Imagine stepping up to every drive and just knowing that you’re going to rip it 330 yards down the middle.
Or having a 3-iron in your hands and not worrying for a second about all the nastiness up by the green.
Or feeling as if every putt, even the tricky downhiller, is going in the hole.
(OK, that last one is stretching it a little. No one does that. Not even the pros.)
But after watching the U.S. Open at Erin Hills, after watching the shot tracker on TV consistently show a parabola headed right toward the pointed-out target, I can’t help but wonder:
Do the thoughts of imminent disaster that bedevil the rest of us ever cross the minds of the pros? These guys are good … but are they too good?
And the most important question of all: Would mastering the game to that degree be more fun? (Think about that for a minute before you answer.)
The only way I can equate my game to the way they play is to think about my mindset in miniature golf.
When I’m putting on a carpet, with windmills and clown’s mouths and other silly obstacles, I’m disappointed if I make more than a 2 on just about any hole. You’d think that being so much more proficient, compared to real golf, would make it more fun. You’d be wrong.
It’s not that I dislike miniature golf – after all, it’s still golf, sort of – but it certainly doesn’t have anything close to the appeal of the regulation course.
One of the things I love best about our great game is that we don’t need outside interference to make it more difficult. The golf course is the opponent, for the most part. That and what’s in our head.
How does that compare to other sports? Here’s how:
If I were to stand in a batting cage, with the machine set at about 50 mph, I would have no trouble bunting the ball just about every time. I would need a tougher challenge – a full swing against a more cranked-up machine or, better yet, going out on a baseball field and trying to hit against a pitcher who might throw the ball at your head.
If I were standing under the basket with a basketball in my hands, I guarantee that I could make a layup just about every time. Basketball gets a whole lot tougher, however, when you’ve got to make the layup over a defender trying to slap the ball away.
When I am practicing racquetball, I can hit shot after shot just the way I want. That’s a sport where it only gets tough when you’re facing an opponent who can do exactly the same thing.
Even golf has a valid comparison: When I’m on the range, I feel much more in control of my swing than when I’m on the course. I’m not trying to make birdie out there; I’m just trying to hit a 7-iron correctly. Then I get out on the course, and all those great shots to that wide-open range turn into shaky swings that send the ball flying into trouble.
Which is exactly what makes golf so great. Those issues can arise no matter whether you’re playing in a foursome or as a single. You don’t need a hand in your face.
And that’s why it’s so special when one of us mere mortals gets it going with a string of birdies and pars. The pros expect that; we can’t believe it if it actually happens.
I know this sounds crazy, but I like it our way better.
I also know that it’s a business for the pros. This is how they make their living, so their expectations are several miles above ours. They need to have the best equipment, the best mindset and, of course, incredible skill.
After the way some of them tore up Erin Hills – interestingly, not many of the leaders were ranked in the world’s top 10 – I couldn’t help but wonder what it’s going to take to truly challenge these guys. Give them fairways that wide and greens that big, and distance doesn’t intimidate them.
You can bet that the USGA will make sure that Shinnecock Hills will be much tougher next year and we’ll be back to a winning score of about 3-under in the U.S. Open. That’s what most people want to see.
But you also can bet that every pro out there is working toward overcoming every obstacle the USGA can invent. After all, these guys aren’t just good. They’re great.
I wonder if that’s really more fun.