Even those of us who spaced out during biology class are familiar with the cycle of life: birth, the bloom of youth, maturity, decay, death, compost, birth and back on the wheel again. A cycle is also part of the marketing pitch for religion. In the version popular in these here parts, there’s rebirth in a really long sequel that stars YOU. In other versions, there is a series of sequels in which your role is played by an ensemble cast.
But there is also the cycle of golf. I’m not referring to the trend in one’s game that follows the meta-trend of one’s life. Rather I’m talking about the wheel inside the wheel, the cycle of good play giving way to bad play and then worse play, only to be followed by a resurrection and return to good play. This is the cycle that can take place over the course of a season, a month, even down to the micro-level of one round or even a single hole.
Why is this? Why does the game have to be this way? It’s not like I’m that erratic in the rest of my life. Good Lord, if I were, I’d be freaking Charlie Sheen: one day on the red carpet, the next day in jail. So what’s up with that?
Well, first off let’s consider, as a thought experiment, the possibility that the game was not this way, and that in fact it was precisely the opposite: you worked at it and just got better. You might level off at various points along the way, but over time your mastery just grew. It would be like learning a language in which you mastered increasingly difficult conjugations and declensions and improved your listening comprehension. You wouldn’t wake up one day and suddenly be unable to ask where the restrooms are without a lot of weird hand gestures.
But I think we all know what this would be like. Boring. In his book, History of the World in 9 1/2 Chapters, Julian Barnes has a great story about a guy who winds up in one of the possible locales in that vast area known as the afterlife. He starts playing golf, and since he has a lot of time for it, he gets really good. Like Kim Jong-Il good. Starts scoring 18 for a round. So he does what anybody would do at that point. He quits.
Now obviously this scenario is a bit absurd. But it does illustrate a point. I have met a lot of smug, arrogant people in my life–yes, it’s been a great journey–but I have yet to run into anybody who leaned back in his chair, took a sip of single malt and declared that he had “quit golf because it was just getting too easy.”

But having granted the game this point, there is still the matter of whether golf kind of overdoes it. There’s keeping it interesting and there’s overkill. Which leads to the following question which will be the topic of the next post: What is the Purpose of Bad Golf?

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