One of the amazing things about golf is how many people have been fooled into believing it is actually a real sport. The first and most obvious symptom of this mass delusion is the need for golfers to gin up a melodrama inappropriate to the occasion.
It’s not enough for Tiger Woods to be the world’s best golfer. He must also jump around and holler, pump his fists and thump his chest, and generally behave in ways that clash, tonally, with the thing he’s actually doing: dinking a little white ball around in the grass, all by himself.
The striking thing about the recent US Open wasn’t that Woods won it playing on a broken leg. It was how much he—and the golfing world—clearly relished the idea of him playing on a broken leg. As he limped and grimaced up fairways and around doglegs, with the crowd and the cameras lusting for every wince-laden drive, he was no longer just golfing. He was elevating golf to the status it so desperately seeks: the status of a genuine athletic event.
Finally, you could hear the golfing world thinking to itself: A golfer is proving once and for all that our game is a test of deep character and physical courage.
See: Golfers play hurt!
See: You can even get hurt playing golf!!!
It’s absurd when you get hurt bowling, just as it is absurd when you get hurt playing golf—or would be if golf assumed its rightful classification among curious outdoor hobbies, on the same mental shelf as scuba diving and t’ai chi ch’uan.
But it can’t. Golfers will not allow it. Too many rich, important people are too heavily invested in the belief that golf is a serious athletic event.
For some time now our age of specialization has been creating a big problem in the sports world. Serious athletes resemble ordinary human beings less and less, but rich, important people want to identify themselves with athletes more and more.
There’s an obvious need for some physical activity that can pass itself off as a sport in which rich, important people can easily participate, and simulate the motions of a pro, without fear of total humiliation.
At first blush this would seem impossible. Rich, important people often lack athletic ability, and so any faux sport would need to be doable without balance or dexterity or coordination. Many rich important people are also fat and physically lazy—and so the faux sport must also be doable with a minimum of exertion.
Enter golf. If it didn’t exist, some rich, important person would have had to invent it for himself.
Once you see golf for what it is—an activity more like birding than basketball that, for the sake of rich important people, everyone is pretending is more like basketball—you begin to understand a lot of otherwise hard-to-fathom golf- related phenomena.
For instance, the huge sums paid to real athletes, from real sports, to play golf. Michael Jordan may think he plays golf obsessively because he likes to play golf. He plays golf obsessively because—at least in the beginning—it paid.
And it paid because millions of pudgy rich men long to be able to say to themselves and to others: Michael Jordan and I play the same sport.
Once golf has lured actual athletes into it, it takes little effort to keep them there. Once you create a faux sport, you create something even better than a sport: an argument for not doing whatever it is you are meant to be doing.
Hence what might be called golf’s negative attraction; it pulls people in by what typically is not found there. In no particular order of importance these are: 1) actual work; 2) wife; 3) kids; 4) awareness that any of the above might be more important than golf.
Some meaningful number of rich, important men have persuaded themselves, and perhaps even their loved ones, that golf is not merely golf. That in playing golf they are simulating work—or, at any rate, training for work.
This explains yet another curious trait of golf, not found in bird-watching or snorkelling—although often found, oddly enough, in t’ai chi ch’uan. Those who engage in it seem to make a point of not enjoying it. Woods makes golf seem like a lot of things but one of those things is not fun.
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