Let’s take another perspective on the game. Let’s imagine what kind of golfer some of the great figures of the arts, literature and history would have been.
Historians trace the origins of golf back to mid-15th century Scotland. Now this raises a number of interesting questions. First, there were bound to be implications for marital life even back then. It’s one thing to get home late from a game that’s well established and quite another to attribute your tardy return to a game that hasn’t really been invented yet. In fact I think that students of Scottish history and culture have it all wrong and the adoption of the kilt as a form of male garb came after, not before, the invention of golf. I think the conversation went something like this: “Aye, Seamus, if ye’ll have me believing that ye’ve been knocking a wee ball aboot the moors I’ve a bargin for ye. Ye can play this game ye fancy so if ye’ll wear this wee tartan skirt I’ve been knittin.” And thus the kilt, rather than an ancient predecessor to golf, is another example of how men will do just about anything to play the game.
Another admittedly obvious implication of the time and place of golf’s birth is that millions of human beings never had a chance to play the game. You could have been a Pharaoh or a Pope, Genghis Khan or Leonardo da Vinci, and you never had a chance to play the greatest game ever invented. This is clearly a tragedy of monumental proportions.
But as Shivas Irons said in “Golf in the Kingdom”, golf is a mirror into the soul. A few years back a guy by the name of Franklin Foer wrote a great book on soccer and politics titled “How Soccer Explains the World”. This is more an example of How Golf Explains You. What we know about famous historical or literary figures should give us a pretty good idea of what their golf game would have been like. And so, in roughly chronological order, here are some answers to one of the great questions of historical analysis: “What kind of golfer would he have been?”
Moses: Obviously he would be a stickler for the rules and actually could be pretty tedious about insisting that he helped introduce them. Given that he took 40 years to get from Egypt to the Promised Land you definitely wouldn’t want to get stuck playing in back of his foursome.
Job: Definitely a player. Anybody with that capacity for suffering was meant to be a golfer. Known to complain about his misfortunes though.
Jesus: Like most guys who are sons of the boss he would have lots of time to hang around the club and work on his game. It goes without saying that he’d have an awesome short game. If you can save souls, you can certainly save par. And when you have a guy who can multiply fishes and loaves like that, why have anybody else run your tournament committee? On the other hand this ability to walk on water would be useful only if he could get his golf balls to float.
Joan of Arc: The Michelle Wie of her time: not afraid to take on the guys, but a tendency to go down in flames at crunch time.
Henry VIII: What’s a second marriage but another kind of mulligan? This guy had six wives so you can be sure that there would be a lot of “do-overs” in a round with him. And don’t imagine for one second that you could actually stop him from hitting another ball anytime he thought that was a good idea. He wasn’t exactly nice to people who got in his way.
Marquis de Sade: Definitely a scratch player. In certain respects the perfect opponent: not only would he have to give you strokes, he’d be happy to do so.
Louis XVIII and Marie Antoinette: They’d always be available for tournaments and parties. But the wigs would be a real problem on windy days, and let’s face it: people who lose their heads aren’t going to be winning any couples tournaments.
Hamlet: Without a doubt he would be the slowest player out there. To chip or not to chip? Driver or 3 wood? It would be agony. On top of that there would be all this morbid talk about his dead caddy Yorick. By the back nine you would be yelling at him, “Hey Hammie, put the skull back in the bag. You’re freaking me out with that thing.”
Beethoven: Only good for nine, but boy could he talk about how well he played the fifth and the ninth. “They were masterpieces, I tell you, masterpieces.”
Thomas Jefferson: Probably not a great golfer, but he’d design your clubhouse and your course, oversee the landscaping and select all the wines. You’d have to watch him around the staff though.
Mozart: An extremely good junior golfer and not shy about letting you know that. “Really, Wolfie, that’s just great. You got your first birdie when you were three years old? And you were breaking par by the time you were seven? Hey, thanks for reminding me and be sure and tell me again next time we play.”
Hitler: No surprises here: a thoroughly despicable, ill-tempered maniac. And besides, he couldn’t get out of a bunker to save his life.
FDR: I don’t know, maybe he did play before polio struck him down. But, regardless, he belongs in this list because he gave us one of the best pieces of golf advice ever: “All we have to fear is fear itself.”