Thursday, February 05, 2009

Another Reason to Love Golf

Almost two years ago, almost to the day, I wrote this brief post about Camilo Villegas, who I was predicting to be the next big star on the PGA Tour. In the two years since, Camilo has pretty much fulfilled my prediction. He is currently ranked #11 in the world, and shot a 63 today and leads the Buick Invitational by three strokes.

But that's not the additional reason I love golf. In another post, written during the 2007 Buick Invitational, I wrote that contrary to the opinion of those who think of golf as elitist, it is actually among the most democratic of sports. Here's how I put it then:

"Few people ever experience the thrill of dunking a basketball, or running a sub four-minute mile or flinging a football 60 yards downfield. And though few of us can drive the ball 300+ yards, from time to time, every golfer hits a shot that is identical to the sort Tiger, Vijay, Ernie or Phil make with somewhat greater regularity: the 60-foot putt that curls in, the chip from off the green that hits the flag and drops, the approach from 180 yards that nuzzles up close. (I do it with a 3-wood, Tiger with his 7-iron.) And 18 times a round, every golfer gets to hear the same lovely sound the pros do when the ball finds the bottom of the cup."

Here's the additional reason to love the game, a reason that came to me today while watching the pros try and tame Torrey Pines, and it relates to golf's egalitarian nature. What other sport can you play where you get the opportunity to experience that sport in the same venue the pros do? Sure, with connections, you could probably shoot hoops on the parquet in the Boston Garden, or maybe stand at home plate in Yankee Stadium. And though you could travel to Austria and ski the Hahnenkamm run, the most famous downhill course, they wouldn't clear the mountain for you and time you so you could compare your efforts against the world's best. The experiences just aren't the same.

Of course you can't play every course they play on tour (just trying getting a tee time at Augusta or Shinnecock if you're not a member or have member connections), but if you have the coin, you can tee it up at Torrey Pines South, Pebble Beach, Pinehurst or Bethpage Black -- all of which have hosted the US Open. There are dozens of other courses open to the public where other PGA tournaments, even majors, are played. If you want, you can even play from the back tees and see just how short you fall in relation to the standard set by the pros.

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