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Golf, baseball breaking long-held traditions?

By Scott Michaux
Published on

Tradition isn't what it used to be in sports.

Century-old football rivalries were cast away for conference realignment and expansion.

Historic venues get plowed under to make way for new luxury stadiums.

Classic uniforms are shelved for marketing promotions.

This week brought news of two new potential challenges to sports traditions. Whether you see it as needed progress or an egregious assault depends entirely on your world view.

The European Tour is now allowing its pro golfers to wear shorts during practice rounds and pre-tournament pro-ams. Most might see a few exposed knees in the Abu Dhabi desert heat as harmless while others think it's akin to shouting "Denim!" in a crowded country club dining room.

Closer to home, word filtered out of the baseball's quarterly owners meetings that the National League might consider adopting the designated hitter -- some even calling it inevitable by the 2017 season. Some might call that an overdue offensive enhancement and safeguard for pitchers while many will howl at the last shred of independent identity between MLB's two leagues being dissolved into homogeneity.

In this corner, caring spikes very deeply about one and hardly at all about the other.

The NL adopting the designated hitter would be an abomination. I say that as a lifelong National League fan who only pays attention to the AL in the World Series and the grudgingly accepted reality that interleague play is never going away.

Purist NL fans absolutely love the strategic element that having pitchers bat for themselves requires. The double switches. The bunts. The walks. The occasional unexpected heroics from a good-hitting pitcher. The forced tactical calisthenics that managers are required to make simply by having a pitcher at the end of a lineup card.

But the best part of not having the DH is that it's different. It's the last remaining element of what once defined two dramatically different leagues. I used to think the American League should abolish the DH, but I've come to realize that would be equally tragic. That the two leagues are forced to play by the other's rules in their ballparks is a final connection to baseball's roots. A homogenous set of rules would destroy that for a few more offensive stats.

That's probably tilting at windmills at this point. A couple of ace pitchers got hurt batting last season and the scales are tipping toward protecting those valuable assets with full-time substitute batters.

"Twenty years ago, when you talked to National League owners about the DH, you'd think you were talking some sort of heretical comment," said baseball commissioner Rob Manfred. "But we have a newer group. There has been turnover, and I think our owners in general have demonstrated a willingness to change the game in ways that we think would be good for the fans, always respecting the history and traditions of the sport."

Pro golfers wearing shorts in non-tournament rounds hardly measures up in significance. The vast majority of weekend amateurs and college golfers wear shorts every time they play during the summer months. Only the pros (and Augusta National members and guests) are required to wear long pants.

Whether that makes any rational sense comes up every time the temperatures hit triple figures at a U.S. Open or PGA Championship.

The European Tour decided to allow it only during practice and pro-am rounds. The world didn't collapse seeing Ian Poulter dancing down the fairway in scorching Abu Dhabi with his pale legs exposed.

"I think it's awesome," said world No. 1 Jordan Spieth. "I think it will be something that I would love to see on the PGA Tour, as well. Guys seem to all love it over here. I've not heard one person, one tour player, complain about it. And most of the guys that are really talking highly of it are the older guys, oddly enough."

No. 3 Rory McIlroy has no issues: "I don't think it takes anything away from the tradition of the game or etiquette or how guys look on the course."

A compilation of four online polls (mine, former Augusta State star Oliver Wilson's, a blogger's and the Golf Channel's) showed overwhelming support (73 percent of 8,160 combined voters) for allowing players to wear shorts at least during practice rounds.

But don't hold your breath for the PGA Tour to make that change. The word "unprofessional" gets thrown around when it comes to shorts -- as if John Daly's garish trousers scream professional.

"We are aware of the European Tour's change in policy that allows players to wear shorts at certain events during practice and pro-am rounds," PGA Tour vice president Ty Votaw told Golfweek. "The PGA Tour's policy remains unchanged. Players are required to wear long pants when playing practice, pro-am and official competition rounds."

Traditionalists will like to hear that. But traditions these days are subject to change. 

This article was written by Scott Michaux from The Augusta Chronicle, Ga. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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