You know the best thing about not being a pro? You can self-flagellate all you want, and, in as colourful a language as will ease your angst, without fear of corrupting the kids. No such luck, obviously, if you’re a playing professional, and absolutely not, if you’re good enough to be playing on a tour which is televised, and viewed — it’s a fair conjecture — by legions of bright-eyed children who will one day be future stars of the game. Now, I’m not denying the validity of that argument, even if I find it hard to believe that young children aren’t in fact watching football, basketball, baseball, or in our part of the world, cricket, rather than golf. Exciting sports to watch, even if you don’t play them; a trait that quite frankly, golf does not possess. If you don’t play golf, then watching it on television is a bit like what Wodehouse referred to as reading a Russian novel in which nothing happens till page 1200 when the moujik jumps out of a window of his high-rise apartment and kills himself.
If I can play devil’s advocate, this whole ‘killer instinct,’ business, so sought after by ‘Tiger Moms,’ and considered a key attribute to succeed in the dog-eat-dog world of professional sport, often transcends inner determination: ergo, you’ve got aggressive tackles, plenty of muttering under the breath by players, and so forth. In ancient Rome, the gloves were properly off, and nothing was quite off limits for contestants to triumph over adversaries. To be fair, those poor blokes were fighting for their lives for the entertainment of the crowds, while golf, to paraphrase Jack Nicklaus, is a ‘gentle game.’ Or at least it was until Tiger Woods landed up with his unabashed fist pumps and inspired an entire generation to pick up the game, and emulate not just his skill, but his mental toughness, and hunger to win.
The big difference that does separate golf from other sports is the fact that you only have to overcome yourself, to triumph over the course, rather than an adversary. I’m not even sure that’s such a great thing, at least from a fans’ point of view. I would have given anything to be on the sidelines of one of those Ryder Cup matches in which Seve Ballesteros led the Europeans to victory. The ‘Genius of Seve,’ went past his legendary short game, and incorporated, if player accounts are to be believed, gamesmanship of an order that hasn’t been seen since. That would be fun to watch. Not so gentle after all.
But I digress. This extended rumination was to put forth my two-bit regarding poor Nate Lashley’s four-putt on the final day of the recently concluded AT&T Pebble Beach. For those not following the event, Lashley was leading the tournament with two holes to go until a momentary lapse of concentration led to the horrific ignominy. If you ask me, Lashley was wonderfully restrained — given that the error cost him the tournament and hundreds of thousands of dollars — until he wasn’t. And even when the horror got to him, and he slammed his putter down on the green, it wasn’t as bad as mouthing a string of profanities. Yes, he should have checked the green for damage and repaired any; that was definitely a punitive offence for which he should have been docked a shot but his outburst was, let’s be fair, just human. On a side note, a four-putt is a pretty sick thing; in fact the honourable gents at the R&A and USGA might do the game a massive favour by eliminating it entirely. How wonderful would the world be if you knew that a four-putt was impossible. If you’ve already stumbled to three on the green, then just doff your cap, gulp down your medicine and move on. Why on Earth would you want to make someone miss his third on the green. Soul-destroying, and just sadistic if you ask me.
Talking of professional sportsmen, I happened to be slotted with Nikhil Chopra, the off-spinner, who once played for the Indian cricket team, when I landed up for an impromptu game at the Qutab Golf Course in the Capital last week. Who you might end up being paired with, is, one of the joys, or terrors, depending on your luck, of playing at the muny. Chopra turned out be an absolute delight to play with: earthy and polite to a fault, much like his golf swing. “It’s a bit like hoisting a spinner over long-off,” he proffered when I asked about a cricketing shot that came close to mimicking a golf swing. “But they’re really very different— in cricket you’re hitting a moving ball…” That makes sense, the ball turning and then literally hanging in air waiting to be hit. Every single time. No wonder these cricketers have such a whale of a time dispatching it to the fence. Chopra, who plays close to scratch, was no exception, except that his significant length off the tee was overshadowed by his wonderfully drowsy rhythm. He dismissed the ball from his presence with a lazy whack, the pace of which remained unchanged irrespective of the club in his hand. And, when the group behind us eyeballed a member of our three-ball, implying slow play, without realising that there was a group waiting on the next tee, Chopra politely apologised. Seeing my incredulous face he explained,” It’s an unfortunate situation, to be held up on the course, doesn’t matter whose fault it is.” You should have seen the sheepish looks on the faces of the players in that group. It was a timely reminder that both—cricket, and golf — are gentlemen sports, and those of us lucky enough to play them, would do well to remember that. A four-putt will always test even there might be too much to endure, at the end of the day, there’s nothing quite like being classy on the golf course.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game