author has been slapped across the face and given another dose of medication. He shall return shortly.)

So the 1999 Putt-Putt World Championships has none of the elements that make for true miniature golf. What it does have is professional miniature golfers. Yes, you read that right: 'professional.' There is a pro Putt-Putt tour, and I say it's about damned time. After all, what red-blooded American child hasn't dreamed of one day barnstorming the country, making their living with a junior putter and pastel-colored golf ball?

The tournament consisted of three guys trudging through 18 windmill-less holes carpeted with the nicest turf this side of a hillbilly's El Camino. Each competitor gets only one shot to sink the putt, so if you don't get a hole-in-one, you're roadkill. The money is awarded like a Skins game: each hole is worth a certain amount of money, if two players both get an ace, the jackpot carries over to the next hole.

As easy as it is to make fun of these guys -- and it is very, very easy -- they were playing for a substantial amount of dough. The winner took home $6,750, which isn't bad considering how excited I get just by sinking the 19th hole that gives you a free game.

Despite the money, mini golf just isn't a made-for-TV sport. For one thing, there's the gallery. About a dozen shirtless fat guys holding giant novelty cups of beer actually followed the players from hole to hole. It's like the cheap-seat ticketholders at Lambeau or Soldier Field spend their off season following the professional miniature golf tour.

Then there are the commentators. Believe it or not, miniature golf requires both a play-by-play and a color man. I think this is mostly to drown out the incoherent obscenities of the gallery rather than imparting actual information. Seriously, what do you need to hear in order to follow a miniature golf tournament? Distance to the hole? Well, you can see it. Club selection? Rare was the hole that these guys needed to pull out the driver. Hell, there are signs at every tee telling you which number hole this is. Strategy? Well, you could either hit it straight at the hole or, if it was around the corner, try a bank shot. It's not like Jack Nicklaus designed the course.

My main problem with miniature golf on TV is that I don't consider it a real sport if I can do what the supposed athletes are doing. I can't even lay down a proper bunt, let alone jack a curveball into the bleachers. I can't evade an oncoming blitz and fire a frozen rope to Jerry Rice fifty yards down the field. I can't float a nine-iron 165 yards to within 18 inches of the pin.

What I can do is make hole-in-ones on a miniature golf course. Not as many as the professionals did, but then again, they had no windmill, no water and none of those four-foot tall volcano holes. They also didn't have to deal with tube tops and the overpowering aroma of hair spray. Then again, there are usually only two or three fat shirtless guys following me around the course.

Daytime TV is certainly not the wonderland of Scooby-Doo and breakfast cereal commercials that it once was. Where you once had to choose between 3-2-1 Contact and Star Blazers, now your choices involve sub-sports like putt-putt and the sub-humans on Springer. Of course, we could combine the two: "I Married My Sister on a Miniature Golf Course!" just might work.


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