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Pros Learn Golf Others Know Well

There is a scene in the movie “Patton” in which the great general, seething with frustration, rushes to a window and shakes his fist at the horizon and shouts, “Dammit! The whole world’s at war out there and I’m not in it!”

On a somewhat lesser scale, I felt exactly the same way when I turned on the telly and saw the British Open as British Opens should be, bedeviled by rain, wind and fog and high grass and pot bunkers and I wasn’t there to enjoy it.

I don’t know whether you’ve gathered it or not, but I’m a big fan of double bogeys. Some people go for olives, anchovies, caviar, pickled eels. Me, I like 6s, 7s even better.

Oh, I don’t mean double bogeys by the crowd I play with. With them, a double bogey would get you the honor on the next hole.

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What I like is to see the world’s greatest players find out what it’s like to play the game the way you and I play it all the time.

In our case, when the ball squirts off the end of the club or pops straight up in the air--or never gets in the air--it’s our fault. With them, it’s the weather. I mean, something should even up the competition.

You see, I get so bored with golf where the course doesn’t come into play, doesn’t fight back. Golf was not meant to be played on those manicured, irrigated courses where everything is a drive and an 8-iron. That’s not golf, that’s just kind of complicated pool.

The golfers have slickered the world into thinking that’s what the public wants. The public wants to see players make birdies. “Eagles!” they protest as they come to a venue and one of their officials makes the host club cut the rough or remove a bunker or move up the tees.

Says who? The way these guys play on those weekly tour events on golf courses that are tied to the wall with apples in their mouths is not a sport, it’s an execution. It’s not a contest, it’s batting practice.

I mean, it’s competition that adds the spice to sports. The way the game has evolved in this country, golf has become just like a home run derby where somebody serves up gopher balls to a half dozen sluggers to see who can hit the most out of the lot.

Golf is the only sport where it’s man against terrain. Jack Nicklaus was never playing Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus was playing Augusta. Or Muirfield. Or St. Andrews. Or Pebble Beach.

Look, did you want to see Dempsey fight his chauffeur? Or Firpo? Did you want to see Willie Mays in batting practice? Or against Koufax?

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A golf course should be able to defend itself. Even fight back. The most boring sight in the world to me is a guy on a fairway. Or on a green lining up a birdie or eagle putt. I like to see guys with one foot up in the air in sand traps or in hay so deep you can’t see their pants pockets.

I hold no brief with artificially trumped-up golf courses. They produce artificially trumped-up winners. I’m talking about that perfectly legitimate ally of the golf course--the elements surrounding it.

I love it when the player can’t see the pin from where his tee shot lands. I can never see the pin from where my tee shot lands. First of all, there’s a tree in the way. Second, it’s too far away. But in the case of the player in the British Open, it’s fog. Whatever it is, though, every player should have to hit a blind shot now and then. It’s good for the soul.

That’s why they put golf courses on the side of the sea in the first place. Also, it’s nice to have a game where you can take a look out at the force-10s blowing in from the North Sea and someone can say cheerfully, “I don’t think ye’ll be needin’ your wedges today, boys!” Or where you can come on July 10 and say you’ve come to enjoy the Scottish summer and have somebody say, “Ye just missed it, laddie! It was yesterday.”

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The recent British Open at Muirfield was right out of Charlotte Bronte. It’s why I felt like Patton. All those weather fronts and I wasn’t in them.

My trouble is, every time I go to a British Open, it comes up calm and serene. I have that effect on the Crosby tournament at Monterey, too. On the years I go there, it turns into a day at the beach. A walk in the park. Trade winds. You look around for ukuleles. I don’t want that. I want weather that would make Captain Blood scud for port.

You would think television would take up the slack. It doesn’t. Television has this terrible flaw. It is an instrument invented to gladden the hearts of Chambers of Commerce everywhere.

Television cannot televise rain. Or fog. Or wind. So far as television is concerned, every day is the second of May in Morocco.

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Check it out. Put on a football game where the announcers tell you it is being played in a torrential downpour. Now, check the screen. See any rain? Uh-uh.

Television turns Scotland into San Diego. It’s a fair-weather friend. It’s bad journalism, is what it is.

Besides, if I could be in a position to be standing there in person and see a guy who had won one of our tournaments with four 65s and watch him squish a shot sideways out of a fairway bunker with a loud curse, do you think I wouldn’t want to be there?

Just call me Heathcliffe. I want to be out tramping the moors when the foghorns are moaning and so are the guys in the sand traps. I don’t necessarily want to hear the hounds baying but I do want to hear the golfers howling, “No, not over there! Fore on the right!” I don’t need ukuleles. That’s music enough.

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You think I don’t want to be there when this player comes in the tent to moan, “I hit it perfect there--only this gust came up and carried it clear over the green and into the hip-high spinach in the back?”

I want to be able to sympathize. To say “Tsk! Tsk!” and tell him I know just how he feels. What he won’t know is just how I feel: swell.


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