More than 25 million Americans play golf. I would be happy to express the percentage of those who play the game well, but this keyboard can only handle so many zeros.
With that said, I begrudgingly admit to being one of the many round numbers after the decimal point.
Never have I performed all aspects of the sport at an acceptable level. When my woods are on, my irons are chunky. When I’m on the green in two, I’m off in six. When nothing is going well, I throw my clubs.
In short, I am an average golfer. Of course, that’s in relation to others who enjoy the same cursed pastime. When measured in terms of the par on a golf course, those who are average become terrible.
Yet the popularity of the sport continues to soar.
Men and women dressed for the office come pouring out to the driving range on their lunch breaks. Far fewer people rush out of work to squeeze in a half hour of touch football.
But a quick change of shoes and a briefcase-for-7-iron exchange later, people are hacking away, pretending it’s going to knock their scores under 70 or 80 or 100 someday.
It rarely makes a big difference. In fact, people spotted on a golf course or at a range are hardly ever smiling. A half-scowl of determined failure is the look of choice.
But in terms of sheer excitement and numbers, Americans get more giddy about golf than any other game.
The question, then, is why? Why do we celebrate the first above-freezing day of the year by chasing a white ball? Why do summers become endless searches for the perfect course, the perfect day, the perfect shot?
It’s definitely not the cost. Between green fees, equipment and club repair, golf can get expensive.
It could be the camaraderie, but where are the smiles? Besides, the pressure among “friends” can be intense. Those who don’t think so obviously haven’t changed a five to a four at gunpoint.
For some, it could be just another excuse to walk around and drink beer. In an open field, this would be weird. On a golf course, it’s normal.
A person cannot, however, live on beer alone. In the end, all golfers would trade something beechwood-aged for a 3-wood save.
No matter what Tiger Woods says, golf is not fun, so forget that explanation. I’m the one overcompensating for my slice and whacking a poor man’s head off. It’s aggravating.
There are those who have been at it long enough who might say we enjoy the pain — why else would we keep going out there?
But pain is merely the end result most of the time. What keeps us coming back is the idea that a round might not end in sheer agony.
In short, we endure duck hooks, mulligans, skulled wedges and wrong fairways because we’ve hit enough good shots — just enough, mind you — to think they all might pile up in one round someday.
When we’re eight-over par after three holes, we set modest goals to get through the round. This is for next time, we say. Work on that backswing. Remember which way that 20-footer broke. All for one day we’ve created in our minds.
Then we watch PGA Tour stars have our dream day four times in a row. We marvel. We gaze. Worst of all, we gain hope.
Our hips don’t swivel right. We don’t have distance or accuracy. We sometimes put too much wrist into our putts. But someone else has it. Maybe we could have it, too.
When we do … that’s the sentence that keeps us going. There has to be one day when everything goes right.
Some day that has to happen. On every hole, the blades of grass will blow forward as they leave our hands.
The tee will neither be too high nor too low.
The club will be an extension of the arm, the ball will follow its destined course and the hole will be the Grand Canyon.
And it’s that day, that moment, that all but a handful of the 25 million people who play this sport are waiting for.
It’s sick. It’s wrong. It could be tomorrow.
I’ll see you on the course.
— Michael Rand is the sports editor at The Daily. He welcomes comments at [email protected]