News & Opinion

Coming to grips with an outdated golf tradition

The handshake, a traditional gesture on the 1st tee and 18th green, could get the thumbs down when golf emerges from the coronavirus pandemic, but how should we replace it? Well, we’ve put our fingers on a few suggestions

Things will be different when we get back to normal, if you will.

Already trending in the direction, the new normal will be even more impersonal, advanced by the social-distancing mitigation that the coronavirus pandemic has produced. The residue will affect a number of behaviors, to varying degrees, on numerous levels. But one thing seems certain: the handshake is about to become a thing of the past.

15th Governor Hugh L. Carey Challenge Cup
Before coronavirus upended our world, Caolan Rafferty (from left) and teammate Conor Purcell of the Golfing Union of Ireland instinctively remove their caps and shake hands with Met Golf Association opponents James Nicholas and Joe Saladino in the 2019 Carey Challenge Cup in Paramus, N.J. The former routine gesture of sportsmanship could go the way of the curtsy.

Culturally speaking, in households where the handshake has been taught, nurtured and celebrated as character-defining, it will not go quietly. Understandable. There’s nothing wrong with traditional values.

But my father had health issues as a child, which rendered his right arm and hand essentially inoperable. He was left-handed by default. I am right-handed, as is an estimated 90 percent of the world’s population.

In my house, the handshake was about as important as accordion licks and juggling tricks. I don’t remember ever shaking hands with my dad. So, either the moral reputation of the handshake is BS, or that makes me eligible for handicap parking.

That said, there’s a disparate price to be paid for stunted handshake acumen. For instance, I once shook hands with former NHL tough guy Noel Picard. And let’s just say if a boxing promoter had arranged the greeting, there would have been inquiries made and state licenses pulled.

Picard’s right hand, developed on the faces of adversaries such as Elmer “Moose” Vasko and “Cowboy” Bill Flett, was roughly the size of a mobile home. A standard hand not only disappeared in Picard’s mitt, but it immediately became structurally compromised. Whether it returned as a functioning hand or a pile of sawdust was entirely up to the amiable French-Canadian.

You could have the same experience with Arnold Palmer, whose handshake was capable of turning raw coal into diamonds. Bottom line, it’s never been fair to the rest of us – the handshake-impaired – who have to “put ’er there.” You take your life into your hands, literally.

The demise of the handshake is significant for golf, where it is ethically institutionalized. Just like a Stanley Cup playoff series, no proper round of golf ends without the participants removing caps and extending hands. But that was then, and this is now.

But we’re all coming out this COVID-19 chapter a bit more germaphobic. Human hands, even the frequently washed ones, are toxic toaster ovens. The 6 degrees of where they’ve been and what they’ve touched during the course of a day is never-ending.

Clasping one, after 18 sweaty holes of golf, might be honorable and historically sound, but henceforth it also will be considered exposure. You might believe that a firm handshake says a lot about a person, but one thing it doesn’t say is “germ free.”

There will be awkward, bait-and-switch moments initially. Old habits die hard. But in golf, as in life, the gentlemanly gesture is on borrowed time. Perhaps the more titillating question at this point is what should replace the handshake in golf. There are many possibilities, so let’s consider the options.

Fist bump – Research shows handshakes transmit 10 times more bacteria than fist bumps, while about twice as much as high-fives. Both involve human-to-human contact, so what’s an acceptable amount of transmission? Rejected.

Blowing kiss – Again, unless you’re wearing a face mask and gloves, not bacterially prudent. What’s more, it probably projects a smidge more goodwill than the circumstances demand. In some instances – make that, in many instances – comfort level would be problematic, for senders and receivers alike. Can’t see this gaining popularity.

Three Stooges sendoff – The Stooges had alternative means of communicating on many levels. Occasionally, they placed a hand under a chin and wiggled the fingers as a departing gesture. But this action was not associated with positive vibes or endearing sentiment. It fits more comfortably in the “taunting” category. Good concept, but it’s inflammatory.

The salute – Almost opposite of the kiss-blowing option, the salute is born of military duty, honor and respect, and the serious implications thereof. A formal salute would be over the top after a round of golf, while a casual salute could appear to be disingenuous and dismissive. Sorry, but stand down, soldier.

The twerk – This animated way of communicating was introduced by Miley Cyrus at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards, when she “twerked” with Robin Thicke during a performance. Thicke subsequently saw his marriage and music career implode, and he lost a plagiarism lawsuit filed by Marvin Gaye’s family. The same might happen to any golfer caught twerking.

Bob Hope’s “Thanks for the Memory” – A little crazy, but I kind of like this one. I can see all four golfers – 6 feet apart – concluding a round with a sing-along verse of the song Hope used to close his USO shows for American troops. Golf certainly can be memorable. But the song actually is a fond farewell to a lover, which rules it out. Players are just as likely to be bitter adversaries by round’s end.

Carol Burnett ear pull – This one has potential, checking all of the boxes in terms of simplicity, sentiment and pandemic prevention. But Burnett made it famous when she had a hit variety show, which doesn’t translate well. The ear pull also has been used in corrective and penal circumstances, popular with strict mothers and angry nuns. Doubt if we could pull it off.

“The Sting” nose touch – Used by Henry Gondorff, Johnny Hooker, Doyle Lonnegan and others in the 1973 movie, the action has credibility and cachet. But it’s more of an acknowledgement or confirmation than a thanks or congratulation. What’s more, the presidential coronavirus task force has made it clear that nose-touching is a no-no.

The run, jump and bump – This is a popular celebration in sports. You see it often in end zones and home-plate areas. As with other contact occurrences, it seems epidemically flawed, even if skin-to-skin free. But bigger concerns are the athleticism involved and the potential for injury. It might be easier to say “enjoyed it” in a Gangnam Style, Macarena kind of way.

The bow – A possible winner here. The bow already is an accepted and respectful greeting or farewell in many Asian countries, which makes it a natural transition for some golfers. What’s more, it seems to be age-friendly in that even a mummified-stiff, fitness-challenged senior should be able to manage it. If not, the tip o’ the cap would suffice. Yes, that option requires touching a potentially tainted cap. But it’s your cap, and it has been on your head for the past 4½-5 hours. Touching the bill is the least of your problems.

Perhaps some of you like these options. But some of you will have other ideas, and some of you will dislike the entire concept. If that’s the case, sorry, but we’ll have to just shake hands and agree to disagree … Oops! Check that …

We’ll just agree to disagree and, “Thanks for the memory …”

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