Golf driving range

Randy Tagle of Rocklin, California, swings Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021, at the Haggin Oaks driving range. Tagle said he stopped playing for a while, but returned to the game during the pandemic. (Hector Amezcua/The Sacramento Bee/TNS)

Late comedy icon Robin Williams once joked that they called it a “stroke” in golf because that’s what golfers thought they were having when they missed a shot.

Williams was not far off.

As someone who has been infected with the golf bug for most of the last few years, particularly since the pandemic began, I can attest. Golf is the best game and worst game. The most fun and the most stupid. The most rewarding and most thankless. The best use of five hours on a Saturday and the biggest waste of time (and money) I can think of.

No, I don’t have a healthy relationship with the sport. At all. But I love it nonetheless. Probably too much. Okay, absolutely too much. Consider this a love-hate letter to the game. A thank you, of sorts. And a venting session. Hopefully if you enjoy golf you can relate — or start playing if you don’t already ... or avoid it like the plague. Your choice.

This is how it starts

I began playing golf casually with my father when I moved back to the Bay Area after college. I was 22. We played a couple times a month. As a former athlete (not to brag, but I redshirted for a community college baseball team after an extremely mediocre high school career), I always had a competitive fire — I just lacked the skill and athleticism to harness it into something useful like, say, a college scholarship.

I enjoyed golf and played it regularly with friends. I was at the point where breaking 100 would mark a good day on whatever Bay Area course I was playing. When the pandemic began in 2020, and golf courses opened back up after lockdown late in the spring, I was comfortably shooting in the 90s with my hacky baseball swing without having conniptions on the course.

Then golf became my top hobby while the pre-vaccination pandemic rolled on. I began treating it with the same competitive nature I did baseball. I became obsessed with finding swing fixes (forward shaft lean, anyone?) and equipment reviews on YouTube. I started watching old rounds of major tournaments. I began consuming coverage of the PGA Tour in ways I never did previously as a sports writer. I begrudgingly admit I spent entire weekends watching golf on television. I even got fitted and bought a whole new set of clubs.

Most importantly, I started playing 18 holes once or twice a week, accompanied with weekly sessions on the driving range. Some might even call this “getting dialed.” All I wanted was to be called a “ball-striker,” like the guys on tour.

Golf was a life-saver during the pandemic. It allowed me to get outside my house and enjoy Northern California’s weather, walk eight miles, satisfy competitive urges, listen to music, avoid social media and escape the depressing news cycles. All while I could see my game getting better. My drives were going longer and straighter. The iron shots were becoming more consistent. I was developing more feel around the greens. I was even, gasp, hitting some putts. The progress you see in golf is what keeps you coming back.

Golf is therapeutic that way. It reveals all your faults as a player and holds nothing back. There’s no faking it, barring the occasional mental health mulligan (something that should be more widely adopted, in my opinion). You are what you are on the course, which comes in stark contrast to every day life when so many people spend life faking it. There’s an authenticity in that I’m drawn to, which makes improving so fun.

Golf is the worst best thing

On the other hand, golf, you unrelenting nag, would you take it easy for once?

Can you let me escape a tough work week with a stellar, mistake-free day on the course? Would you mind allowing me to dot every green one time? Would it be too much to ask to allow me to pipe every drive 300 yards right down the middle? Can you let me break 80 so I can validate all this time and money? Can you just let me get to a single-digit handicap? Gah.

No, unless you’re a PGA pro or touched by God, golf is unlikely to serve as a comforting respite from your troubles. It’s not a supportive spouse who will rub your shoulders to make you feel better. It’s not a grandmother making you a nice bowl of soup on a cold day. It’s not your child saying, “I love you no matter what, dad!”

Instead of that massage, golf gives you a baseball bat to the face. Instead of soup, you get a room temperature Lunchables two days beyond the expiration date. Instead of a child’s unconditional love, golf is a bratty personal trainer that calls you “Tubby.”

And no, your swing looks nothing like Adam Scott’s. Stop putting it on your Instagram story.

But I love golf. I have an addiction to it. I’m the practice-swing-in-public guy. I may or may not have a backyard practice net in my Amazon shopping cart. And I’ve definitely spent an unhealthy amount of time trying to figure out if I should get a driving iron, hybrid or 5-wood.

I refuse to look at the app on my phone which helps me keep scores and yardages, but I’d venture to guess I play roughly 65 rounds a year since I’ve become hooked. I’ve gotten roughly 15 strokes better over the last two years, and I’m finally getting comfortable with those new clubs.

There’s a feeling of accomplishment when you hit the ideal shot, even if it’s only once or twice a round. There’s no life equivalent of flushing a 4-iron. It’s a win for you and you alone, which is great (also, don’t bother telling anyone because exactly zero people care about your awesome golf shot). But the scores are never low enough. Even pros who shoot 59 will think about the shot that cost them 58.

It’s a great game. The most enjoyable game.

It’s also the worst. The absolute worst. I hope other golfers out there know what I mean.

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