Would You Rather be Deaf or Blind?

I have an article in this week’s New Yorker about hearing and hearing loss. There’s only one teensy mention of golf, in the second paragraph, but hearing is an important subject for all golfers, especially as we get older. Much of what athletes in several sports think of as “feel” is actually aural feedback rather than anything to do with the sense of touch. Arnold Palmer, when he was in his seventies, said he had of trouble playing golf if he wasn’t wearing his hearing aids. (“Without my aids, I lose all feel for what I want to do,” he told Golf Digest.) The reason is that good shots sound different from bad shots, and if you can’t hear that difference from one swing to the next, over the course of a round, you can lose your way.

The same is true in other sports. Liam Maguire, a hockey analyst in Canada, once said, “You can’t handle the puck if you’re not able to hear it hitting the stick. It’s amazing how much hearing plays into these basic capabilities.” A recent article in the New York Times described an 18-year-old deaf tennis player, who is notable because at 143rd in the world he’s the highest-ranked deaf tennis player ever. He has compensated for his deafness by learning to see things that other players hear, including the spin on a serve.

You would think that, for an athlete, not being able to hear would be less of an impediment than not being able to see, but that isn’t always the case. A hearing researcher at Harvard Medical School who is also a serious sailor told me that much of the ability to sail a boat depends on having fully functioning ears—both hearing and a sense of balance. An experience sailor, as long as he didn’t run into anything, might actually have an easier time sailing blind than sailing deaf. The Vision Cup, an international tournament for blind golfers, will be held in British Columbia in July. Is there a Hearing Cup? Maybe someone knows.