My last round of 2021 included a birdie. This may not rate as big news in the greater golfing world, but to me it’s hugely significant. In a lifetime of chasing the dimpled ball I doubt I have made 100 birdies.
For the record, the latest came on a par four, good drive, 6-iron to 25 feet, holed the uphill putt.
It is at moments like these, as the ball drops into the hole with the inevitability of another petrol price increase, that the game seems simple and fun and the best way a person could ever use their spare time.
For the record, again, on the back nine I played like an idiot and lost 4 & 2, retreating to the clubhouse muttering audible obscenities and declaring all over again that this is the worst possible way to use up my precious spare time.
Of all the definitions of the game people have used over the years, I think it is best summed up by the concept of ‘cognitive dissonance’.
This has been defined as the mental stress experienced by someone who holds two contradictory beliefs, ideas or values at the same time.
Golf and cognitive dissonance fit like a glove. How many times have you suffered through a round, only to magically conjure a par or birdie at the last, thereby convincing yourself to try one more round before retiring for good?
I once played Parkview about as badly as anyone ever has, hacked three blows to the edge of the 18th green, then thinned my hastily conceived chip towards the road.
My ball was intercepted by the flagstick, which bent backwards with the force of the blow, and nonchalantly dropped it into the hole.
A round of applause from the balcony brought me to my senses and, instead of stomping off to the car park, I smiled, bowed and wrote down 4 on my card. With a flourish.
It was F Scott Fitzgerald who said, ‘The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.’ I don’t know about you, but I reckon Fitzgerald was talking about a golfer.
Specifically a high-handicap golfer, who addresses the ball and hopes for the best, but expects the worst.
We feel sorry for you single-figure handicappers, because when you swing the club you know pretty much where the ball is going.
By contrast to this desperately narrow world view, cognitive dissonance means that we hackers have the entire golf course as our canvas; right, left, up in the clouds, scuttling along the ground, even behind us if we happen to have connected with the concrete bench behind the ladies tee.
And with all this variety at our beck and call, we can still hold meaningful conversations in the bar that sound, to all intents and purposes, like the utterances of a proper golfer.
May I be the last to wish you all a happy new year.
– This column first appeared in the February 2022 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine. Subscribe here!