After a long and dismal spring, it’s golf season again. Time to hit the links with my retired (though hardly retiring) brothers and ponder that age-old question: Is a round of golf really a good workout? And is it worth the public humiliation?
Last week, I chased the little white ball around a course in the northern suburbs. It went something like this: Hit the ball, watch the ball land somewhere forward of where I’m standing, climb in the golf cart, drive to where the ball is, hit the ball again, repeat — a hundred times or so. Really good golfers can wend their way around a course with a certain economy of motion, like tai chi masters. Every swing based on a kind of kinesiological calculus. Elbow sits here, hands move there, torso turns just so, and the ball is propelled straight and true toward a specific location. I do not have that kind of relationship with a golf club and ball. Golf for me is kind of like doing yoga after having one too many beers. I’m stretching and twisting, all right, but without much precision.
On the back nine Thursday, I hit one tee shot that burned through the grass for maybe 30 yards and followed that up by topping my second shot into a nearby pond. Four more mostly fruitless whacks later, my ball had traveled about halfway to the green. On such occasions, my golfing partners try to make encouraging noises, but it’s hard not to feel a bit inferior.
I’m told that with practice, I can cure my poor golfing mechanics. It’s all about muscle memory, they say. Trouble is, my muscles tend to remember sports other than golf. My knees are always acting like they’re helping me out with my fall-away jump shot and my shoulders want to pull that hanging curve down the left field line for an extra-base hit. It seems so easy. The ball’s just sitting there, waiting to travel.
But it’s not, of course.
Even the best players will hook an occasional shot into the woods and plunk one into the drink. But they always look so fresh and composed as they do it; no sweat, no heavy breathing. It never seems like they’re taxing their bodies that much. And the same goes for us determined hackers — especially when we’re chasing the ball in an electric cart.
I suspect we’d be pretty bushed if we walked 18 holes carrying our clubs. I can imagine creaky knees and sore feet. I can also imagine that it would take us about seven hours to get around the course, which would not endear us to the traffic jam of golfers piling up behind us. Besides, where would we put the beer?
Still, I have to admit that I awoke the next morning with sore hands (need to work on my grip strength) and a pretty stiff back (more yoga), so I guess it’s not really fair to say that golfing offers no particular physical benefits. I’m just not sure it offsets the psychological trauma. The key, of course, is to not take the game too seriously. It’s a practice. Kind of like yoga — only with beer.