March 23, 2010

Hitting Out of the Woods: Manly Golf

The world of golf has been reeling of late. Tiger Woods’ indiscretions have brought our collective attention to the question of character and we have found the preëminent golfer to have fallen a long way short of respectable. Not that golf in America has a lot to say for itself anyway. Golfwear has become a caricature of itself. Golf fans have become loud and obnoxious. Never was there a less edifying shout than ‘You’re the man!’. Never was there a more crass allusion than ‘Get in the hole!’. Falsetto whooping abounds from fans and players alike, accompanied by contrived fist pumps. The niceties of etiquette (which, by the way, was the major topic of conversation when I started to play golf in the late 1980s) are probably still observed, but not so that anybody would notice. In short, golf’s media image has never looked worse. As Augusta approaches, the most strictly controlled Major for both players and fans alike, it may be apropos to restate golf’s values and its virtues.

Golf is first and foremost a competition with the self. One only needs to have struck one ball well to have gained the knowledge of possibility. Thereafter, gaining control over one’s movements, and the elements, is the challenge. It is frustrating, but breeds fortitude, patience, and temperance. The impetuous golfer is mercurial, and mercurial golfers garner no respect. The refined golfer embodies controlled power. He is never flamboyant.

Now, this ongoing battle with the self, if persevered with, leads to humility. On a golf course, inadequacies are public, failures self-evident. So too are triumphs. It is never wise to indulge too much in the latter, for the former always lurk on the next hole. Moderation is key. The golfing temperament, ultimately, is moderate: courageous where necessary, but sensibly safe where fools rush in. This is why Phil Mickleson has not won many Majors, despite his genius. It is why Sir Nick Faldo won five, despite his flaws.

In the best of worlds, this moderation would trickle down to golf’s ‘army’ of fans. As things stand, a more effete army has never been seen. Knowledge of the game – its ethos – should be the first criterion for a golf fan. There is a wealth of tradition, form and respect in this great game that make it bigger than any one individual, any one event. Those who choose to spoil the professional golfer’s good walk would do well to bear that in mind.


  1. I still remember watching Greg Norman in the 2008 Open. He was a touch of class battling against really terrible elements and far younger men. It's a sign or a strong character when after all those years he could still lead a major.

  2. That's true, Pete, but Norman went the long way around to a good temperament. In his heyday, when he was head and shoulders above everyone else, he did not have the coolness under fire to win. Had he had that, he would have been considered truly great. More of a measure of a man to me is Tom Watson. At last year's Open he was stunning. Now, here's a man who had a terrible flaw - the jitters from three feet - and it cost him last year on the last hole. Still, despite that terrible affliction, he has eight Majors to his name. If he'd holed out last year, that would have been THE character story of golf's history.

  3. Kudos to Phil. When I'm wrong I'm wrong.


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