I hear a lot of talk about how we — that is, all of us who love golf — need to make an effort to grow the game. There's no question, we have to spread the word. Trends are moving against us; there are fewer courses and fewer players than there used to be. But I worry that the complexity of life on the PGA Tour creates the wrong impression in everyday players. In promoting the professionalism of life on Tour, we may be hiding golf's simple pleasures in the shadows.
For the typical Tour player today to compete at an elite level, he needs an army — swing coach, sports psychologist, personal trainer, nutritionist. Not to mention truckloads of stuff, like video equipment and $25,000 launch monitors. Countless cottage industries have sprouted to provide support and information to the world's best players.
Don't misunderstand me. I'm not against any of these things. Men who make their living between the ropes need them. But we need to be careful about exalting the pro game as a standard for the recreational player. If newcomers to golf think they need the same instruction, fitness, equipment and data that the pros have access to, they'll be intimidated by both the difficulty and the cost.
Think about Sam Snead and Ben Hogan, or even some recent winners with unique swings, such as Bubba Watson and J.B. Holmes. These guys are proof that you don't need a standardized swing method or a personalized workout routine to play great golf. In Snead and Hogan's day, players typically went to the range with a shag bag and just two goals: to lose as few balls as possible, and to minimize the walking distance when collecting them. Pretty simple, right? Practice doesn't have to be difficult. Making golf overly complicated will simply push people away from the game, not toward it. Where are you going to find the time for a golf-specific workout and multiple practice sessions?
Hey, I'm all for instruction, but I know plenty of guys who have never had a lesson but still shoot low scores. Heck, a certain lefty who taught himself to play has won the Masters twice — with a pink driver, no less. As for fitness, sure, it's nice, but six-pack abs are not required in a Saturday four-ball.
If we want to bring more people to the game, we should focus on the fun. If a lot of practice and workout time is enjoyable to you, then by all means get at it. But don't turn golf into work. Tailor your expectations toward having fun when you play, instead of being obsessed with performance. Lower your expectations for your swing. Just enjoy your round, and the fact that you get to play a game in the sunshine. You may actually play better using this approach, because the pressure is off. I can't promise that you'll shoot lower scores (although you might). But I can promise that you'll have a lot more fun.