Golf According to the Greats
It’s the walking and the time. Golf induces conversation. And conversation on the course, or off the course when it gets around to golf, can be memorable. In fact, many sayings about this grand, frustrating, beautiful and exasperating game are now part of our lexicon, circulating within our culture like blood inside our bodies.
The heart of this oral golf history is the game itself. “A good walk spoiled,” said Mark Twain.
“Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an ever smaller hole, with weapons singularly ill-designed for the purpose,” said Winston Churchill.
Gardner Dickinson, a professional golfer who competed from 1956 to 1971, said, “They say golf is like life, but don’t believe them. Golf is more complicated than that.”
For those who made a living off chasing a white ball, the endeavor created a steel-eyed outlook on life.
“Every shot makes someone happy,” said Fuzzy Zoeller, providing a Zen-like insight into the life of a pro golfer.
“I never rooted against an opponent, but I never rooted for him either,” said Arnold Palmer.
As for Ben Hogan, who set standards for control, intensity, determination and guts, Jimmy Demaret said this: “When I play with him, he talks to me on every green. He turns to me and says, ‘You’re away’.”
Since the pros are out there week after week seeing their fellow competitors, they also provide some of the best insight into their games.
“Chi Chi Rodriguez had as good a pair of hands as anybody I ever saw, and more shots than you can imagine,” said Lee Trevino. “But Chi Chi had a habit of turning simple shots into difficult ones.”
Few golfers, however, developed as strong a rapport with fellow golfers and golf fans as the diminutive Puerto Rican with a tight Fedora and a big smile. Here’s some Chi Chi:
“I don’t exaggerate – I just remember big.” “When Lee [Trevino] and Jack [Nicklaus] win, it is good for golf. When I win, it is better.” “Golf is the only sport that a professional can enjoy playing with his friends. Can [former heavyweight boxing champion] Larry Holmes enjoy fighting one of his friends?”
Of course, there are elements to the game that can baffle even the best. Hogan was widely considered the best ball striker and yet if he had been a moderately good putter he would have, many believe, won many more tournaments. But then, it takes a fellow golfer to know that.
“Putting allows the touchy golfer two to four opportunities to blow a gasket in the short space of two to forty feet,” said tempestuous Tommy Bolt, who more than a few times blew a gasket on the greens. Not that you had to be a pro golfer to suffer its indignities.
“Golf is so popular simply because it is the best game in the world at which to be bad,” said A.A. Milne, the man who created Winnie the Pooh.
“The other day I broke 70. That’s a lot of clubs,” quipped comedian Henny Youngman.
“Show me a man who is a good loser and I’ll show you a man who is playing golf with his boss,” opined Jim Murray, former sports writer for the L.A. Times.
Even finding the right golf ball can provide challenges. Jack Canfield’s 1999 version of Chicken Soup for the Golfer’s Soul contained this exchange between pro shop employee and customer:
“He slid another brightly colored box across the counter, looked me in the eye and said, ‘Lithium Surlyn.’
I offered my hand. ‘Emie Witham,’ I said.
‘No,’ he said. ‘The cover. It’s made of Lithium Surlyn. You know what that means?’
It’s a game seemingly designed to trouble our minds. Bobby Jones said, “Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course…the space between your ears.”
Tom Watson put it another way: “The person I fear most in the last two rounds is myself.”
It seems golfers a few generations ago were more colorful. Maybe they had to be in order to promote and market their skills and the game. Today, with expansive TV coverage and social media, there’s more being said through Twitter accounts but less and less remains memorable. One counter to that argument is David Feherty, the golf broadcaster, host of his eponymous Golf Channel TV show and author.
Here’s how Feherty described what it was like standing close to Tiger Woods as he pulled off an improbably difficult shot: “I just stood there watching him walk past and thinking, ‘I don’t know what that is, but I know there weren’t two of them on Noah’s Ark’.”
It’s a game that demands so much, gives back so very little and yet, when we do accomplish our objective, it stays with us longer.
“Victory is everything. You can spend the money but you can never spend the memories,” said Ken Venturi.
For more thoughts from golf’s greatest players, check out these videos of priceless interviews on Golf Channel with David Feherty.
Featured image courtesy of Fox Sports.