The question - or declaration - pops up every now and then, and it never fails to irritate me, more so than most pompous statements that irritate me.
"Golf isn't a sport."
For those slightly less golf-phobic, it's sometimes framed as a question: "Is golf really a sport?"
The question should be: Which sport is the most difficult?
The answer: golf.
The question usually comes from a sportswriter who has athletically cultural blinders on, which limit his field of vision to three things and three things only: baseball, football and basketball. I've worked in many sports departments. I know the type.
They spend most of their working hours honing their fantasy league team in one of the three major sports, at the expense of whatever newspaper is overpaying them. They spend most of their off-hours watching ESPN Alternate reruns of the 1987 regular season matchup between Southwest Louisiana and Florida A&M.
Sometimes, it comes from regular Joes who have never been to a driving range or putt-putt course. I heard it again just the other day from such a person.
The problem with the question is one of presumption. Those who question whether golf is a real sport presume that a sport requires only the physical abilities of one who plays one of the three majors.
Run, jump, bust heads.
It depends on how you define a sport. If you define a sport as only running fast, jumping high and butting heads, then no, golf isn't a sport, unless you're talking about Tiger Woods' caddie.
But, if you believe a sport requires eye-hand coordination, intense focus, stamina and a cut-throat sense of competition, you cannot help but call golf a sport.
The hardest of them. If it isn't difficult, then why do so many, even the pros, have such a devil of a time hitting a ball straight that isn't moving? The last time I looked, golf doesn't throw high and tight sliders at you.
There are countless ways of striking a golf ball, even with the pros. The trick is to find the most effective swing and repeat it over and over. That takes unbelievable mental discipline, a symbiotic waltz between brain and muscle.
That's where the stamina part comes into play. Golf is much more physical than, say, softball or bowling, and you never hear those sports' legitimacy being questioned. Or at least you hear them questioned less often.
Still, you don't have to be superbly conditioned to excel at golf, though it helps. But you do have to have a ton of mental discipline to be good at it.
Think of it: you see more tantrums in golf than any other sport, and it usually involves the breakdown of the mental process.
The question brings up the idea of what makes an athlete. You used to hear the same sort of drivel about Larry Bird not being a true athlete, when measured against Michael Jordan, Julius Erving and the like.
Bird was not only an athlete, but one of the best, maybe the best ever in basketball. He couldn't sky with Jordan or Erving, but he had court vision that was unequaled, except maybe by Magic Johnson.
Though he wasn't particularly fast or high-jumping, he had quick hands, feet and eyes. And ,of course, he wanted to win more than most anybody who ever played.
There are golfers like that. Vijay Singh has a quiet intensity to go with his remarkable talent. Ernie Els has more pure talent than anyone on tour with the possible exception of Tiger Woods. And, of course, Woods has toned down those derisive descriptions of golf as a leisure activity dominated by fat, middle-aged white guys.
Hitting a golf ball straight and true is a science and an art. Just because there are more people out there willing to show you how to do it for a fat fee, more so than any other sport, doesn't make it any easier.
I played all three major sports growing up; they all came naturally to me. I tried golf at about the same age; it did not come naturally to me.
Does that mean it isn't a sport, because it doesn't come naturally to most people. No, it just means it's a sport that's a little more subtle and complicated - and a hell of a lot harder.
Simply select where you want to play, find a tee time deal, and golf now!