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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Golf, the Supreme Sport

This is the newspaper column I wrote that led me to compose the fiction short story Downswing.

Golf, of course, is the supreme sport. I use sport here in the truest sense of the word. More people may watch baseball or football. Youth baseball and beer-belly, adult softball may its legions. More sweat may be produced on the tennis courts. Golf shines as the pinnacle of sports and self-involvement.
In the first place, a normal physique is more than adequate for the game. To play football, you have to be bear. To mash home runs you need forearms the size of Easter hams. But, even the most svelte of forms can learn to knock the golf ball a respectable distance. The over-muscled and large-sized man who tries to use his force alone to crush the golf ball will find it dribbling off the tee in mockery or whizzing in a slice lost amongst the trees.
Timing, rhythm, grace, and balance are the qualities to make a golf ball sit up and take notice. Grip the golf club too hard and you destroy the muscular fluidity golf requires. Bad shots bring tension; tension leads to more bad shots. Golf teaches the blend of mental balance and muscular control.
No other sport requires the full range of using one's muscles: from crushing a drive to tickling a delicate putt ,the small "plunk" in the hole the required sound so the previous satisfyingly crack of the drive has real meaning.
Baseball players who can knock the ball over the fence tell me that feeling is nothing compared to the glory of a long drive. "It makes you shiver all over."
Other sports require umpires and referees. The dishonest golfer suffers in his own hell: taking gimmes on putts he's not sure could make, not counting strokes he ought, playing Mulligans. There are hundreds of ways to cheat at golf, but the one who is cheated is the golfer himself. Most learn this soon. Most beginners soon find satisfaction in honestly breaking 100 on a decent course, breaking 100 with no gimmes, no Mulligans and all the penalty strokes counted.
You've seen baseball, basketball, and football players whine, cry, shout, argue with officials about penalties called. The real golfer, with only God as his witness, calls penalty strokes on himself.
In what other sport does the key point of action before a crowd bring that crowd to absolute silenced? It exemplifies that key element in golf that makes it supreme – courtesy.
Talk about your game of inches! After traversing 440 yards on a long par four, the game, the tournament, one's wits may come down to the small white ball taking one more roll to plop victoriously into the hole – or sit in abject misery at its edge.
In golf, you can play along or with friends, with strangers, or with enemies. And you learn something new about yourself – and them – every time.
Golf is a sport that will last your lifetime. You can begin it young and finish your life with it as an old man. What other sport, besides fishing, can be your lifetime companion?
Golf is a harsh but lovely mistress: lulling you, exciting you, embarrassing you.

Ben Hogan once noted that it should be perfectly possible for someone to birdie every hole, yet no pro has ever shot 18 under in a PGA tournament. Golf has no master. The best you can hope for, dream for, dedicate your life to, are those precious moments of sacred bliss when individual shots work and you are left alone in the universe with your humble glory.

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