In Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book, he states that if any golfer tells you they’ve figured out the game, play them for money immediately.
I think that’s wise advice. Whether you believe in a god or not, golfing gods do absolutely exist, and they will never allow you or anyone else to figure this game out. So, beware, for they are constantly watching and ready to cut you down for your transgressions.
“It’s up to the golf gods” has long been an expression we’ve heard and often use. It stems from the reality of knowing there are days when every putt magically drops, and other days when you can’t buy one.
‘Can’t miss’ greens today are transformed to tops and slices tomorrow. There seems to be no rhyme or reason for both hackers and professionals. A sixty-five Thursday is followed by a seventy-five on Friday. A holed forty-foot putt is followed by a missed three-footer. The second the game is taken for granted, the gods cast plagues that rain down on us in the form of shanks, yips, slices and lost careers.
A few weeks ago, I was playing in a tournament where my playing partner was even par with four holes remaining and got cocky by announcing he’d be in the final group the next day. Predictably he fell from grace on the next hole when he shanked his tee ball into the woods, resulting in a tidy triple bogey. Never mock the gods.
Who are they, these invisible forces, where do they come from and what do they want? I believe the gods are past players and observers who wish to ensure that golf is played in the spirit in which it was intended; honesty, integrity, dedication, and humility. These ghosts have a clear comprehension of this special game and what is required to be decent at it. They might be such notables as Lord Byron Nelson, Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Old Tom Morris Jr. and Sr., Bernard Darwin, Henry Longhurst and their most recent alumni member Arnold Palmer.
These are people who went through hell spending a lifetime attempting to master the most demanding game ever invented. They paid their dues and expect the same from you. At times they will allow you small victories, perhaps a low round, a hole in one, a PGA victory or two. They respect hard work and humility, and hold in contempt any golfer who hasn’t put in the time and pain to be good. Your economic situation, gender, skin colour is trivial; you just better work your ass off if you want to play with a modicum of competence.
I sense doubt among the faithful about my theories, so consider the evidence that might persuade even the most stubborn golf atheist. Think about some very talented golfers who believed they were going to be great and celebrated prematurely: Ty Tryon, Anthony Kim, Mark Brooks, Rich Beem, Todd Hamilton, Ian Baker-Finch. What happened to golfers in the fifty-nine club who had thoughts of major stardom; Chip Beck, Al Geiberger, Paul Goydos, Stuart Appleby. How many tournaments did they win afterwards? (Answer: basically zero).
As for the great putters who seem to posses some unearthly powers, they must have done something to upset the ghost committee since former great putters like Tommy Armour, Mark O’Meara, Ian Baker-Finch (again), Johnny Miller and David Duval basically had their careers cut short due to the yips. At some point Jordan Spieth must have gone home, looked into the mirror and proclaimed himself to be the greatest putter ever born. The boys upstairs caught wind and…presto. Today poor Jordy has trouble with tap ins. He better start going to confessional.
I witnessed the gods in action up close this year during a buddy golf trip. My opponent was Tim, a typical twenty handicap who suddenly decided to play like a three. He hit greens, made putts, but worst of all he started outdriving me and bragged about it quite boisterously. He was taunting me, daring me to outdrive and outscore him. I warned him about the wrath of the gods, but he only responded with laughter and an increasing bellicose attitude. I got on my knees and prayed for vengeance. I guess I’d been a good soul recently, because on the very next hole my prayers were answered. His reign ended quite abruptly with two drives in the water and a resulting quad. He was back to being a twenty with extra gravy! He did not make another good drive or par for the rest of the trip. I was saved, and he was forever condemned by the gods. The only thing poor Tim improved was his consumption of alcohol.
Perhaps the only golfer who did not upset the gods was Jack Nicklaus. How else could one possibly win eighteen majors? Jack was quiet, polite, never took anything for granted, controlled his temper, and seemed humble. He knew that it took hard work and some good luck to win, but he also understood that he could go for long periods without winning. He accepted that notion with honour. He respected the gods and they gave back. Tiger? The gods were having drinks around the fireplace one evening when one walked in with a newspaper clip. “Did you guys hear about the fire hydrant?” The vote was taken right away, and notice was served. Tiger was cut down. Case still under review.
Johnny Miller occasionally talks about choking. You don’t choke in golf; you do what the gods allow you to do on that particular day. Every religion has its rules and golf is no different. Obey them and you will have a chance at a long and happy golfing life. Here are the golfing gods’ 10 commandments:
1 Thou shalt never say “I’ve figured it out”.
2 Thou shalt not use the word ‘easy’ in vain. “This is an easy hole, easy putt, easy up and down.”
3 Thou shalt never think of the future. “I need bogey for my best round ever.”
4 Thou shalt refrain from making predictions. “Watch this shot”
5 Thou shalt not be gluttonous and attempt to buy a game. “I just bought a $600 driver; I’m going to add forty yards.”
6 Thou shalt honour thy fairway and thy green. Repair divots and ball marks or face thy wrath.
7 Thou shall never brag. “You see that great shot?”
8 Remember the golfing day is holy. No phone calls from spouses during a round.
9 Thou shalt honour thy driver, thy wedge and thy putter.
10 Thou shalt understand how effing hard this game is. Don’t get too excited at your good score. Tomorrow comes before you know it!