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On the purity of golf

The body pulls back, coiled straight, then the angled arms start to cut the air downward, club in hand, eyes focused on the tiny white ball, unmoving, but impossible to dictate. But once in a while, for a golfer like me, the head of the club clips the ball just so, and it flights into the blue distance, arcing toward some arbitrary flag pin. You hold your stance and watch it go because this is why you golf.

The other day I was listening to a podcast, Marc Maron was talking to some guy, and the guy was trying to explain why golf is so loved to Maron. He danced around it, coming near the heart of the thing. Some of the reasons: it’s all year round, anyone can do it, you’re chasing par, on any given shot you could beat Tiger Woods, it’s beautiful and outdoorsy. And I wouldn’t really argue with any of these points, they are reasons for golfing. But it doesn’t cut to center of the argument, to the reason the game pulls you out to the course.

Golf, by its very nature, is frustrating. You chunk grass, you miss putts, you shank into forests, you kerplunk irons straight into water. It’s a damned miracle the ball finds the hole sometimes. For context, I shoot somewhere between 90 and 110 when I go out. Which, even for a bad player, is shocking, considering that there are 20 shots to give or take every time I play. It’s maddening. There’s also the question of luck, and if the Golf Gods will push your errant shots off trees and back into play that day. The entire game is a fickle mess.

So, if you’re an amateur and you play, at least in my mind, you shouldn’t be out there for a low score. You mostly play for time with friends, for the scenery, for the fun. But existentially, the reason you get pulled back, to me, is that feeling from the first paragraph.

There’s this perfect little moment in golf, when everything you’re planning to do and everything you do match one another. You feel it and you sit and you watch. The best-laid plans go to waste in the real world. But in golf the ball is unmoving, the target is real and the action can be carried out. It’s hard, but once, maybe twice a round, the whole thing comes together. That’s the purity of golf: The idea that you have control to make perfection happen. It’s just you, the ball, a club and hundreds of yards of green pasture ahead. And once you swing, all you can do is watch the thing fly away from you.

2 thoughts on “On the purity of golf”

  1. Kevin says:

    I’ve been golfing since the age of nine, and I think you nailed the ethos of the sport straight down the figurative fairway. Especially the last paragraph, which encapsulates the sometimes-vexing paradox of the game; although golf is one of the most mentally challenging sports, most golfers (myself included) perform better when we clear our minds and allow the old maxim, “Let the club do the work,” ring as true as the sound of a Pro v1 launching of the sweet spot of a Ping driver.

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