In an interview with David Feherty, Larry David, an acknowledged expert on human behavior and golf, was asked what distinguishes golf from other sports in his mind. His answer was “humiliation”. He basically said that personal humiliation is built into the fabric of the game more than any other sport we play.
As usual Larry David is right. In most sports your moments of infamy go largely unnoticed. You can miss a backhand passing shot by a foot in tennis, lose one point, and rationalize to yourself that you were simply leaning the wrong way. In basketball you can dribble the ball off your foot out of bounds and reason that you saw someone coming in your peripheral vision and lost concentration. Or, as Larry said, you can strike out in baseball and nobody will criticize you, everyone strikes out in baseball.
But in golf, you are in a bunker next to the 18th green thinking simple up and down for par and after a mighty blast where sand, debris, and everything except the ball comes hurtling out of the bunker you are left staring at the ground wondering how you could have personally defeated the efficacy of the 60 degrees of loft Cleveland provided specifically for this purpose and instead bladed it into a buried lie in the bank six feet in front of you.
It is humiliating, in a semi-public way. The three guys you are playing with saw it. There are eight other guys who will hear about it over lunch from one your good buddies who saw it. Your wife will hear about it-maybe the dog during this evening’s poop walk. Maybe a man of the cloth will hear about it, especially if it cost you the back nine and the eighteen and all of a sudden you are a little short for the collection plate on Sunday.
We know the humiliation is coming but yet we still play the game. We spend hours on the practice ground grooving a technique that will no longer sanction such acts of humiliation. We read Bob Rotella books and watch self-improvement videos that provide us with psychological techniques to protect us from the moment of weakness that can foster such an act. But to no avail because we know humiliation is coming, we are just not sure when.
Hell it happens to the guys who are paid the big bucks to play the game. On any given Sunday you will witness a seasoned pro who is in the hunt short-sided in the heavy rough and faces a delicate pitch to stay in the running. He proceeds to flip it about two feet instead of two yards dashing his hopes and making his next shot even more short sided than the last one. The announcer will say, “He was just trying to be too cute with that one” when we really know he simply did what we do all the time, he lost total control of his skill set and threw up on his shoes…this time in front of a major television audience.
Our passion for golf apparently fosters a corresponding reservoir of willful suspension of disbelief. Either we just convince ourselves that this humiliation cannot happen again or worse we actually relish the challenge of avoiding humiliation as an incentive to keep playing this crazy game.
Either way there is no empirical evidence to support such wishful thinking. Humiliation is just a round away, a hole away, or a swing away…..take your choice. And in a sardonic way we are looking forward to it.