How to Watch Golf, and Love It: A Primer for the Non-Golfer

For those curious as to why some people take great pleasure in watching golf on television, there is a key to opening the mind and senses to golf, one of the most difficult of sports.

The Difficulty is the Key

Most people aren’t great cooks, despite having tried it many times. Cooking isn’t exciting, but there’s an entire network devoted to it.

Most people have never driven a tractor-trailer full of flammable materials across the frozen north. Watching a person drive a truck isn’t exciting, but there’s a television show devoted to just that.

Both of those examples, though radically different from one another, draw large audiences because everyone knows the difficulty involved in doing them successfully. Emeril Lagasse is adored by millions of would-be chefs. Sure, he has personal appeal to many, but if he couldn’t cook, no one would watch him do it. They watch because of his success in creating great dishes, something difficult to do. People watch Ice Road Truckers, not because they want to drive semi-trucks on ice, but because they know the dangers and difficulty involved in maneuvering a motor vehicle on a frozen surface.

Golf is just as different from cooking and trucking as the two are from themselves, but it is no less difficult.

Try It, You’ll Hate It (and Love It)

Golf is growing, a worldwide sport played by millions. Even so, most people’s golf experience consists of a swing and a miss, followed by a swing and some turf, followed by a shank, followed by "This is a stupid game." Some people have a few more whacks before making contact that sends the ball further than they ever imagined, which is then followed by elation and a breathless "That was sweet." Those people keep playing the game, keep improving, and realize what it takes have success in golf; it’s the mind and the body working together. It’s that group of people, the ones that come to that realization, who become fans of watching golf on television.

Right now, there’s a young tour professional, Ricky Fowler, who is, reportedly, largely self-taught. He’s amazing to watch. Fowler is only 5'9" and 150 pounds, but he can drive the ball over 300 yards. Even given his average physical stature, that stat won’t mean much to someone who has never tried to do it. Millions of avid, avid golfers have tried to hit their drives 250, even 200 yards for years without success. A 300-yard tee shot, though commonplace for some professionals, is worthy of admiration due simply to the difficulty of achieving it.

How can a nearly sixty-year-old Tom Watson come close to winning the Open Championship (British Open), beating a host of players twenty, and thirty, and forty years his junior? Because he has mastered the mental side of golf, as well as coming as close to mastering the physical side as can be.

For a golfer who hasn’t reached "golf maturity," a poor shot can relegate the remainder of the round, the day, to mediocrity, at best. When Tom Watson hits a bad shot, he walks to the next shot enjoying his surroundings, having a conversation with his caddy about something not related to the last or next shot. What Watson has learned is the skill of accepting that there will be bad shots in every round. When that shot, or those shots, come, he simply goes to the next shot and executes to the best of his ability. He has taken stock of his level of skill and knows what to expect.

Tiger Woods can often be seen blowing-off steam following a poor shot. Sometimes, a lot of steam! But, notice it lasts only briefly and then it’s forgotten. He allows himself a moment of reflection, then it’s over, on to the next shot.

The Hidden Game

Without some golf experience, there’s so much hidden from view. Try to hit a 300-yard drive, consistently. Go to a practice range and try to simply forget (and forgive) a series of bad shots. Even better, take some lessons from a golf coach and then try to hit a 300-yard drive and move on from a bad shot without losing composure.

Golf fans aren’t crazy or boring people, watching a boring game. Take some steps toward the game and it will take several steps in your direction. If you can’t see some appeal, at least you tried. Ice Road Truckers, or better yet, American Idol, has room for more fans.

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