Saibal Kumar Bose ’83
The Hard Nut said, “If a guy is hooked he doesn’t need to read your crap to continue and if he is not already a convert, don’t try.” But when Mark Twain called golf ‘a good walk – spoiled’ millions of golfers cried out across the world. Such a glorious game being compared with the plebian act as walking. Some others wanted to know his handicap, others his parentage. Clergymen prayed for divine retribution while the man of law said, “Mark Twain is an ass”.
Golf is a way of life. A world where wife, children and job are substituted by irons, niblicks and eagles. Golfers think, dream and, unfortunately, talk golf. The barometer of the game can measure their moods, and their social standings by their handicap. From the champion to the goof, the game of golf is an all-consuming passion. The universe is a mere illusion, the reality is the putting green. Heaven is a beautiful golf course and the non-believers look silly when they get there.
A touch of machismo and a dash of megalomania is what makes a golfer. “Golf is so popular,” says A. Milne, “because it is the best game to be bad in.” Golfers are perennially doomed to muff their shots, to have bunkers intercept the ball, and to three putt their way to the hole. Perfect golf is played only on the nineteenth hole. The rest is sheer agony. When you have puffed your way to push the skittish ball into a malevolent hole, having escaped the lures of the sand traps, lakes and the fourth dimension, you feel entitled to the justice of a decent putt. But no, the moment you make contact with the ball, the hole jumps to the side and the ball lodges itself in a position where a stick of dynamite will do it any good. No wonder golfers tend to be nervous, highly strung individuals. Every game is replete with incidents that demonstrate the existence of a malicious fate. Who can forget Wodehouse’s immortal character who complained of being distracted by “the uproar of butterflies in the next of meadow.”
An overactive imagination, is in fact, the golfer’s greatest enemy. Most golfers defeat themselves thinking of pitfalls. Bobby Jones remarked, “In golf every man is his own opponent.” Walter Hagen contended, “Give me a big man with no brains and I’ll make a golfer of him”. Golf is a game of mind over matter- where the flesh is willing, but the spirit, alas, is weak.
Cursed by luck burdened with an unnecessary brain and harassed by unsporting opponents, the golfer gamely struggles on. And if he cheats a little, or lies a bit, compassion demands that he be forgiven. The classical definition of a golfer is “one who shouts four, takes six and writes down five.”
Indeed the only pleasure that a golfer gets is in talking about the game. In long monologues and with martyred looks, they tell the lousy day they had. Of how, but for the sky falling on his head, he would have finished the round on a 72 instead of an 86. And, of course, the golfer’s tales on the progress of a game bears little resemblance to reality. As is said, “Golf is a game where the ball often lies badly, but the golfer always lies well.” So when a golfer claims to have got an albatross on the thirteenth and an eagle on the ninth, he is well advised to tell it to the birds.
The Gods, of course, are aware of this failing. Mythology has it that there was once a curate who deserted his flock for a Sunday afternoon of solitary golf. Unfortunately, God and St. Peter were both in the vicinity. “I’ll teach this man a lesson,” said the former. So the curator teed off and his first shot , an enormous drive, went into the lake, bounced on a lily pod, ricocheted off a tree, hit the flag and dropped into the hole. “You call that a lesson?”, asked St. Peter, surprised. God nodded in satisfaction. “Now who is he going to tell that to?, He asked.
I love golf and could write pages of poetry and prose in praise of the game, but then there is no justice in golf. It remains the only game where the player gets rewarded for playing below par.