The Populism of Modern Golf: A Plea for Sanity

I never shy away from “the divot conversation” on social media. Call it my brand. Ironically to the tenor of this essay is that in doing so I feed the beast of generating clicks and engagement such posts are attempting to generate. They do check all the boxes though, don’t they? A modern-looking, well-dressed person will explain with much charisma (Oh! They are just like me… or rather, they are just like how I want to be seen!) that when you hit “a perfect drive down the middle of the fairway you should be rewarded with…” blah blah blah. We know the drill.

You want to be them. Therefore, anything they say must be correct.

And that’s how they manipulate you. You’re sucked in: “Golf rules are DUMB. This is SO UNFAIR. How can I, the weekend golfer, expect to have fun when I HAVE to do this.”

Well, I suppose that all boils down to why you are out on the golf course in the first place. But first, a story, and a confession:

The leaps I made between my Freshman (1997) and Sophomore (1998) years of High School in golf were legion. I spent most of that summer practicing and playing, no small thanks to the $5.00 after 3PM rate we got at the local muni for being on the High School team. By the time my second season rolled around I was safely on the Junior Varsity team and on the cusp of the Varsity Squad.

One day at practice, I got off to a great start hitting four greens in regulation and making four pars. On the fifth, I got a little loose and had to make a 20′ or so putt for par. I did, and then continued back on the GIR/par streak until the 9th tee. I don’t quite recall being nervous at the prospect of my first even par 9-hole round but I definitely did not hit my best tee shot and my ball found a little pocket of inconvenience down the right side of the hole.

The green was still well in range but I had no idea what I could do with the lie. The ball was sitting down. There was a tuft of fine fescue next to it.

I rolled the ball on to the tuft. I hit a 9-iron on the green over the flag. I, ostensibly, three-putted for Bogey.


One of the parents waiting behind the green said they were impressed with my approach from over there. I thanked them.

But yeah, I didn’t really shoot a 36 that day. There was nothing impressive about the shot I hit into the green And there’s no telling what could or would have happened had I just played the ball down and took my medicine. It could have been a shot worse than I “posted” or it could have been the same or it could have even been better (and a much better story!)

And that, dear reader, is the entire point.

I don’t know. Neither do you. Nor does anybody.

It doesn’t take much arm-twisting to get me into some of the more philosophical rants about the why/wherefore of playing the ball down, but that is beyond the scope of this particular report. Ultimately, the entire thing boils down to attitude and education. Golf’s irony is that it is equally reliant upon luck as it is on skill.

Remember: “The more I practice, the luckier I get!”

Therefore, nobody can fault the golfer for assuming skill was involved in something that statistically amounts to “good luck” and for assuming fate is more involved in something that amounts to “bad luck.” But, I highly doubt anyone caught the “good luck” part of my story above – the putt on the fifth.

Tour pros make something like 10% of putts from that distance and on much more consistent putting greens than those I played that day. For me, at the time a slightly-better-than-bogey golfer (though quickly improving) making a 20’+ to save par can only amount to good luck. The hole simply got in the way of my ball to my advantage. Four holes later and a different hole got in the way of my ball to my…

Well, I still don’t know. It may have been bad luck. It may have been no luck. Or maybe I would have the opportunity for more good luck by holing out my third shot from whatever and having an EPIC story about the first time I broke par for 9 holes.

But either way, the story is not about the golf so much as it is about the crucible that golf can be to us as people. An impurity was burned away that day. I cheated. And for that day, I didn’t learn much about the type of golfer I was becoming, but I did at least learn that ignoring a fundamental principle of the sport was not worth that remorse of ego-driven appearances was not something I wanted to be, as a person, moving forward.

And besides, what good golf story ever began with: “So, I rolled the ball out of a divot…”?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: