The Women Behind Star Athletes Often Steal the Show

For those who love the game, golf is addictive. For those who don't, it's pretty boring. And it seems a lot of people fall into the latter category.

Twenty-four of the world's top golfers are on display in Ireland this weekend, battling for the Ryder Cup -- raw emotion as Tiger Woods and the Americans take on Europe's finest.

But in the buildup to the Ryder Cup, the players have been given short shrift in the press. Most of the headlines have been about their wives.

They are known as WAGs -- that's wives and girlfriends. Or WABs -- that's wives and birdies. Get it? Yes, it's pretty bad.

Even the stuffy Daily Telegraph of London ran a double-page spread that put the wives in the spotlight, while their diligent husbands toiled on the practice ground.

"I tell you exactly what it says about us," spat Daily Telegraph columnist writer Rachel Johnson. "This is a society obsessed by personality rather than content."

And the smutty British tabloids have not been as kind as the good old Daily Telegraph. Elin Nordegren, wife of Tiger Woods, has suffered the indignity of fake naked shots splashed across tabloid covers. An irate Tiger fumed at a press conference when he should really have been talking about his game. "It's just that sometimes they just don't let the facts get in the way of a good story," he mused philosophically when the steam stopped pouring out of his ears.

The so-called American WAGS have made quite an impression in Ireland, with their match designer costumes, coiffed hair and dazzling gems. Remember, two of them have modeled before and another tried her hand as a pop singer.

"They are what we call in England 'fit looking birds' and they've made the most of it," Rachel Johnson concedes, once the steam stopped coming out of her ears.

But where does this misogynistic WAG label -- which defines a woman solely by what her husband does -- come from? It started in earnest during last summer's soccer World Cup. While England's players floundered on the field, their wives took center stage as they shopped and partied. The press took more interest in the wives than the players.

Rachel Johnson believes the WAG phenomenon is a media invention to get more women to watch sports. "Women tuned in to the World Cup because they wanted to see Colleen legless outside some bar," she says. The Colleen she refers to is Colleen McLoughlin, girlfriend of potato-faced sensation Wayne Rooney. McLoughlin is arguably Queen WAG, although she faces stiff opposition from David Beckham's wife, Victoria, the artist formerly known as Posh Spice.

McLoughlin has reaped the rewards. Now she's fronting television commercials for a clothing line. And between those commercials on British TV, there's a TV show not even about fictional soccer players, or footballers, as they call them over here. The show is called "Footballers' Wives."

But back to the field of play: Remember, these women are in the limelight because they are supposed to be supporting their husbands and partners in the sports arena. Do WAGs help or hinder performance on the field?

First, there's the smutty angle that the British tabloids love. Is sex before sport a good or a bad thing? Muhammad Ali would abstain for six months before a bout. Other athletes claim pregame sex calms them. There's no scientific proof to support either opinion, according to Costas Karageorghis, a former sprinter turned top-notch sports psychologist. But, I asked him, What happens if a player feels upstaged by his wife? "If the spotlight turns on a player's wife they can feel that they are not the important one," he replied. "In those instances, there can be a negative impact on performance."

The new England soccer manager agrees. After England's limp showing in the World Cup, he's laid down the law: No more WAGs.

For different reasons, Rachel Johnson agrees. "Do women in sport take a huge crowd of men in matching costumes when they go and compete?" she says. "I don't think they do."

But for many viewers, rightly or wrongly, WAGs will always be more interesting than BAGs -- Boring, Abstemious Golfers.