18 Good Things About Golf: No. 13

Maybe try adding a cigar: Fuzz and Les, August, 2010.

13. Golf is continually challenging. I used to play frequently with a low-handicap player and long-time student of the game named Art. During one round, he was having trouble with his driver, and on the second tee he said to me in exasperation, “I can’t remember how I take the club back.” Every golfer knows that situation. One day, your swing is there; the next day (or hole), it’s not. No matter how good your game may seem at any particular moment, there’s always some part in need of tinkering, and you always know that the parts which now seem sound may suddenly disintegrate. This prospect of arbitrary, undeserved disaster causes strange behavior. Nick Faldo doesn’t trim his fingernails once a tournament has begun. Tom Watson carries an odd number of coins.

Because the golf swing is so ephemeral, it requires special treatment. My own theory is that you should always be changing something about your game, even when you’re playing well. Your swing won’t stay still, so you mustn’t either. Your only chance of keeping up is to stay a step ahead. Maybe strengthen your grip slightly, or open your stance a bit, or think a little harder about the position of your chin—anything to distract the game-destroying gremlins that are always standing on your shoulder, waiting for you to become complacent. Once when I was playing especially well, I decided suddenly to stop wearing a glove. I wasn’t unhappy with gloves; I just needed something different to think about. And, if my game suddenly went south the following week, I wanted something dumb to blame it on.

The Best Way to Watch the Ryder Cup

No, that’s not a medical office building. It’s the premium grandstand beside the eighteenth green at the 1993 Ryder Cup, which was held at The Belfry, in England.

The best way to watch almost any golf tournament is on TV. That’s especially true of the Ryder Cup, because at any moment there’s hardly anything going on. I’ve been to just one Ryder Cup in person—in 1993, on the Brabazon course at The Belfry, in England—and it was a spectator’s nightmare. The most coveted seats, initially, were in an enclosed multistory grandstand beside the eighteenth green, and people who had passes for it began arriving long before the first match teed off. They then waited for almost twelve hours with nothing to watch except one another getting drunk, because on the first day only one of the eight matches—the afternoon four-ball between Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie, for the Europeans, and Paul Azinger and Fred Couples, for the United States—made it to the eighteenth hole.

The Belfry, like most of the courses where the Europeans hold the Ryder Cup, is a dud. The nicest thing that Ron Whitten could find to say about it, in Golf Digest’s 1993 Ryder Cup preview, was that its blandness would prevent it from intruding on the golf—perhaps the faintest possible praise for a championship layout. It’s also the opposite of a stadium course. There are no hillsides or mounds for spectators to stand on, and in 1993 the trees  were way too small to climb. I saw one man standing on a paint can, which he had somehow smuggled past the guards at the gate, and I saw many people standing on small stools, also smuggled. Because the viewing opportunities were so meager, there were crowds surrounding the few available television sets. There was one in the Lloyd’s pharmacy tent, and one in the exhibition tent, and one in a rowdy refreshment tent near the tenth fairway. Medinah Country Club is far more spectator-friendly, but if you’re watching from home you should still count yourself lucky.

You should also be grateful that the broadcast isn’t being handled by the BBC. In 1993, Tom Kite would be putting for eagle somewhere, but on the screen you would see Colin Montgomerie practicing a putt he had just missed, or Nick Faldo standing by his golf bag, chatting with his caddie. The camera operators couldn’t track balls in the air and had trouble finding them when they were on the ground. The producers would suddenly cut to Barry Lane, picking him up in mid-follow-through, and the sound equipment on the course looked like Second World War surplus. The BBC has improved since then, but not enough. In the TV Cup, the USA wins every time.