Golf: Why Is It So Hard?

It looks like the surge in golf play due to the Covid pandemic may be coming to an end. It’s too early in the year to evaluate how many people will be playing golf. However, I base my opinion on a visit to a local golf repair shop. This shop takes used clubs on consignment and sells them to the public. The last two springs have been pretty slim pickings because of many people either taking up golf for the first time or playing again after not playing for many years. During the height of the pandemic, golf was about the only thing you could do. The last two summers have seen more play than normal. There were what I called Covid foursomes. These were beginning players that had no idea how to play or what the game was all about. I visited the shop last week to get a couple of grips put on my clubs and the used club racks were filled to the brim. There were more clubs there than I have ever seen and I have been going there a long time. The fact remains that many people take up the game of golf, and after a year or two of playing, will quit the game. There are other stories of people who have played the game for years, and then after being so frustrated with their games, finally just throw in the towel and quit for good. What makes this game so difficult? I have always been hard on golf instruction, for not being very good at teaching the game and this is, indeed, a factor. There are, however, several things about golf that has nothing to do about trying to hit the golf ball, which makes the game unique, but also very difficult. Winston Churchill may have summed up golf best when he said, “Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an ever-smaller hole, with weapons singularly ill-designed for the purpose”.

The first thing that makes golf so difficult is you are trying to hit a target with an object, and you are not able to look at the target. This is not lost on all of instruction. Some advocate that you look at the target and as soon as you look back at the ball you start your swing right away without delay. This sounds all well and good, but you still really have the same problem, you are not looking at the target when you are in the act of trying to hit the target. I feel this is even worse than trying to hit a target with your eyes closed. Think of any other situation where you are trying hit a target. Every time, you are looking at the target. I am a little surprised that putting while looking at the hole is not more popular. Tennis is similar, but the target is in the same place and distance every time. There are 18 times in golf that you hit the ball off the tee ground. On a golf course that has 4 par 3’s, 4 par 5’s and 10 par 4’s, that means that the other 18 full swings will most likely be totally unique shots. Not only will they have different distances to the green, but the lie of ball, the lay of the land, and the environmental conditions will all be different for all of those 18 shots. Let that one sink in for a while. In fact, I am thinking about it, and I think I will quit the game. What kind of swing are you going to groove for those kind of shots? Let me clue you in, you are not. You are going to have to make 18 adjustments for 18 shots during a round of golf. If you do not make those adjustments, you will hit the ball thin, fat, left, right, short or long of your target, depending on what adjustment you failed to make. Some shots, you may have to make 2 or 3 adjustments from your normal swing. The more slopes and hills a golf course has, the tougher all this becomes. Even if you have played some relatively good to great shots, you then have to deal with the nightmare called putting. Putting has nothing to do with the golf swing. Putting is to golf like a bowel movement is to eating. You have to do it but it is not near as enjoyable as the first part. Putting can save a hole or ruin a hole with no in between. Other than a club face coming in contact with a ball, putting has absolutely nothing in common with the process of hitting a golf ball. There are entire books just dedicated to putting. The worse part, it looks maddingly simple. Finally, there is the way that golf can just play havoc with your mind. It can get to the point where your body just simply does not function. It would be like putting a fork in your eye when you are trying to eat, or pouring something into a glass and missing the glass completely. In a nutshell, golf completely controls your being. It can be the scariest thing about golf and would make anybody quit the game.

If you continue to play the game after reading this, is there anything you can do to try and make such a powerful game more enjoyable. The short answer is no. I could go through the acceptance bullshit and that has some truth to it. Resignation may be a better word to use and cultivate when trying to play golf. What makes golf a great game is that everyone wants to help each other, even a competitor. Golfers seem to root for their fellow golfers. The game is the definition of good intentions. However, there is that little devil inside of all of us that does find some pleasure when the greatest players in the world hit some of the worst shots ever known to man. When those same players miss that 2-foot putt with a twitch of the putter that they could not possibly duplicate on the practice putting green, you shake your head and think it happens to them, too. Even those these players are millionaires, golf still makes their bodies do things that they just can’t believe and did not think was possible. This game is hard, and technique has nothing to do with it.

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