Saturday, April 09, 2016

Confessions of a Middle-Aged Golf Fan

There was a time in my childhood when I would watch virtually any competition on TV.   Game shows?  Check.  Bowling?  Check.  Auto racing?  Check.  Basketball, hockey, tennis, baseball, football ...?  Hell yes.   Golf?   Sorry, but no.   We all have to draw the line somewhere.

Maybe there was no one thing that turned my stomach when it came to golf.  Maybe it was a combination of indignation and boredom.  On the indignation side, I was turned off by golf’s association with uber-wealthy fans, a lily-white field of competitors, and country clubs that banned women from becoming members.   On the boredom side, what do I need to say?  What is more boring to an American kid than listening to middle-aged Brits from privileged backgrounds whisper about slightly younger men from equally privileged backgrounds as they prepare to roll a ball into a hole.  Give me a vicious boxing match any time over that soporific time suck.

But now?  I guess I’ve become an old white man.  There’s no other explanation for the fact that I’ve become a big-time golf fan.

Now please don’t ask the next question: “Do you play?”  Of course I don’t play.  That would involve spending more time than is necessary outside of buildings.  It would also involve freely spending money on frivolities.   Candidly, I have whacked at balls on a golf course a number of times over the last decade, but never more than two or three times a year and never did I buy clubs.  So I think I can legitimately say that I’m a golf fan who is not a golf player.  And yes, I realize that this would make me sound insane to many people, including many of my own person-stages.

The truth is that I was swept up in that craze of the last two decades known as “Tiger Mania.”  But even after Tiger revealed himself to be “human, all-too-human,” I have maintained interest in the sport he played at the highest level.   Watching it on TV relaxes me.  And sadly, the more ancient I get, the more I appreciate the value of relaxation.  But golf isn’t just relaxing – there is a certain affirming quality to it that I don’t find in too many places.  Yes, it’s a competition, but the competition doesn’t so much pit one gladiator against another but each gladiator against Mother Nature herself – which makes it hard to get mad at any of the competitors.   Yesterday, at the Masters, the winds began to howl, and the players began to fold.   It’s hard enough to hit a ball when there’s no wind, but on a windy day, the sport is more about surviving than thriving.  And indeed, the man who is now leading the tournament was playing far worse than par during the latter part of his round.  Watching a round like that, you marvel at the accomplishments of any of the competitors, but it doesn’t pain you when they falter either, because Mother Nature isn’t your enemy.  She’s just part of the equation.

And here’s the other great thing about watching golf:  you can root for the best player (i.e., the favorite) and not feel like a jerk.  That’s because no matter how good that player is – even if his name is Tiger Woods in his prime – he’s still expected to lose.  In other words, every time a superstar begins a tournament, he is virtually always the underdog, and the favorite is “the field” (i.e., everyone else).  That’s not true in most team sports.  And it’s not even always true in an individual sport like tennis or track and field, where certain superstars are truly dominant.   In golf, there are so many funny bounces and other sources of unpredictability that the best player still has an uphill struggle at the beginning of every tournament.  So you can feel free to root for him and revel in his “upset” victory over lesser players.  That’s pretty cool.

Honestly, I don’t know how much time I’ll have to watch golf this weekend, even though it’s the first major tournament of the year, but what I do know is that I’ll enjoy what I do watch – and that’s the last thing I would have said in my teens or even in my 20s.   I still get annoyed by the all the commercials for how to invest your retirement assets or what to do if your penis stops working.  But hey, I never thought I’d get anything out of watching the golf itself.  Someday, I might even find value in watching the commercials. 

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