INTRODUCTION

From Chicken Soup for the Golfer's Soul The Second Round

Introduction

The smaller the ball used in the sport, the better the book.

George Plimpton

As we set to work on this heartfelt sequel to Chicken Soup for the Golfer’s Soul, we paused for a moment and asked ourselves: What is it about golf? What is it that separates golf from every other sport? What is it that causes its participants and fans to have an experience that is altogether different from that of other endeavors? What is it that elevates our experiences, mostly in retrospect, to something a little more transcendent than just a game played with a ball and sticks?

A number of answers come immediately to mind. Like, golf is unique because we play it against ourselves. Or, golf is endlessly challenging because of its mostly unattainable standard of par. Or, the beautiful natural settings upon which the game is played make it a singular escape for golfers everywhere. Or, golf is something people can enjoy all of their lives, unlike, say, a Monday night softball league or a pickup game at the local gym. Or how about, golf allows us to forge and strengthen a wide range of relationships in a uniquely relaxing setting. Or maybe golf is different simply because of the countless myths and legends that surround this five-century-old endeavor.

There is certainly some truth in these and many other comparisons between golf and other sports. But they all seem, at least in our humble opinion, to fall a little short. So we delved into the encyclopedias, dictionaries and other oracle-like tomes of golf that offer up endless explanations and metaphors, and we did our best to boil them down to the essence of what it is that sets golf apart, and this is what we came up with.

Golf is a mirror. It is a 360-degree mirror that surrounds our every shot, decision and intention on the course, and reflects it back in perfect clarity. We have no teammates to hide behind, or to obscure our triumphs or failures. We have no defenders to offset our efforts and take their share of praise or criticism. We have no lines to prescribe a specific path towards the goal. We have no one to turn to after a shot and thank or blame. We have only ourselves.

We are faced with situations in every round that allow us a glimpse in this mirror, if we are willing to look. The well-hit shot out of the sand for an up-and-down par, reflecting hours of lessons, hard work and follow-through. The wedged-behind-the-tree-root character test when your partner isn’t looking, giving us the opportunity to cheat not just our opponent, but more importantly, ourselves. The choice of how to react after missing that putt for an 8 on the easiest par-4 on the course. The simple joy of watching a son or daughter fall in love with the game. Or the pure exhilaration of a drive hit straight and true.

Perhaps no moment in golf’s long and illustrious history better exemplifies these possibilities than the final match of the 1969 Ryder Cup. The most competitive matches in the history of the event, it all came down to the 18th hole on the final day, with Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin both needing to sink their next putt for par. After Nicklaus, who was playing in his first Ryder Cup matches, holed out his four-footer, he graciously, and courageously, conceded Jacklin’s two-footer to halve the round and result in the first tie in Ryder Cup history. That simple gesture embodied all that is good about golf, its reflective character and its glorious possibilities.

Jack Nicklaus, acting on behalf of all of us, looked in that mirror, and in that moment, on that illustrious day, the best of the human spirit smiled back. And in our humble estimation, that is what it is about golf.

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