A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
I don’t play golf. I don’t know anything about the game. If asked, I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a birdie, an eagle, two penguins and a duck, or whatever other fowl they use to keep score. (Personally, I think most games where the lowest score wins are suspect, anyway.) However, that’s not to say I am philosophically opposed to golf. I’m not one of those people who wants to dig up all the golf courses and plant potatoes for the poor or anything. I just don’t see the obsessive enjoyment golfers get from the game. At the risk of pissing off many of my relatives and most of my friends, I have no idea why anyone would want to spend a Sunday morning stumbling around a pasture in the first place. Nor do I see the intrinsic excitement involving in whacking a little white ball with what appears to be a medieval weapon best suited for hand-to-hand combat — especially since the purpose is to somehow drive the ball into a tiny hole that’s normally 200, 300 or an inconceivable 400 yards away. Quite frankly, at that distance, I couldn’t clearly identify a Baltimore Ravens linebacker let alone a hole in the ground that’s the size of a teacup. In fact, I think getting your little white ball even close to the hole it’s supposed to go into is a matter of out and out luck. And actually putting it in with any regularity has got to be wizardry at its most occult – Annika Sorenstam notwithstanding.
However, as much as I could badmouth golf all day, the only reason I’m even writing about it is it has one amazing feature which simply doesn’t exist in any other sport – the Mulligan. For the uninitiated, the Mulligan is basically a do-over. It works like this. You’re standing over your ball, rear back and give it a mighty wallop and it goes someplace unfortunate, like into your opponent’s ear or miraculously through the window of a passing car. Rather than just swear for an hour and get three Budgies (or whatever) on your score card, you can simply declare a Mulligan and do it all again. Obviously, when the big boys are playing the Interplanetary Championship, it’s not allowed (otherwise Tiger Woods would still be hauling in the hardware) but in most friendly games it’s perfectly legal. Weird, huh?
Nobody seems to know where this strange scenario came from (It certainly wasn’t invented by the Scots — who are Presbyterian to the bone) but it’s been around since the first part of the last century. It’s always attributed to some guy named Mulligan. However, after that, the only thing we can say with any certainty is he must have been bigger and meaner than the fellows he was playing with; otherwise they wouldn’t have let him cheat like that. It’s no wonder that this kind of chicanery caught on, though; golfers are notorious for bending the rules. Even before Mary, Queen of Scots, took to the links, golfers were kicking sand on each other’s balls and lying about their handicaps (challenges?) The Mulligan is right up their fairway. Fortunately, this Mulligan nonsense never migrated into more important sports. Third and ten, bottom of the ninth, three seconds left on the Shot Clock: none of that would work at all, if every coach could just holler “Mulligan!” and get to do it over again. (It’s a good thing they can’t, either, or there wouldn’t be a respectable bookie left anywhere from here to Vegas.)
They say sports, like art, imitates life. We have highs and lows, triumphs and defeats, and all the other clichés in between. I imagine there are whole battalions of philosophers out there explaining how the game of golf is a metaphor for life and wouldn’t it be nice if we could all just take a Mulligan when we screw up. Who cares? For my money, reading about golf is probably just as boring as the game itself. Besides, does anybody really want a world with every idiot and his half-witted cousin running around going Groundhog Day on life’s well-manicured pasture, forever trying to get it right?