News & Opinion

With golf, our plates always stay full

My mother wasn’t a golfer, but her father was a very good player, and she loved watching the PGA Tour. This gave us something to talk about for many years, and though she’s been gone for a while now, I remain very thankful for those conversations, however insignificant the actual dialogue might have been.

The game gives to us in so many forms, some of them nebulous or even abstract, others poignant and everlasting. We ruminate over the scourge of slow play. We cringe at the thought of the two richest players of all-time charging us $19.99 to watch a meaningless match in the desert, but golf’s problems are nothing compared to the stuff that plagues other sports.

We don’t have guys making $25 million a year but sitting out because they want to renegotiate their contract. We don’t have referees deciding games by looking at a contraption built by Microsoft. We don’t have a bunch of 19-year-old kids getting used by universities because they can run fast or jump high, and we certainly don’t have any ex-players killing themselves after a lifetime of blows to the head.

Golf frets over the darndest things. The young bucks hit their 7-irons 220 yards, and one of them averages 340-plus off the tee. That’s not a problem. It’s an issue, something the game’s governing bodies should have addressed years ago, but if 15 under par won a lot of meaningful tournaments in 1985, 15 under wins a lot of big tournaments now.

My wife likes to say that I “invent conflict,” and she’s right because wives always are, but my ability to find something wrong is due largely to the fact that life is good. One of the things that makes golf so good is its unwavering sense of self-accountability. Yes, a lot of mediocre touring pros probably make too much money, but my favorite NBA team has five players making more than $12 million apiece, and they enter the holiday weekend with a 6-11 record.

Tiger Woods
Give thanks for Tiger Woods, whose competitive re-emergence in 2018 gave the game plenty to celebrate.

Pro golf is run by organizations with warped priorities, but the game is what matters, not the people who oversee it, and the game rarely has been more fascinating than it was in 2018. I’ve gotten dozens of emails from readers who make it abundantly clear that they don’t like Tiger Woods, but his competitive re-emergence obviously had a profound effect on the game’s Q-rating and led to some highly provocative moments on select Sunday afternoons.

Jordan Spieth struggled. Brooks Koepka thrived. Dustin Johnson did a little of both. We’re at an intersection of generations, which doesn’t happen very often, and if the young stars own the future, the veterans with a glorious past are who make the present a blast.

Woods came back from a litany of personal and physical quagmires simply because he loves the game. As a fan and a golf journalist, I am thankful for that. If all the fawning over his every move became a little more than I could bear at times, it was purely inspiring to see a 42-year-old man with nothing to prove trying to prove even more.

I like guys who try. Maybe you should, too.

That’s another thing about golf. There are no teams rooted in large metropolitan areas with a built-in, native fan base, so you have to find players to like for one reason or another. Fred Couples became a favorite of many with his effortless grace. Greg Norman had swagger; Corey Pavin, tenacity; and Phil Mickelson continues reeling them in by interacting with the galleries.

There are no uniforms in golf. Everybody kind of wears the same thing, but everybody looks different, so there is a style factor involved. Maybe you liked the late Payne Stewart’s knickers, and maybe you didn’t. Some players look aghast after every missed 6-footer, as if they’ve just been robbed in broad daylight. Others tap in and move on.

Almost everyone who plays this great game, however, holds a steadfast respect for the code of conduct and a strict adherence to the rules. It’s an old-fashioned commitment in this day and age, one that doesn’t generate much traffic on Twitter, but it’s as important to the big picture as a club and a ball. I am deeply appreciative of the game’s sensibilities. While other sports seem to grapple constantly with off-field matters and legal repercussions, golf has this oddly beautiful penchant for luring good people into its nest and making them even better.

So, there’s a whole lot for which to be thankful. Somebody please pass me the mashed potatoes.

John Hawkins is a longtime sportswriter who spent 14 years covering the PGA Tour for Golf World magazine. From 2007 to 2011, he was a regular on Golf Channel’s “Grey Goose 19th Hole.” Email: johnhawkinsgolf@gmail.com