Ban The Butt In memory of cancer victim Larry Gilbert, the Tour should outlaw smoking

July 19, 1998

I've never been fond of cigars, and my disdain predates their
ludicrous ascension into the accessory of choice among poseurs.
I spent my college summers working at the pro shop at Pebble
Beach Golf Links, and one of the untidy tasks that came with the
job was cleaning out the golf carts. The cigar smokers were the
worst. They would dispose of the vile aftermath of their foul
indulgence in any of the cart's available orifices, and I was
left to deal with their filth. To this day the stench of cigars
induces in me a gag reflex.

I bring up this bit of personal history only because it relates
to what is a dark anniversary for golf. A year ago last week
Larry Gilbert (right) won the Senior Players Championship in the
most triumphant moment of a career spent on the fringes of the
pro tours. Walking off the last green, he received hearty
congratulations from Jack Nicklaus, a turn of events so
improbable that it brought tears to Gilbert's eyes. "That's a
moment I'll treasure for as long as I live," Gilbert said. No
one knew that that would be only 192 more days.

Even as Gilbert was accepting the championship trophy, his lungs
were being ravaged by a virulent cancer, the legacy of a
lifetime of smoking--first cigarettes and then for his last five
years cigars, which so commonly blight the landscape of the
Senior tour. (Players on the PGA Tour are either more health
conscious or more politically correct because cigars are as rare
as personality there.) Certainly no one forced Gilbert to puff
his life away, but his nasty habit was facilitated by the
permissive atmosphere on the Senior tour. Not only do many
players smoke stogies during tournament rounds, but a number of
them also shill for cigar manufacturers, as Gilbert did.

One company features in its ads the smiling foursome of Larry
Laoretti, Walter Morgan, Dana Quigley and Tom Wargo, the Hogan,
Nelson, Sarazen and Snead of golf's cigar smokers. Laoretti,
especially, has helped make cigars cool. His storybook victory in the 1992 U.S. Senior Open came under a great cloud of
smoke, and his rakish cigar as much as his game captured the
imagination of the public. Thus emboldened, Laoretti has since
spewed such nonsense as encouraging golfers to smoke cigars
because, when clenched between your teeth, they help keep your
head still during the swing.

I hate to come off as the fun police, Miss Manners or C. Everett
Coop, but there is something unkosher about this coupling of
professional golf and cigars. For starters, it undermines the
credibility of the sport. I don't recall cigar enthusiast
Michael Jordan ever lighting up on the fast break. More
disturbing is that the Senior tour and its corporate big
brother, the PGA Tour, blow a lot of smoke about charity and
public service, much of which involves health issues. With so
many Seniors battling various forms of cancer in recent years,
it's galling that the Tour condones the smoking of cancer sticks
during its competitions. (By now anyone who thinks cigars are
harmless probably also refuses to acknowledge that technology
has changed the game.)

It's time to ban the smoking of cigars during tournament play,
and while we're at it, lets outlaw cigarettes as well. Though
they're used more discreetly than cigars, cigarettes are no less
pernicious.

Gilbert would undoubtedly approve. On the day he got his death
sentence from his doctor, he quit smoking, and over the last six
months of his life he tried to persuade many of his colleagues
to do the same. (They all find religion in the end, don't they?
Remember John Wayne wheezing through those antismoking ads
shortly before his death, which was, of course, hastened by a
lifetime of smoking?) As long as smoking cigars is both socially
acceptable and financially rewarding, Senior players will
continue to puff away. The Tour needs to step in. Right now its
players are sending an unhealthy message and, worse, making a
mockery of the memory of Larry Gilbert.

COLOR PHOTO: JIM GUND [Larry Gilbert smoking]

On the day Gilbert got his death sentence from his doctor, he
quit smoking.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)