Golf is not just a great game; it is a funny game. Bobby Jones called it a “game of misses”. Think about that for a minute. It truly is a game where the ball rarely goes where one intends for it to go. When facing a shot from one hundred yards away, a golfer may pick out a wedge, go through his or her pre-shot routine, approach the ball, and hit a shot four feet from the hole. That’s a great shot, and the result is either due to luck or due to years of practice that allowed that particular golfer to hit the ball that close to the hole. Unfortunately, hitting a golf shot four feet from hole, regardless of how good a shot that may or may not be, is a miss. Anytime the ball doesn’t go in, it’s a miss. That seems a little unfair, doesn’t it? When golf is thought of as a “game of misses”, it can seem a little disheartening. Fortunately, we celebrate shots that end up four feet from the hole, and we relish in drives that may fade off or draw twenty yards, but still manage to find the fairway or first cut of rough.
Golf is the ultimate mental game of man vs. sport vs. self.
When golfers compete, they are trying to shoot lower scores than the competition. When a weekend warrior plays a weekly round against his or her buddies, that golfer is trying to shoot lower scores than their fellow golf enthusiasts. The truth of the matter, though, is that a golfer competes against himself. You are playing the golf course. Your “misses” have to be closer to the hole than the person you’re attempting to beat. If golf were conquerable, all golfers would birdie, eagle, or double-eagle every hole. A drive would find the fairway every time, and on Par-4s, the approach shot would always hit the green and role in the hole. Par-5s would be conquered in similar fashion with a long, straight drive, followed by a long straight 3-wood that hit the green and rolled in the hole for a double-eagle. There has yet to be a golfer who has reached this mighty feat. It’s OK to attempt to make every shot, but it will prove itself to be rather difficult, and thus the game of golf presents itself as the ultimate game of misses, tormenting young and old alike to find a great swing and shoot lower scores, all the while missing shots closer than someone else misses a shot.
There has never been a sport that rewards it’s participant more for missing than golf. Baseball is probably the closest sport, because a professional can make a long career out of batting .300. Batting .300 means one thing: The batter gets a hit 3 out of every 10 times at the plate. That’s 7 misses. In baseball, we celebrate the individuals who can hit the ball 3 out of every 10 times, and we are amazed at the few who have managed to hit the ball 4 out of every 10 times.
For the rest of the sports world, misses are frowned upon. Nothing good comes of a missed basketball shot (unless you are the other team). A three-pointer is similar to the baseball example, because making 3 or 4 out of every 10 attempted shots is very difficult, but basketball leaves room for many makes with dunks, layups, jump shots, and free-throws.
A missed goal in soccer, a dropped ball or missed tackle in football, a dropped ball in baseball, or a dart/arrow/bullet, etc. that goes astray from the target are all examples of misses that are not celebrated remotely in the same way the misses in golf are celebrated.
This is what makes golf a funny game. This is was makes golf a unique and rewarding experience. It is truly a game like no other. It is a game of misses.