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Golf a trial by ordeal? Sometimes it’s exactly that


Trial by ordeal was an ancient judicial practice by which the guilt or innocence of the accused was determined by subjecting them to a painful, dangerous or at least unpleasant experience. It is uncertain when the practice began, but it spanned many cultures and to many forms, from boiling oil and poison, to hot and cold water. Especially in medieval Europe, it was recorded in “witch hunts” and sometimes considered “a judgment of God,” based on the premise God would help save the innocent by performing a miracle. In this case I’m using “trial by ordeal” as a metaphor for the torment and agony and the painful experience involved with the trials of golf, and perhaps the test of our patience as golfers.

Some non-golfers would rather not put themselves through the “ordeal” of even trying to learn golf, since they figure it’s way too hard and time-consuming. Some avid golfers wonder why they put themselves through such and ordeal every week; and then they make a miraculous birdie and go out the next week to play and torment themselves again. In some golfing situations the trial and ordeal we are going through seems all too real.

Let’s take finding your golf ball in a deep sand bunker, which requires an expert golfer to loft that ball out and on to the green. Instead, you take five maddening strokes to extract your ball, thereby ruining an otherwise decent round. There’s a reason the Scots named one sand trap at St. Andrews the “hell bunker.” Then there’s the horror of hitting four or five putts to get the ball in the cup, while struggling with the anguish of the yips. And, yes, golf’s torment includes the “s” word – the dreaded shank. That affliction, truly a trial by ordeal, may come and go indefinitely.

Other golfers experience ordeals, not by playing, but by accidents and mishaps. Accidents on the course account for  more than 40,000 serious injuries (requiring ER visits) or deaths annually in the U.S.; that doesn’t include strokes or heart attacks. Five years ago a close friend of mine got bit by a rattlesnake as he stepped off the cart path toward his ball at one of our local golf courses. It was very serious, requiring 14 vials of anti-venin; the hospital only had 15 on hand. Twelve years ago, playing on my home course, I hit my drive on the 13th hole, picked up my tee, and was immediately flattened to the ground having been hit by a driver swung by a member of our group practicing his swing right next to the tee. It was painful and bloody, and I needed 12 stitches above the eye, but thankfully, no eye damage. Ordeals can happen anytime and anywhere.

Waiting for slow golfers is an ordeal of a different sort. Slow golfers often play inappropriately long tees, and then waste time looking for their mis-hit balls. Then you are forced to watch as they slowly take five practice swings, go back to their bag to change clubs, slowly walk back to their cart, slowly clean their club, slowly put the head cover on, slowly get into the cart, chat with their passenger and then slowly drive off. And then waiting for four or five players on the green to decide who’s away, and only decide to size up the putt when it’s their turn, and agonize over an 18-inch putt, and slowly walk off the green.

If anyone has tuned in to an LIV golf tour 54-hole tournament you know it’s an ordeal just listening to the ear-splitting rappers blaring through giant speakers before LIV players tee off. The LIV people even have a dumb-down slogan that goes “Pro golf but louder.” Finally, it may not constitute an ordeal but it sure is very annoying, hearing some overserved cretin yell “get in the hole” on almost every hole on TV. That thankfully doesn’t happen at the Masters.