The holidays are upon us, Thanksgiving a mere speck in the rear-view mirror, a point at which even the heartiest golfers yank their clubs from the trunk and grant them a few months of R&R in the garage. Unless you live in a warm-weather climate, the season is over. Even the PGA Tour, which is loathe to pass on any weekend when it can dish out at least $5 million in prize money, has gone dark until January.
Options are slim, most of them unsavory — the perfect time to reflect on why golf is the greatest sport on earth. Whether you play four or five times a week or prefer to watch the world’s best on television, there is a civility and serenity to the game that only becomes more precious amid talk of a Major League Baseball lockout or news of another NFL player being taken into police custody.
Before the rustle of dead leaves in the backyard finally caught my attention, I came up with 25 reasons to love the little white ball and all that comes with it. So if you’ll excuse me, I have some gutters to clean….
25. Almost every big sporting event nowadays is held at night — usually starting at 8 p.m. or later on the East Coast— depriving kids with strict mothers or people with real jobs from watching them in their entirety. Golf is played by the light of day. It’s usually over by dinner, leaving the rest of the evening to fall asleep watching a four-hour ballgame with nine pitching changes.
24. At both the recreational and professional levels, golf breeds character and mutual respect. The NBA breeds crybabies who have never committed a foul in their life, who travel every time they head to the basket and flop with the same alarming regularity as a Brazilian midfielder.
23. No three-minute replay reviews.
22. Golfers need not wear jockstraps.
21. Digging a bunker shot out of a footprint to avoid a bogey at the par-3 eighth. When life deals you lemons, suck it up and save par. The lemonade will be awaiting you at the halfway house.
20. Amen Corner. The 11th, 12th and 13th at Augusta National form the most adventurous, fateful trio of holes in golf, and thus, are justifiably worthy of the holy moniker. Water plays a prominent role in the treacherous disposition of all three, which is why so many visions of victory have been laid to rest in Raes Creek. One can easily make a case that No. 13 remains the finest par-5 ever built.
19. Golf can be slow, but it’s not because a half-dozen referees have gathered to discuss whether what they just saw was pass interference, then again 10 minutes later to ponder the possibility of intentional grounding.
18. The USGA handicap system. It’s far from perfect, abused by those with the same intentions as a guy who moves his ball in the rough, but for the most part, it serves an extremely valuable purpose. Equality + Camaraderie = Better Game.
17. No guaranteed contracts. Sure, the best golfers make millions, but they don’t get paid if they don’t play — or don’t play well. On the PGA Tour, anyway, a superstar still has to sing for his supper.
16. You can’t play tackle football on a Saturday morning. Actually, you could, but you’d either have to go see the dumbass doctor or get X-rays on your arm afterward.
15. A team wins the 2017 World Series by stealing signs and banging on a trash can to tip off the guy at the plate. Cheating is the elephant in the room in other sports. Pro golf has long adhered to a zero-tolerance policy on such matters. It’s the biggest reason improprieties seldom arise.
14. Golf is contested on the largest playing field in sports.
13. Golf is contested on the prettiest playing field in sports. Large and pretty. Excellent combination.
12. Unless you make a Ryder Cup team, you don’t have to wear a uniform. Tuxedos aren’t recommended, but cut-offs aren’t allowed, either. Just follow the local dress code and be ready when it’s your turn to hit.
11. That last hour before darkness. Just you and your golf ball in the 14th fairway on a splendid summer evening.
10. Golf is played on real grass. The kind cows eat, not the fake stuff still carpeting the earth at more than half of all NFL stadiums.
9. Johnny Miller. His critical analysis and brusque delivery broke the nicey-nice code practiced by every announcer on every golf telecast before him. Lots of golf fans couldn’t stand Johnny, preferring the candy-coated schmaltz to someone who called it as he saw it. Johnny was bold. He broke the mold. Much of what he said was absolute gold.
8. Most of baseball’s historic ballparks have long since been torn down. Ebbets Field, Forbes Field, Polo Grounds…Some of those dinosaurs needed to go, obviously, whereas golf’s most significant shrines are preserved for the ages. Many still rank among the best courses in the game.
7. The Arnie Factor. So many tour pros have cited the example set by Arnold Palmer as the reason they stop to sign autographs (even after shooting a 75), pose for photographs and show the same level of respect to those who attend tournaments as they do their fellow competitors. I’ve witnessed hundreds upon hundreds of small acts of kindness over the years, even from guys who could be pretty gruff. Palmer’s legacy comes with deep roots. May it last forever.
6. The green jacket. In what other sport is such a tribute to tacky fashion presented to the winner? The spoils awarded to a Masters champion are many, but that emerald blazer is the signature prize, a stroke of traditional genius from a club that has always done things its own way.
5. I wrote an entire column last year on why a hole-in-one is the most overrated occurrence is golf, which doesn’t mean they aren’t very cool. An ace is just dumb luck, unlike anything else in sports — a stroke of perfection often produced by the imperfect of sources. Tradition calls on the man of the moment to buy everyone a drink in the clubhouse bar afterward. One of those corny, celebratory things that brings people together for a few laughs.
4. Tiger Woods. For all his flaws and poor decisions, Eldrick’s brilliance has produced a body of work to behold—the cause of so much joy to so many people for so many years. Woods is the greatest pressure performer in sports history. Jordan had help. Brady has an offensive line. Tiger did it alone. In 50 years, his achievements will border on the unfathomable.
3. You haven’t seen it all until you’ve been inside the men’s locker room at Seminole GC, which the immortal Dan Jenkins described as “one of the better places in Florida to change your shoes.” From the trophy-cluttered sitting areas (all from amateur events) to the colossal collection of photo albums and stuffed animal heads glaring down from the walls, the room looks like someone opened a golf museum inside a hunting lodge, then added a touch of timeless style in case a visitor gets bored after three or four hours.
2. The Super Bowl has become a bloated spectacle — everything but the football seems to matter. The six games of the 2021 World Series lasted an average of 3 hours and 41 minutes. Pro golf has four major championships, each different in personality but almost identical in competitive structure. None of them have overtly succumbed to the influences of corporate America or commercial revenue. Not yet, anyway. The Masters is the best sporting event known to mankind, but this year’s PGA Championship and U.S. Open produced two of the best final rounds imaginable. When it comes to the competitive pinnacle, no sport boasts a more compelling or watchable product.
1. My 73-year-old father in-law just bought his wife of 52 years a Ping putter for her birthday. She didn’t need a pair of shoulder pads and probably couldn’t find much use for a hockey stick. Golf is the game of a lifetime, a recreational force of nature that brings people of all ages, shapes and sizes closer, even when they’ve known each other for more than a half-century. Apparently, Nana wants to make more putts. Can you blame the woman?