Morri: Understanding 'The Man In The Arena' Sets Golf Apart

Though professionals make bunker shots look easy, fans of pro golf understand the inherent difficulty.
Golf’s uniqueness comes in many forms but the relationship between the professional and amateur games unquestionably sets it apart from almost every other sport.

Virtually every fan of the professional game, either at the course or watching on TV, is all but guaranteed to be a golfer, someone who actively plays the game or has done at some point.

One of the main reasons for this, of course, is that to fully appreciate the extraordinary skills of the best players in the world one ideally needs a first-hand understanding of the challenges the game throws up.

My favourite anecdote from The Greatest Game Ever Played (subject of the most recent ISG Podcast Book Club which you can – and should – listen to here) illustrates the point nicely.

Talking of the game’s beginnings in America in 1893, author Mark Frost recounts the following tale:

“When early enthusiasts conducted their first exhibition of the game that spring, golf at The Country Club made an astonishing debut, hinting at the magic to come.

“The first shot struck off the first tee by a Mr Arthur Hunnewell ran like a scared rabbit ninety yards to the green and dove neatly into the cup for a hole in one.

“Since no one knew any better, the small crowd who had turned out to watch the proceedings didn’t even react; since they’d been given to understand that putting the ball in the hole was the whole point of the exercise, they just assumed this was business as usual.

“Arthur Hunnewell played golf passionately for another thirty years. He never scored another ace in his life.”

When the biggest tournaments of the year are on television (or when non-golfing family members are forced to endure watching courtesy of those of us infected with the bug) this is, one imagines, how they view the game.

There is an understandable desire by TV producers and directors to show the best shots being hit at any given time and any non-golfing viewer would naturally assume that hitting the ball within a couple of feet of the hole or snaking in long range putts is pretty standard.

Those of us who actually walk the fairways of the world’s courses know different, of course, and hence appreciate and interpret what we see in a much different light.

It is not unfeasible that a weekly club golfer might go months without seeing a wedge hit within three feet of the hole or a bunker shot find a putting surface, let alone the bottom of the cup.

Conversely, it would be almost unthinkable to go a year WITHOUT seeing these two things at some point, neatly summing up the maddening and inherent appeal of the game.

A much smaller percentage of rugby league or AFL fans have that same shared experience with the players in the arena that golfers enjoy with those on TV.

Just another point of difference that, for mine, makes golf the greatest game of all.


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