“I was kidnapped once—on the golf course. It’s true, I swear to God.”
My audience — 16 of them — sat up. So far so good. My aim was to show how golf turns its aficionados into philosophers. Failing that, my talk would provide a little entertainment, perhaps. After all, people love to loathe golf, and in return I take pleasure in confounding such predictable antipathy.
“As if golf isn’t tough enough,” I explained, “vandals jumped me. Tied me up and dragged through the bush. Bruised, rope burns — this was — in my memory — (choking back emotion) — my greatest round of golf ever.”
Even the golf haters were hooked, so I went for the jugular:
“Golf — misery, loneliness and frustration notwithstanding — may serve as a doorway to the (ahem) meaning of life. No? Okay, we’ll stick with the philosophy bit.
“Golf begins with philosophy: ‘PLAY THE BALL AS IT LIES.’ It’s the Law of Golf. There’s not much more to the game. You’re out there on your own, on your honour.
“Albert Camus said, ‘Integrity has no need of rules.’ On that fateful day, I was beginning to twig to such deep thoughts. I was 13 years old. And as it happens, it was the 13th hole, a par 5, dog-leg left…”
So I take them through this abduction — the punks, the rope, my astonishment, the terror. It didn’t last all that long. Returning to my ball, dishevelled, trembling — now what? Call the police? Or play on? This is my segue to the Second Law of Golf: “PLAY THE COURSE AS YOU FIND IT.” So… am I going play it, or am I going to stand there thinking about it?
“Big problem with golf — too much time to think: ‘That which does not kill us makes us stronger,’ etc. Tennis permits no such cogitating. But golf! With golf we’re philosophizing from day one: ‘Play it as it lies.’ (And no nudging it with your foot, either.) ‘To thine own self be true!’
But getting back to that 13th hole — I hit it. I mean, it’s gone! Like a laser! Long story short — disengaged as I was from cursed “swing thoughts”, I am “in the moment”. I par in. I break 80 for the first time. It’s a rite of passage, is what it is.
“Never again (alas) would roving bands of psychopaths bless me with their torture. But triple bogeys are torture enough! Enough to drive any golfer to a Stoic philosophy. Such as: ‘This too will pass.’ But sometimes it does not pass!
“Sometimes you get a triple followed by a quadruple! Sometimes, you think of cheating. It’s so simple — on your scorecard you record a double bogey instead of a triple. But then the golf gods are in your ear: ‘PJ, PJ, PJ…make truth your island; make truth your refuge. ‘Amor fati!’”
Friederich Nietzsche, anyone? Nietzsche nailed it with “Amor fati.” That’s Latin for “love of one’s fate”. To not want anything to be different than this — not past, not future, not even triple bogeys.
“Now, there’s a philosophy!
“If you can actually live it, then you are inside your own life, finally. It`s from there that you really start to enjoy that damn game — triple bogeys, vandals and all. Never mind ‘play it as lies’ — it’s playing you!”
I know, I know — such a state of mind! It must be a course record of enlightenment. Never mind that we may never shoot that low, never mind that we don’t understand it — we know it’s possible. That’s life. That’s golf.
My favourite philosopher, Woody Allen, says it best:
“Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering — and it’s all over much too soon.”