mini golf

Lies, damned lies and golf

April 11, 2022

   I once played golf with a fellow golf writer (there’s a hint right there that this story is not about integrity) who had made no secret of his single-digit handicap.

   As our round began, I could see nothing off the tee or from the fairway that would suggest the skill of an accomplished player. It was on the greens, though, where I observed the precise prowess of this “single-digit handicapper,” as I watched him routinely rake eight and ten-foot putts as “pickups” and “gimmees.”

   Now the USGA has tried to level the playing field with both its Rules of Golf and the USGA Handicap System – golf’s answers to both the U.S. Penal Code and the Americans with Disabilities Act. But in the same manner that our prisons are full to bursting and handicap parking spaces are routinely abused by the able-bodied, the Rules of Golf and the handicap system are subject to similar violations and abuses.

That’s when you realize that the best use for most handicaps would be to bag them and then pile them up to prevent flooding.

   Consider the typical golf association team event. There is always a team in the fourth or fifth flight, normally reserved for those who struggle to break 100 that miraculously shoots about eighteen under. If Willy Sutton robbed banks because “that’s where the money is,” presumed 25-handicappers who are suddenly striping 260-yard drives, hitting pins with the proximity of a game of darts and bombing putts from 35 feet away on tournament day have applied Sutton’s principles of banking and finance to their handicaps. That’s when you realize that the best use for most handicaps would be to bag them and then pile them up to prevent flooding.

   I don’t think most of us start out being deceitful It’s more that our perception of where we should be in skill level based on the thousands we’ve sunk into equipment, lessons, videos, magazines, self-help books, hypnosis, psychotherapy, pilgrimages to Tibet and a commitment to simulation and gadgetry that only a NASA astronaut would appreciate, leaves us with a sense that it cannot possibly be us making all those terrible swings and putts. It must be the course conditions that have us off our regular game.

   The USGA understands this, and has evolved an elegant mathematical system that takes into account the various vagaries that we feel are at the root of our sub-par performance. Rating and Slope represent the great “curve” in grading our performance on any given course. But we know that Rating and Slope alone cannot account for all the adverse conditions we may face (wind, cold, rain, an inattentive beverage cart girl) out there, so we occasionally have to resort to a shorthand rating and slope of our own to more fairly represent how we really should be playing. These include: first tee mulligans, practice putting on the green, preferred lies, random declarations of “ground under repair,” expansive definitions of objects qualifying as “movable” or “temporary” (such as an automobile parked on the clubhouse lot, but with the keys inside).

    What the USGA nobly attempts with course calibrations is what God Himself strives for with the Ten Commandments.

   Which may explain why many see golf as a secular religion. How many times is God (or his Son, for that matter) invoked on a golf course? Don’t we beg the ball for the (generally brief) time its airborne to perform in opposition to the laws of gravity, propulsion and vector physics – asking for a miracle, in essence – the same way we ask our Creator to help us find our car keys in return for promising never to  violate any of the commandments again, with the exception of #4 (during any round), #’s 8 or 9(during the club championship) or #6 (upon having lost the club championship due to #’s 8 or 9 being used against you by the eventual winner? (Note: King James Bible version of the Decalogue.)

       In a big way, golf is a lot like attending religious services: we are there to extol the image of the type of person we’d like to be, while begging private indulgence for the type of person we actually are.


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