Golf: The Dismal Science – Sept 2020

Most people attribute the term “dismal science” to the study of economics, but I maintain it is the study and execution of the game of golf.  Summer is winding down and I thought I would capture a few thoughts on one of the activities that, particularly in these strange times, can provide a little outside exercise, sport, social distancing, and fun (wink wink).

Thomas Carlyle dubbed economics the dismal science based on research that indicated population growth would always outpace and strain the growth of resources to support it.  I say golf is the dismal science based on the inexorable number of shots it takes to put a small ball in a hole, relative to the number of shots it is supposed to take – otherwise known as “par”.

For those of you new to this planet, golf is a game, over the course of 18 “holes”, about hitting a small, stationary ball with a golf club from a tee box into a round hole on a green several hundred yards away, taking as few shots as possible.

How does one prepare to play such an easy sounding game?  Well, of course, lessons would be in order, practice, adjustment, repetition… Do as I say, not as I do.

Perhaps it makes sense to clarify how I play golf.  My golf skills have some distinct similarities to my drumming skills.  I go into my garage, sit behind my electronic drums, put on my headphones (to protect the innocent), and play my drums to the music of, say, Chicago, the Miami Sound Machine, or listen to Carter Beauford with the Dave Matthews Band.  These (and other) bands have enormously skilled drummers; their sounds, depth and precision borders on brilliant.  My drumming more closely resembles the sounds of a raccoon walking across dishes loosely stacked in a drying tray.  Not quite the same sound or sense of precision.

Golf is similar.  I watch TV Sunday afternoons as professional golfers swing and strike the golf ball with the elegance of a Baryshnikov ballet.  Pure form – and the ball typically goes a couple of hundred yards and lands within feet of its’ desired location.  The arc of the ball, as captured by today’s technology, is art in and of itself.  My golf swing more closely resembles Chris Farley dancing in an SNL skit of the Chippendales.  Not quite the same image.  Or results.

The game of golf is a game of precision, both in terms of technique and timing.  Alter your grip, the position of your feet, the swing of your arms, or the position of your body by mere inches or tenths of seconds, and a dozen swings will produce a dozen different results, eleven of them probably bad.  DIY (do it yourself) golfers like me are doomed to repeat history without an adequate feedback loop.

And scoring.  Most people I play with have no problem keeping their score, usually in the low single digits per hole.   I, on the other hand, need to use one of the clickers nightclub bouncers use to track the number of patrons coming in.  My idea of a good shot is a) if I can find my ball after hittimg it, and b) has it landed closer to the pin than it was before I struck it.  The bar is not high for me.

Judge Smails:  Ty, what did you shoot today?

Ty Webb:  Oh Judge, I don’t keep score.

Judge Smails:  Well, how do you measure yourself with other golfers?

Ty Webb:  By height.

The game is dismal also because of the unhealthy coalition of golf courses and golf equipment manufacturers.  Picture the golf ball manufacturers conferencing on a Zoom call with golf course designers.  “Guys, we need you to design golf courses with lots of water, tall reeds, and nasty roughs that cause the average shitty golfer to lose an abundance of golf balls.”  Yes, the golf ball manufacturers are clearly not at risk – their shareholders should have cause to rejoice.

Have you noticed in ads the high technology component to golf club manufacture?  The ads are clear.  If you (God forbid) are still using last years’ clubs, then obviously your game will be stunted.  My opinion is Tiger Woods could hit a good golf shot with a hockey stick or a shovel.

Of course, it helps when one of your friends has a membership at a prestigious golf club like Bushwood.  The shame.

And yet repeatedly, like an insane person, I return and play another round.  What does that say about me?  That’s a rhetorical question, by the way.

“Stop thinking, let things happen, and be the ball.”  Ty Webb

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