Golf Will Never Love You Back

Sports golf
Golf Will Never Love You Back

Rory McIlroy lost an incredibly dramatic U.S. Open in excruciating fashion on Sunday, as he watched his two-shot lead with five holes remaining evaporate, and LIV Tour star Bryson DeChambeau won his second U.S. Open.

This major championship was significant not just because it funneled its way down to a head-to-head battle between two of the world’s best golfers, but also because of what those golfers represent. I will not write any analysis about the final round of the U.S. Open because Shane Ryan has already perfected that article at Golf Digest, but about what it represents.

Perhaps no professional golfer publicly demonstrated their love for the sport more than Rory McIlroy did these past few years, as the Saudi-backed LIV Tour has attempted to swallow golf whole in Mohammed bin Salman’s quest to pay the world enough money to forget about his litany of past and present crimes against humanity.

Of course there were financial interests at stake on the “good” side of the fight too, and staying with team PGA Tour was financially lucrative for a major Tiger Woods ally like McIlroy, but Rory stuck his neck out for the Tour in ways no one else really did.

He smelled the Saudi bullshit from a mile away and called it out for turning golf into a pointless exhibition, and he fought to keep tradition alive in a sport that needs it more than any other. Now that McIlroy resigned from the Tour’s policy board in November, the LIV-PGA marriage seems more inevitable than ever. Rory fought the PGA Tour’s fight and got stabbed in the back by the PGA Tour when it decided that all those guys cashing MBS’s checks had a point.

But now Rory had an opportunity. Even if it was only symbolic, a victory at golf’s most difficult major over LIV’s biggest big hitter would reverberate throughout history. One golfer is not powerful enough to stop an autocratic nation-state and a tour sponsored by every major high-end brand in existence, but on the course, he could at least put one of LIV’s brightest stars in his place and back up all those things he said while sending a message to the rest of the guys trying to wipe the blood out of their wallets.

Instead, he missed two putts that will forever live in infamy, and Saudi money won yet again.

In a way it’s poetic. Golf is famously a brutal and unforgiving sport. The course does not care who you are or how well you have played, and to have a truly great round requires some amount of luck in a game centered around hitting hard balls high and far then hoping they bounce in the right direction. That the man who deserved this moment the most found himself just inches from an historic win, only to lose it on a couple putts he has probably made billions of times, is one of the most brutal and succinct summations of the sport I have ever seen.

Golf Hates You

I watched Rory’s dramatic birdie rampage to take the lead, and subsequent bogey-fest to give it back while playing the best round of golf I have played in a year, feeling a love for the sport I have not in some time. I played golf as a kid and developed a really solid short game, but baseball was always my primary sport, and that swing has a way of screwing up your golf swing. After over a decade of helplessly watching my ball nosedive off to the right, I told golf I hated it and dedicated my weekends to bars and restaurants.

A decade later I would fall back in love, as the solace of the driving range provided me with one small quadrant I could control in a world falling apart at the seams in the middle of a pandemic. Despite still slicing ball after ball to the right, I trudged on in search of a solution. Eventually a small rotation in my grip would fix the problem and unlock a whole new world for me. I am permanently stricken with terminal golf brain now.

Every year since the pandemic, my friends and I have staged an annual Ryder Cup-style team golf tournament. It’s a wonderful event that is essentially the Super Bowl of golf to all of us. Our summer rounds have been elevated beyond just weekend warriors heading out to hack it around our local courses, and now they’re dry runs for the Cup that serves as the capstone to our golf season. It means a lot to all of us because it means a lot, and that is sports at its most basic level. None of this stuff truly matters, but we make it matter, and we create a community around that.

The love of the game that Rory was fighting for back when there was a good fight in the PGA Tour-LIV saga is reflected in ours and countless other golf outings around the world every year. It is a bit ironic that this stuffy individual country club sport brings so many people together, but that is part of golf’s magic. As you get older, there are less athletic competitions you can consistently play, and golf enables people of all sizes and ages and athletic capabilities to play together in a way that they never could in a team sport like basketball. The love people feel for this sport is different than that of any other for good reason.

Until I shank another fucking shot into the woods. Then I hate it again. As Rory McIlroy and countless others demonstrated this past weekend, you can love golf all you want, but it will never love you back.

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