Friday, April 15, 2011

Why Golf?!

Maybe I like watching paint dry! Actually, I am completely drawn to the sport of golf. As my devotion to golf becomes increasingly intense, I have more and more people ask me why I like golf. I thought I would try to tackle this question, as well as, make a few comments about the recent Masters. Though I do really enjoy hockey and college football, and yes annual events such as the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, my passion lies with two sports that are actually quite similar. If you had to describe what makes baseball unique what would you say? The long, rich tradition? The mental aspect of the game and superstitions held by players? The hot boys…well that particular point is not exactly unique to baseball. These are certainly reasons to appreciate baseball. The title of this post is why golf not why baseball, however, the reasons are basically the same. Seems my true interest lies with the two sports that many people claim they can barely tolerate…especially on TV. Slow doesn’t necessarily equal boring, you just have to learn what you are watching for, what to appreciate, and just as importantly… who to appreciate. The game of golf has many traditions and many legends most sports fans recognize: Palmer, Hogan, Player and Nicklaus. Fantastic, however, they have no bearing on why we should care about the tour today. So who is there to watch? Why watch if Tiger and Mickelson are not even in the field that week right? So wrong. I won’t start rambling on about those two. As a matter of fact, it isn’t even really about a like or dislike of the two most recognized figures in golf. The point is, there are tons of other guys on the PGA tour that are just as exciting to watch, and even a few on the European Tour that join in and quite often end up winning majors. Once you get to know who is on the tour, their stories, their personalities…it draws you in. Does anyone know who Jason Kubel is? Probably only Minnesota Twins fans would have heard of this designated hitter, but he is one of the reasons I wear a Twins hat! You have to know who is playing in order to have a vested interest in watching. Look for guys on the PGA Tour like Nick Watney, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar. Watch for European Tour members playing in the major championships like Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer, former and current number one ranked golfers in the world. It is so easy to become interested in each of these guys enough to want to appreciate their golf game. They are young, funny and extremely talented. They open themselves up publicly and connect with their fans via the social media unabashedly. These golfers also have a comradery not often found in sports. The way they pull for each other and spend time together socially, teasing and pranking…. is not unlike guys in a baseball clubhouse. Take for instance the support shown by fellow Northern Ireland friend and Ryder Cup teammate Graeme McDowell toward Rory McIlroy during and after McIlroy’s devastating play at the 2011 Masters. McIlroy lost the lead he held for three days and nine holes to finish tied for 15th. Friends like McDowell, Poulter and Westwood publicly displayed their support and encouragement of McIlroy. I appreciate that. This open display of support makes me want to watch these guys fight for a win each week…it goes beyond competition, it is a community and a brotherhood worth paying attention to.
Watching the Masters also reminded me of the huge impact the mental aspect of the game has on the outcome of a tournament. Whereas, in other sports speed and reaction are key factors, one’s ability to remain confident and focused shot after shot will determine success in golf. Similar to a pitcher having an off night on the mound or an all-star going hitless in a series, golfers can self-destruct quickly if their mental game is not completely intact. Conversely, mental toughness is what wins championships….it is what carried Charl Schwartzel to a green jacket on Sunday. Even amidst the roars at Augusta National he birdied his last four holes to victory. It is intriguing and sometimes painful to watch these athletes battle their mind during competition, but I thoroughly enjoy it.
Recently I have found that the superstitions and repetitions of each players game peaks my interest, as well. You know how you can watch a hitter go up to the plate in a baseball game and he does the same thing each time? The player may step out of the box a certain number of times, check his wrist guards and go through all his “rituals” before taking each swing? This is often criticized because it drags out the game, but I like it. These little superstitious patterns make that players game his own. It is the same on the golf course. This is a part of the game that you only see in person. I have really picked up on it and it is so interesting. Specific movements prior to addressing the ball, lucky head covers, ball marking, colors worn on Sundays and endless superstitions can be found on the tour and help each individual player stand out.
So maybe you think watching golf is worse than watching paint dry, or grass grow, or your grandma brush her dentures. There are reasons I became interested in golf and reasons such as tournament visits, fantasy golf and even waking up to the Golf Channel’s Morning Drive each morning, that keep me excited about it. Take a second look, give it a try, get familiar with golfers you have never heard of. Often, you walk away from the zoo talking about the monkeys not the tigers….sure tigers are cool to look at…but they are not the only attraction.