(Originally published a few years ago, maybe 2006?)
& I’ve never been a fan of golf. But I’ve always been attracted to the tv version, and never could quite figure out why, until the other day when the picture on the tube showed a bunch of people at the PGA championship in Oklahoma, some of them with binoculars, looking straight up.
They were standing there in the middle of a well-groomed patch of grass called a fairway, dressed in those funny costumes you’ll see on golf courses (you know, canary yellow pants and visors-without-caps and those half-legged “shorts” and sports coats emblazoned with coats-of-arms of long-gone Scottish clans and other trappings of the uniformed upper crust). They were all craning their necks to see something Up There. At first, their expressions made me think of an enemy bomber approaching, or maybe a winged & haloed Ben Hogan Himself descending from On High. It was a dead-on serious moment, if you know what I mean.
But it was neither another 9/11 nor a second coming. They were looking for a golf ball. The little white pockmarked pellet of that paunchy pro John Daly apparently had gotten stuck in the tree. It came to me immediately: The reason I occasionally watch golf is that it’s a great reality comedy show. It’s been more than once that we’ve been treated to the sight of a grown man, with pant legs rolled up, standing storklike in the water flailing away at a small submerged globe with a long stick. This is not unfunny, right?
I’ve always gotten a chuckle out of those broadcasting Brits with the carefully accented, mellifluous voices that are so authoritative when proclaiming things like, “that was a brave putt,” meaning the guy missed it, or “the ball had too much chase,” meaning the guy hit it too damn hard. And how can any listener suppress a smile when the accents are whispered in those tones that would be proper for an operating room play-by-play of the Queen Mother’s liver transplant?
Of golfing fans, my favorites these days are those who crowd into sweating scrums at each tee to watch through periscopes as their favorite contestant launches the ball at a small hole that is probably a quarter of a mile away. One or two half-wits among them invariably takes the occasion of the club hitting the ball to yell, curiously, “get in the hole!” What are these people thinking? They certainly can’t mean it, can they? Get in the HOLE??? It can only be that they are trying to endear themselves to the demi-god duffer by appealing loudly to some supernatural entity to perform a miracle. The ball’s got as much chance of going in the hole as Tiger Woods has of going into bankruptcy.
Golf is funny because people take it so seriously. When seen from a distance — and I’m able to see golf from a verrry far distance — it is downright hilarious.
From that far-removed perspective that Sunday, what could be seen on the screen were officials and caddies and golfers and gofers and a goodly number of other fairway functionaries, all of whom had stopped in their tracks to unlimber their arsenal of binoculars or squint their eyes and peer intently into the leaves of the towering tree to discover the hiding place of the little white pellet. And, mind you, this was no idle endeavor: The quest was as intense as would be the search for a dirty bomb in a White House wastebasket.
These were thinking human beings, existing on a small planet marked by brutal religious and oil-soaked warfare, hundreds of thousands recently dead from tsunamis, disease, earthquakes, hunger, floods, bridge collapses and mine cave-ins, and facing the possibilities of even more terrible troubles from terrorists, lead-covered toys and a million other troublesome you-name-its. This was an assemblage of strangely attired two-legged organisms who long ago were provided by nature with a unique spark of intelligence, which they currently were wasting on what turned out to be a futile search for a small ball in a high tree.
And this all done to support a bunch of rich guys trying to get richer by engaging in what the boys around the clubhouse bar refer to as “spanking whitey.” Not funny?
Mark Twain defined golf as “a good walk spoiled.”
Mark Twain was a humorist. Secretly, he must have loved golf.
& I’m outta here.