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The devil's game

Golf eventually reduces us all -- even Tiger --  to digging bitter divots

Posted: Wednesday July 21, 2004 12:08PM; Updated: Wednesday July 21, 2004 3:37PM
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My dad was a devout golfer, which explains why he drank like a baleen whale, smoked like an oil refinery and had a haunted look in his eyes. He made a futile attempt to teach me. On the first tee, I swung and missed three times. "You're out," he grumbled. Then I launched a shot about 100 feet straight up. It landed 10 feet in front of me. It was all, well, downhill from there. I never played again, and to this day just passing a mini-golf course is enough to give me the heebie-jeebies.

But after 20 years, I suddenly decided to revisit golf ... from a safe distance. I watched the final round of the British Open on TV. I noticed right away that the gentlemen tramping about Royal Troon looked as if they were toting big mouthfuls of cod liver oil. No puss was more sour than the one that belonged to Tiger Woods, who extended his drought to 0 for his last nine majors. Since his run of 49 wins, including eight Grand Slam titles, in seven years, and his anointment as The Deity who would obliterate Jack Nicklaus' majors mark (18) while reducing the PGA Tour to a one-man band, the world has been shocked -- shocked! -- to discover that Mr. Woods is mortal.

Well, duh.

Tiger's humbling schneid comes as no surprise to this scribe because I know only Old Beelzy could have cooked up a game so fiendishly wired for maximum frustration. Never mind the natural impediments such as wind, rain, heat and cold. The courses are designed by drooling sadists. Royal Troon has an infuriatingly tiny green called "the Postage Stamp," 747s taking off behind the 10th tee and diabolical bunkers liberally sprinkled about. As analyst Ian Baker-Finch said about one hot spot, "They should have an ice cream store in there. They'd make a fortune."

The woes of Woods are mainly due to the simple fact that golf is impervious to sustained domination. You can have all the physical talent in the universe, be schooled by the likes of Butch Harmon, and arm yourself with the most cutting edge equipment you can find. Assuming you keep your concentration when chuckleheads in the gallery yell, "How's your wife?" as you swing or putt, once the ball is on its way to wherever, it's all in the hands of the chuckling cosmos. That's why a supposedly unbeatable force like Woods can suddenly go into la toilette and a 38-year-old journeyman like Todd Hamilton can muck about in Asia for 15 years, need nine cracks to qualify for the PGA Tour, and then win twice in four months, including the hallowed British Open. As Baker-Finch noted on Sunday, "Anyone can win if they can just get the luck of the draw and keep their nerve at the end." Soon enough, Hamilton will be back to digging bitter divots with Woods in the Greater Duffer Invitational. It's the nature of this green beast.

"I can't believe this is a sport," my 11-year-old daughter grumped as we watched the British Open. "It's a bunch of old geezers hitting a ball."

"It's not a sport, Pumpkin," I said. "It's an ordeal. You have to try it to appreciate it."

The sage Wife weighed in with, "What I don't get is why so many people of higher education are drawn to it. All you're doing is wasting your time hitting a little ball toward a hole. It doesn't require any intelligence at all."

Au contraire, mon petite bon-bon. It requires intimate working knowledge of physics, physiology, psychology, geology, meteorology and theology. Even then, you have almost zippo control over the outcome. That's why the only clubs you'll ever find in my hands are sandwiches. Life is a veritable Wal-Mart of irritation as it is. I prefer to get mine in other aisles.

John Rolfe is a senior editor at SIKIDS.com.