There is a beauty about the game of golf that is hard to describe to anyone who hasn’t played the game. But let’s give this a shot.
No one shot is ever the same as another. Ever.
There are thousands of fields you play this sport on — and every one of them is totally singular. A baseball diamond, football field, basketball and tennis courts and hockey rinks (for the most part) are identical. But no two golf courses are the same, and no hole on any course is identical to any other hole — in the world.
The ball sits still. It does not move until you move it. You cannot anticipate it or even reflexively react to it. You have to think, while at the same time trying to crowd out all negative or distractful thoughts.
You get to choose your weapons of battle. Fourteen clubs are permitted in your bag. You choose the brand, model, weight, flexibility — and even which levels of loft. Some players carry 8 woods in their bag. Others carry one or two. You have to calibrate your tools to your talents. Again, you have to think. And experiment. And fail. And think.
Weather. Not important in basketball or hockey. Tennis, not really. Football a bit more, but mostly on the kicking game.
In golf, every time you swing the club, you’re checking the wind. And when it’s raining, we’re talking about a whole ‘nother game.
Speaking of all those other sports — you have TEAMMATES. They are there to help you, and you can share the blame when things go south.
On a golf course, you are all alone. Your score is your score, end of story. When you’re in a tournament and you’ve dumped one in the water, the next shot is still on you. And the next. You are either good enough, or you’re not.
Sportsmanship. As Hardy Greaves, the little boy in The Legend of Bagger Vance once said, “It’s the only game I know that you can call a penalty on yourself, if you’re honest, which most people are.”
And most people are. But if they’re not, well that’s another great thing about golf: The way you play and conduct yourself is a metaphor for how you behave in life. For better or worse.
How do you react to adversity? To losing? To winning? To bad breaks? How are you socially with other people? Some of them strangers? How’s your focus? Your concentration? How seriously do you take things? It’s all in there on a golf course.
In golf, you can play competitively with anyone, no matter what your skill level. Due to the handicapping system based on the scores you turn in, you will either get shots or give shots in a match. The playing field gets leveled mathematically, so anyone can compete with anyone.
You can play golf to a very late stage in life. And still play well. Some better than others, of course, but you’ll always be able to get out in the sun and away from the world and have some fun.
My father is 77 and he’s shot his age or better at least five times this year. One of them was 76 in a tournament we played together recently. He was thrilled, and so was I. For him. And that’s golf.
For many years now, the U.S. Open has concluded on the Sunday that is Father’s Day. If my Dad and I are in the same town, it’s tradition to watch the end over barbecue chicken and ribs. And if we’re in different cities, we go over who we’ve bet on — and sometimes share a wager.
Because we’re both pretty good players, we watch the pros closely and break down every shot, swing and situation. We did it this morning — four hours before the leaders even teed off.
I could go on — believe me. The last few years I haven’t been playing as much. But next week I’ll play in a two-day tournament with one of my best friends. We are pumped beyond rational description.
A few years ago, three high school pals and I started a new tradition — an annual two-on-two match that has has gone down to the wire every year. It is pure joy. Beer, laughs, trash-talk and bragging rights for the next 12 months.
Another friend of mine and I play once or twice a summer and then we hit a ridiculously overpriced dinner that the winner pays for. And we speak in Seinfeld lines for about 80% of the round.
Golf is the zen sport. It’s controlled more by the matter between your ears than the nerves in your hands. Although good hands sure do help (thanks, Dad).
And then there’s the rest of you. You’ll use your legs, torso, feet, forearms, fingers, eyes — even your ears.
It’ll make you feel like you’re on top of the world, and it’ll crush your heart like you just got dumped in high school.
I’ll leave the last few words here to Hardy:
“Ask anybody. It’s fun. It’s hard and you stand on green, green grass and it’s just you and the ball and there ain’t nobody to beat up on but yourself. Just like Mr. Newnan keeps hittin’ himself with the golf club when he gets angry. He’s broken his toe three times on account of it. There just ain’t no other game like it.”