It’s interesting because on face value it sounds like a perfectly sensible position to hold. After all, if the goal of golf is to have as few shots as possible then the easier it is to do so the more satisfying the game becomes, right?
Not so fast, I would respectfully suggest. Like many propositions that seem obvious on face value, scratch the surface a little and a different picture emerges.
Let me explain. One of the best things about this job is the opportunity to speak to lots of different golfers of wildly diverse skill levels.
From press conferences and one-on-one interviews with the likes of Adam Scott and Jason Day to discussions with every day, double digit handicap golfers, it’s a broad spectrum to draw from.
And I would submit (based on my own unscientific research) that at every level of the game it is, in fact, its inherent challenge which is its greatest appeal.
When the difficulty of the game is well balanced by the questions asked by the course, golf is the most satisfying of all pursuits.
If that doesn’t make sense try this little experiment. Grab a bin and a stack of paper you’re planning to throw out.
Screw up several pieces of the paper and start by holding the first directly above the bin and dropping it. Clearly, this is not difficult and would quickly become tedious.
Now move a foot away from the bin and throw the second piece. A little more difficult but still ‘too easy’ for most.
Move back in one-foot increments until you find the point where the challenge is difficult but achievable and you will have found the ‘sweet spot’ for engaging both mind and body.
This is the appeal of golf in a nutshell (with thanks to former USGA Technical Director Frank Thomas who initially drew my attention to the 'waste paper basket' analogy).
If it’s too easy, it’s dull. Too hard and there is no incentive to keep trying. So the trick to maintaining or increasing the popularity of the game is to find the happy space in the middle.
For Adam Scott and Jason Day, that sweet spot is the likes of Augusta National or TPC Sawgrass in tournament condition while for the beginner, a pitch-and-putt course might be the ideal balance.
What is painfully obvious for all golfers, however, is that without challenge the game would be incredibly dull.
(On a side note, this is why I think non-golfers find the game on TV so tedious. If you’ve never played, it’s almost impossible to understand the difficulty of a three-foot, side-winding putt on one of Augusta National’s greens running 14 on the stimpmeter. To the untrained eye it looks as simple as dropping a piece of paper in a basket while those of us who play know just what a terrifying prospect such a putt would actually be.)
So next time you hear somebody posit the theory that the game needs to be made easier for the masses to maintain its appeal, don’t accept the proposition on face value.
For generations, golf has had the balance about right and any move to deliberately make the game too easy (Big Hole golf) or too hard (17th TPC Sawgrass) will ultimately be damaging.
JASON DAY'S WINNING PITCHING ACTION:
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