In defense of golf

It’s undeniable that Michael Jordan is one of the greatest athletes of this generation. But when asked about the sport that truly challenges him he doesn’t talk about basketball; he talks about golf.

In a 60 Minutes interview Jordan : “For a competitive junkie like me, golf is a great solution because it smacks you in the face every time you think you have accomplished something. That to me has taken over a lot of the energy and competitiveness for basketball.” Jordan isn’t the only hoopster to talk hitting the links. Former NBA MVP and All Star Charles Barkley commented on his golf game: “I don’t like being bad.” And baseball great Ty Cobb expressed frustration as a golfer because he could not transfer his talent in hitting a fastball to striking a stationary golf ball.

DeCiccioGolfAs a Floridian, I feel as if it is my duty to make the case for golf as one of the most challenging athletic endeavors that requires not only physical but also a mental acumen that is unmatched by any other sport. Only people who have not played golf will belittle it in the context of other sports.

The essential nature of a sport is that it has physical requirements, rules, and a goal, whether the means to achieving that goal are sinking a basket, posting the best time, or hitting a homerun. All activity, practice included, is aimed at winning the game or contest which should be fun and challenging. Golf fits within this definition.

Critics will argue you do not have to be in shape to play golf, and point at pro golfers like John Daly. (Yes, the John Daly for whom the Happy Hour drink favorite is named.) Other sports have top athletes who appear out of shape. For baseball take the case of 80s and 90s power hitter Cecil Fielder. Babe Ruth’s corpulent form and hot dog eating prowess were legendary in his day. Physical condition, as many say, does not matter in golf, but one need only examine the LPGA and PGA tour where the top players are in peak shape. Tiger Woods, the number one ranked male golfer, runs three to five miles a day (weather permitting), lifts weights, and works on his flexibility to keep his golf muscles lithe. The top ranked American LPGA golfer and number two in the world, Stacy Lewis, explained the physical demands of golf and what she must do to stay at the top of her game: “We play six or seven days a week, three or four weeks in a row, and walk six to seven miles during a single round. Running helps me maintain my energy level. All that goes into when you’re playing golf five or six hours at a time. That’s why I run, why I work out, why I train off the course. So I can maintain that energy level.”

But it’s not just physical. As a lifelong golfer and member of my high school girls’ varsity golf team, I realized right away that golf has a challenging mental aspect to the game. In golf you must have the mental focus to ignore your bad shots and focus on hitting the next shot. Similarly, in other sports you cannot carry your frustration into the next play. In basketball or soccer, if you make a bad shot or pass you must forget about it and move on to the next play or else your frustration will affect your performance.

Golf is like this, but on a higher level. If a ball is hit into the woods one must, in what sometimes feels like an eternity, walk to the ball, find it, make sure the lie is manageable, and find the right club to get out of the situation. There is no one else to blame or other player to dig you out of the mess you created. If frustrated and not able to forget about the last shot, when hitting this new shot from a difficult lie the result most likely will not be helpful to the team’s score. In basketball when you shoot a bad shot there is no time to dwell on it; you must box out, either sprint back on defense or get back into the next offensive play.

Golf has an entire book of rules that must be followed. Michelle Wie in her pro debut at the Samsung World Championship was disqualified because she dropped the ball 3 inches closer to the hole and then signed the faulty scorecard. While there are balks in baseball, penalties in football, and fouls in basketball, rarely is there a disqualification for breaking a rule.

Not only are the LPGA and PGA tours competitive within their organizations, but competitive internationally. There are golf championships where the Europeans play the Americans and others where the whole world of golfers battle against the American golfers. How often do you see the Super Bowl champions play another football team from another country or the World Series winner play the best players from South Africa or Korea?

So to all the haters out there, hit the links. I have a feeling you’ll come away feeling quite differently about the game – and have far more respect for those who dedicate their time to it.


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