No, this isn’t about a Fifty Shades of Gray prequel, with a kinky Captain Bligh, in a leather waistcoat, as the lead flagellator. I merely want to point out that flog is golf spelled backward.

Just a coincidence? I think not…

You’re good at a lot of things. Why aren’t you good at golf? Didn’t the Bender Stik, Orange Whip, PlaneSwing, Speed Whoosh, Smash Bag, Power Sleeve, Frogger, GolfJOC, Putter Cube, Swing Sock, SmartGlove, Flatball, or hundreds of other training aids work? How about the new clubs? New grips for the new clubs? New balls? New shoes? Lessons in magazines? Lessons on TV? Lessons online? Lessons in books? Lessons with teachers? Windmilling at range balls? Yeah, same here.

One of the worst things that can afflict you on the golf course is to stand over your ball on the first tee, with six swing thoughts, five of them beginning with “Don’t.” A huge industry is dedicated to extirpating those thoughts, or at least collecting money on the attempt. Arnie’s Army (remember?) is not the fans, it’s the thousands of self-proclaimed swing wizards, each with his or her own special path to the promised land of split fairways, jarred putts, and sub-bogey rounds.

Unfortunately, golf is not like bowling, where 300 is a perfect game (in its defense, I never lost a bowling ball). So, anything that will “take 10 strokes off your game” is sort of like an erectile dysfunction drug in reverse. At bottom, golf played well means expending the least possible effort. The wrong direction romantically, it’s golf’s Holy Grail.

It’s said that golf is a game and not a sport, and therefore takes place mostly between one’s ears. That might be true, but I haven’t seen much correlation between intelligence and golf-course success. In fact, the game invites the kind of overthinking the swing-thought problem illustrates so well. If overthinking is a smart-guy problem, then I’ll bet some of the more fanatical of them would trade ten points of IQ for every stroke off their handicaps. I would, but I couldn’t afford it.

To me, golf’s biggest upside is simply being on the golf course. It’s just a great place to spend four or five hours outdoors. Often, the course is place of great beauty and serenity. Within its boundaries, a gentle breeze tickles lovely trees surrounding a carpet of green, while placid lakes are dappled by the warming sun. Squirrels scurry about, birdsongs serenade, and off in the distance, if you listen carefully, you can sometimes hear… GODDAMMIT! followed by the telltale helicopter sound of a golf club whirling through the air.

There’s even more to like. Golf’s rituals are as comforting as a church’s. They are derived from golf’s etiquette, which is the only thing a new player has to get right on the first day. No one except your friends will make fun of the whiff, top, chunk, banana ball, shank, blade, duck hook, worm burner, sky ball, or foozle you just hit—the one that lands on the beach, in the Big Ball Washer, the cabbage, jungle, OB, or puts you in jail. We’ve all hit that same shot, and soon we’ll hit it again. But curse the newbie who walks on a line (or casts a shadow on it), does not tend the pin, hits out of turn, hits into the players ahead of him (“I didn’t think it would go that far” is an excuse guaranteed to infuriate), plays the wrong ball, does not mark his ball on the green, or makes any sound whatsoever during a fellow player’s backswing.

A non-golfer might ask why anyone would want to do this. Beyond the camaraderie, being outdoors on a beautiful day in a beautiful place, and the escape from the exigencies of quotidian life, what keeps my golf clubs off eBay for another week is this: the sight, sound, and feel of a well-struck golf ball arcing gracefully and unerringly toward the beckoning pin. Golf may be a game of managing one’s mistakes, but hitting such a shot is like an alcoholic downing a drink—it makes you want another one.

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