Isn’t this the way it always works: I wax poetic about the demi-legendary Imperial Sporting Collection Ryder Cup set, and then two weeks later I’m rummaging through my desk looking for Taiwanese basketball cards and I come across the even more demi-legendary Imperial Sporting Collection Panasonic European Open set.
Fetch me a bucket, Sylvie. I feel the drool comin’ on.
Really. This set jiggles the Jell-O in my brain on so many levels you’d think you were looking at my mom’s old vegetable-and-gelatin mold (shredded cabbage and carrots, sliced green olives, and lime Jell-O, and it tastes just about the way you’d think it would).
First, this set was sealed. That’s right: for nearly one-quarter of a century I’ve been able to resist the siren call of the Panasonic European Open set, the one with the gorgeous brown eyes and blue polyester pants of Seve Ballesteros on the box lid.
I want you to know I opened this set only in the interest of science, just for this column. It’s one of the great sacrifices researchers must make. Plus, I was really, really bored.
Second, the set claims to be part of a series that includes the aforementioned Ryder Cup set, American Golfers, and All Time Great Quarter Backs (their spelling).
Begging your pardon, but what the hell kind of series is that – three golf sets and a football set? That’s like saying the Beatles’ string of smash singles included “Ferry Cross the Mersey” by Gerry and the Pacemakers, or that Mumford & Sons sound fresh and original. It’s plainly a hash.
Listen, just because your company made four trading-card sets does not mean they are a four-set series. “Series” implies continuity, and unless you plan on showing Bubby Brister in a pair of plus-fours (Zubaz don’t count), you are running on empty in the continuity department.
Even the fact that the likeness of Bernhard Langer looks exactly like Joe Montana does not lift these sets up into seriesdom. It just makes them a plagiaristic hash.
Now, let’s consider what exactly is being commemorated here: The Panasonic European Open. There’s bravado in the decision to devote a set of trading cards to the golfers with good hair who played in a pedestrian European golf tournament, but it’s largely misplaced. It would be like devoting an entire baseball set to anyone who happened to be in the starting lineup on April 6, 1987.
(Oh, wait. Donruss did that. It’s called the Opening Day set, and except for a major error involving Barry Bonds and Johnny Ray, it’s a hash, too.)
Okay, fine. But if we’re going down that road, where is the Big I Houston Open set, or the sets for the USF&G Classic, the Hardee’s Golf Classic, the Shearson Lehman Brothers Andy Williams Open, the Beatrice Western Open, the Canon Sammy Davis Jr. Greater Hartford Open, or, irony of ironies, the Panasonic Las Vegas Open? I don’t know where Europe gets off saying the U.S. has it all; they got the Imperial Sporting Collection Panasonic European Open set, while the Panasonic Las Vegas Open got bupkis.
Continuity and logic having been disposed of, let’s talk hair. The Panasonic European Open ascends to its demi-legendary status on mountains of hair.
Golfers have been known for hair ever since they stopped wearing those twee checked caps, but the hair on the Panasonic European Open golfers is positively Alpen. Greg LeMond may have been cycling clean in those days, but there is definitely some funny stuff going on above Jose-Maria Olazabal’s forehead. I’m thinking he’s juicing and volumizing.
And it’s not just Olazabal. I’m sure he was doing it just to stay competitive, because the Imperial Sporting Collection Panasonic European Open set, overrun as it is with soft-collar shirts and saddle shoes, is even more heavily infested with hirsute heads. (They probably smell nice, too, but 24 years in cellophane has sort of eliminated olfactories from the equation.)Ian Woosnam has amber waves of hair; Paul Way’s locks flow like the Thames. Peter Baker’s bushy overgrowth appears to be concealing a bread pudding, while the mane of Jose-Maria Canizares (the other Jose-Maria) seems to have a mind of its own, which may be the point. Howard Clark’s growth matches his turtleneck, Eamonn Darcy’s tangle is cut to match the rough at Royal Troon, Nick Faldo has obviously pared down a bowling ball to fit his pate, and Anders Forsbrand is only a Yamaha DX7 away from full membership in A Flock of Seagulls.
Even the curly-headed guys get in on the action: Manuel Pinero has more in common with Strawberry Shortcake than he’d like to admit, Bernhard Langer rocks Joe Montana’s ‘do, and for Sam Torrance and Peter Senior I offer some of the sweetest words ever to fall on a middle-aged man’s ears: Bosley hair replacement.
(I guess you really can play golf in it.)
I suppose this is as good a time as any to quit with the wisecracks and actually say something about the set. It consists of 25 really thin, poorly cut cards, with borders that are meant to be reminiscent of old tobacco cards but wind up reminding you of your great-grandmother’s bedroom set. The artwork carries over the head-shot-and-action-shot look of the earlier Ryder Cup set – and not by accident. The players who carry over from one set to the other – Langer, Faldo, Ballesteros, Sandy Lyle, Woosnam, Darcy, and Gordon Brand Jr. – really carry over. The artwork for one is the artwork for the other.
Maybe the Imperial Sporting Collectors were thinking (probably correctly) that few people would own both sets, or that two years was plenty of time for collectors to forget (also probably correct), but I’m pretty sure I know the real reason: Imperial Sporting Collection had a bunch of lithos of golfers that weren’t exactly flying off the shelves, and in a fit of marketing call-it-inspiration screamed to the heavens, “We can make trading cards out of them!!!!”
Yes. Well. They did make trading cards out of them, and now we’re sitting around almost 25 years later commenting on how asinine they look. And my guess is the lithos are still on the shelves, so if you go into just the right London shop and ask the proprietor, “Say, by any chance you wouldn’t have a Des Smyth lithograph around -- you know, the one with the surgical collar masquerading as a turtleneck,” he will fall over dead of a heart attack.
Oh, and if you see Dinsdale Piranha, tell him we’ve found Spiny Norman. It’s on top of Barry Lane’s head.