There’s an old Andy Griffith routine from way back before his Mayberry and Matlock days. In Football he describes the experience of a hillbilly watching his first football game, trying to figure out the rules and the object of the game on the fly. All he can figure out is that two groups of guys keep doing strange things to the “pumpkin” and to each other.
I was watching the end of the Open Championship (AKA British Open) today and wondering what old Andy’s character would have made of the event. He’d see a lot of people watching from grandstands and other folks traipsing about the open links near the sea. Alleys are cut in the weeds, and everyone’s attention is focused on the few people special enough to walk down the alleys. There are multiple groups of these special people, and two extra special people in each group get to swing a stick and hit a ball. Everyone goes silent when this is happening, and then the observers clap, groan, and/or erupt into wild cheers. For some strange reason the guys hitting the ball sometimes hit it into the weeds, sometimes into big holes full of sand, sometimes into the short grass, and every now and then they hit it into a little hole in the ground. This continues for hours, until finally one of them is given a pitcher and a few others get medals and silver plates.
Football makes more sense. At least in football you can see that one group of guys is competing with another group, although it’s hard to see why. Most games are like that – you can see two players or two teams struggling with another, trying to hit a ball past the other guys, run past the others, knock the other guys ball away, etc. You can kind of see that it mimics a survival skill such as taking territory, getting and keeping treasure away from enemies, or fending off an attack from a predator.
But what’s the good of hitting a ball into the weeds or a hole in the ground? And what are the other people doing there? Golf seems to have no survival value, to mimic nothing of value to the average caveman. You can’t even hit the other guy with your sticks or mess with their ball.
I think Andy’s hillbilly would come away from the Open a little confused about the rules and what was happening, but he’d know why it happened. He couldn’t miss the joy of Darren Clarke, the affection of the crowd and the other players, the coming together of everyone on a fine patch of land by the sea. He’d see everyone drift away for home in a fine mood, leaving empty alleys in the weeds waving in the sea breeze. And he’d wonder, “Could I hit that ball with that stick? It doesn’t look too hard. What’s the big deal?”
A few swings in the quiet evening and he’d know why they cared.