Golf Paints a New Picture of Strength

Will LeivenbergFeatured ColumnistNovember 11, 2009

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 12:  Tiger Woods of the USA plays an approach shot on the 18th hole during round one of the 2009 Australian Masters at Kingston Heath Golf Club on November 12, 2009 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)
Mark Dadswell/Getty Images

It’s official: Watching golf is the perfect impetus for a tranquil, long-lasting, uninterrupted nap. The velvety, whispering voices of the commentators paired with the serene, slow-pace of the players generates a euphoric bliss for viewers to drift off to sleep.

But have you ever attempted to play? Not so blissful.

Imagine standing at the edge of a cliff, staring across a bottomless gorge. Two hundred yards in front of you, a 30-foot wide lane of plush green grass emerges. To the right of this lustrous green path grows a forest of never-ending trees like something out of the movie Jumanji.

The sound of waves crashing alerts your eyes to the left, where the pure blue of the ocean extends to the vast horizon. Sprinkled along the green grass are deeply entrenched pits of despair, also known as sand traps. The entire field for which you’re aiming is on a massive slope from left to right.

Task: Hit a ball over the canyon, avoid the pits of despair, so that it lands, and stays, in the green area. Now do it with a three-foot metal stick, and a ball the size of a macaroon.

I don’t understand why anyone would consider golf just a game, or a leisure activity, because it is without a doubt more difficult then any other sport around.

In golf you can’t rely on the pitcher to throw strikes, or the seven-foot tall center to block shots. No referees to call “holding on the defense,” and no shot clock. No teammates. No allies. No scapegoats.

In golf, it’s just you, and the course.

But what I love most about golf is that there is not a single tee shot, approach to the green, chip, or putt that doesn’t demand the competitor to do the single hardest thing under pressure: Think.

Not to mention the fact that rarely, if ever, do players have to hit the same shot twice in one round. Just like surfing, no wave is ever the same. Consequently, golfers must expect the unexpected but simultaneously be able to produce a wide, and diverse array of shots, ranging from low cutting shots to sky-high, and shots turning from left to right.

The naysayers of golf have been rolling their eyes thus far, because they would never equate the pressure of a "real" sport, like baseball, to that of golf.  And rightfully so, in golf there are never 50,000 fans thunderously yelling as you stand at the plate with the bases loaded, a 3-2 count, in the bottom of the ninth and down one run.

Instead, golfers endure their own form of pressure, and must shine in absolute, dead silence. Down one on the last hole, two-thousand people circulate around the 18th green, with the leaderboard raised above the crowd, a sign of the players’ fates ready to be sealed.

From 165-yards away, a golfer visualizes his/her shot, visualizes how to get the ball as close as possible to the red pin tucked in the back right of the lightening fast green.  Set on an incline to the right, an emerald blue lake thirsts for golf balls that have strayed off-line.

The golfer prepares to hit, then suddenly, a monstrous wind picks up, the flag swerves back and forth, and without any conscious doing, the mind is held hostage in the realm of unknown possibilities. Palms begin to sweat. Knees start to shake. Dreadful thoughts clutter the mind. It’s like becoming the physical embodiment of that horrendous Eminem song, “Lose Yourself”—"knees weak, arms are heavy, he’s nervous".

Such an obstacle cannot be compared to .4 seconds on the shot clock needing a three-pointer to win the championship in basketball, or throwing a hail-Mary into a sea of defenders in football. These feats do not simply require physical exertion, but they demand patience, foresight, strategy, confidence, and power over mind and body.

“Any endeavor where your body’s coordination and stamina play a determining role in the outcome—that’s a sport,” said Kevin Lynn, a local radio commentator. “Any endeavor where your mind and heart and confidence and guts can have an impact on your body and ultimately the outcome of the contest—that’s a sport.”

People perpetuating narrow-minded judgments about golf have probably never even attempted to play. They assume golf is solely for old, fat, rich, white guys driving around in golf carts.

At the forefront of changing such intolerant views has been the most dominant athlete of this decade, Tiger Woods. His legendary dedication to fitness has helped set a new standard for golf both as a sport, and an athletic endeavor. His basic routine includes stretching, core exercises, strength, and flexibility workouts, cardio, and weight training. He is built as well as any point guard in the NBA, or wide receiver in the NFL. Woods has defied the norm, and redefined what it means to be a golfer.

There is more to golf than Happy Gilmore. Going to the golf course to hit some balls at the range, or perhaps play a round of golf can be an escape; from financial issues, relationship problems, school work.  In my eyes golfers have always been like artists; they too are in a perpetual search for what is right, constantly experimenting.