When I was three, my father took an old Harold Bird & Son 6-iron to the local pro and had it cut down to about 24 inches. It was my first golf club. I’m actually looking at it as I write this; I pulled it out of the loft space in my garage to check the maker.
It’s one of the many things I’ve learned about golf over the last 30 (plus) years: No true golfer ever throws golf clubs away. Sometimes they might be sold, occasionally they’re passed down to the next generation of golfers, but mostly they remain in the original owner’s loft, shed or garage.
Under my stairs lives a cobweb-covered, persimmon, Wilson 3-wood that never produced anything but an appalling snap-hook. Why do I still have that? There’s a set of rusted Mizuno blades lurking at the back of my shed and no fewer than 14 putters hidden away in my loft.
I can’t throw these, now useless, weapons out because I would be tossing away my memories. Like most of us who love this great sport, golf is an inextricable part of my life. Few who catch the golfing bug will ever shake it off. Golf sticks – it’s an addiction.
It causes sleepless nights and violent mood-swings; it puts a strain on family life and can impinge on work. It will slowly break you down mentally and physically. But, when you occasionally get that glorious hit, that exhilarating moment on the fairways, the negatives melt away into nothing, to be replaced by a distinct and heady bliss. No feeling compares to striking the perfect drive, holing the perfect putt or returning a great score.
Is there any other sport where participants endure such prolonged pain and anguish for such fleeting moments of pleasure? Golf is a quest for the unattainable, an impossible battle to control body, mind and soul. Golf truly is great.
Nobody else cares
When I was a junior and young adult, I used to believe my golf game was somehow important – that people would be interested to hear how I was progressing, to find out how unfortunate I’d been on the 14th, to hear about my long drives or poor putting. It suddenly clicked when I was in my middle 20s that most, if not all, golfers are inherently selfish and are simply not interested.
The game is all consuming so each golfer is totally absorbed in their game. OK, they might be vaguely curious what Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods are up to at The Masters, but they definitely don’t care how you racked up a seven on the 13th hole in the May Stableford. While they pretend to listen to your story, they’ll actually be torturing themselves with thoughts of their four-putt on the 7th and their incredibly unlucky bounce into a bunker on the 16th.
This realisation hasn’t stopped me venting my spleen after a round. I’ve simply learned that, for the sake of equilibrium in the clubhouse, you must reciprocate. Nod and smile when it’s your companion’s turn to recount their stories of derring-do and tales of woe from the fairways. It’s basic golfing etiquette.
The glass is half full
For all the negativity and cynicism spouted by the average golfer; an eternal optimist generally lives at their core.
For a start, the average golfer displays incredible optimism just by teeing it up each round. Despite a long history of astonishing failures, despite all empirical evidence pointing to the contrary, they possess enough positivity to believe that this round could just be “the one.”
Then, out on the course, you’ll see unbelievable displays of optimism: Golfers attempting to extricate their balls from unplayable lies, trying to bend the ball at near right angles round a line of trees or naively hoping to make the 200 yard carry, over the water and into the wind. It’s quite touching really.
Golfers are also very positive when it comes to the weather. At courses across the UK, hopeful players will loiter outside pro shops in lashing rain, staring at the flooded first tee and the leaden skies. Without doubt, you’ll eventually hear someone utter, “I think it’s getting brighter,” someone else will peer harder through the torrents of water and reply, “I think you might be right.”
United we stand
And that little scene sums up golfers – We are united in hope against adversity. We’re individuals with personal goals in the sport, but we’re in it together. Whether a golfer is striving to get down to scratch or trying to break 100 for the first time, they face the same challenges. They must overcome the conditions, control themselves physically, defeat their inner-demons and ride the punches that the game inevitably throws, if they’re to succeed.
Golf is a sport of countless variables and infinite possibilities, it can be unbearably frustrating or hugely rewarding, it can provoke pride and enforce humility, it can never be perfected or beaten but we’ll continue to try. That’s one of the game’s few unwavering certainties: we will continue to try.