JUST LET TIGER GO ON HIS MARRY WAY

In the movie “Rocky,” Burgess Meredith warns Sylvester Stallone to stay away from his girlfriend during training.

“Women weaken legs!” he snarls.

Now comes a new theory: Women weaken backswings. At least according to Earl Woods, father of the greatest golfer in the world, Tiger Woods.

Earl told TV Guide this week that he doesn’t see Tiger, who is 25, getting married before his 30s.

“Let’s face it,” Earl says, “a wife can sometimes be a deterrent to a good game of golf. The level he’s at, the finite little problems …would destroy him.”

Hmm. Guess who’s sleeping on the couch tonight, Earl?

A wife can be a deterrent to a good game of golf? Is it true? Oh, maybe if she hides the car keys. Or locks your clubs in the closet.

But somehow, I think whatever lucky girl gets to be Mrs. Tiger Woods, she won’t wait until she walks down the aisle to say, “By the way, what do you do for a living?”

I mean, does anyone really think Tiger one day is going to have to endure this:

WIFE: Again with the golf?

TIGER: Honey, it’s what I do.

WIFE: Do, schmoo. You can play with the boys anytime.

TIGER: But it’s the U.S. Open!

WIFE: If it’s open, they won’t care how late you get there. Besides, did you see those garbage cans? Do you think they’re going to get up and WALK to the curb?

TIGER: Can’t the butler do it?

WIFE: You need the exercise. You’re getting flabby.

TIGER: Flabby? I’m a professional athlete.

WIFE: Ha! That’s a good one. No, no, that Kobe Bryson fellow, HE’S a professional athlete.

TIGER (sighing): Kobe Bryant.

WIFE: You know him? Can we get an autograph?

When you get to 18, phone home

Now, I realize people take their golf seriously. But marriage is supposed to enhance your life. Enrich your life. You know, where there was one, there are now two….

So I ran Earl’s theory by some of my married golfing friends. I expected they would laugh. Instead, they pretty much, to a man, stood there, rubbed their chins thoughtfully, and said, “Well, you know, old Earl does have a point….”

What point? You can’t tell me wives are bad for sports careers. What about Michael Jordan? He did his best work after his marriage. And Wayne Gretzky didn’t forget how to skate once he married Janet Jones. Brett Favre manages to throw a mean spiral with a wife waiting for him.

“Those are TEAM sports!” my friends say.

Oh. I forgot. Golf requires special concentration.

Come on. Do you really think Tiger is facing something like this?

TIGER (whispering on 18th green): I think it breaks a little left.

CADDIE: Yeah, I …what’s that noise?

TIGER: My cell phone…. Hello? Yes, dear …uh-huh…. Honey, I have to putt…. No, I …no…. Oh, no, please don’t ask me to do that….

CADDIE: What?

TIGER: She wants me to wave to her on TV.

The dating game

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Andre Agassi. That’s what they all say, Andre Agassi. He married Brooke Shields, his game sank. He split with her, he won everything in sight.

Well. For one thing, that might have more to do with Andre than with Brooke. I mean, after Andre started dating Steffi Graf, look what happened to her: She retired!

And it’s not like golf is played in the middle of a slag mine. Those are pretty nice destinations we’re talking about.

TIGER: Honey, you want to come watch me play today?

WIFE: Gee, I don’t know. Sit here on Pebble Beach, getting a tan, or stand in the gallery with a bunch of Neanderthals yelling, “YOU DA MAN!”? You know what, honey? I’ll stay here. I don’t want to be a distraction….

Oh. And one more thing Earl is forgetting. The alternative to marriage — which is, if memory serves, dating.

Talk about a distraction! Sure, there are a million finite elements to a marriage. But assuming Tiger is not going to shut down his love life altogether (he just broke up with a girlfriend, so we know he’s not a total golf nerd), he’s going to have to put all that effort into the wooing process.

Here’s a simple test. Compare the categories:

Category One: Phone call. Small talk. Dinner reservations. Aftershave. Shower. Nice car. Make your clothes match. Tie your shoes. Clip your nails. Trim the nose hairs. Gargle with mouthwash. Read wine list. Order French food. Act charming. Stay out all evening, making thoughtful conversation in an effort to come off as a desirable mate.

Category 2: Fall asleep on couch.

Seems to me, Earl, Tiger should be looking to marry as fast as he can.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. Catch “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760) and simulcast on MSNBC 3-5 p.m.

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