I came upon this passage yesterday morning while on the Long Island railroad, en route to the city. Having now read it thrice, I'm no less in awe of how Mr. Darwin manages to take what is truly an abominable round of golf and manipulate it into a wonderfully flowing, amusing account, all the while - and this is they key - maintaining grace in his analysis, resisting temptation to make fun of the unfortunate perpetrator head on. The fact that he found an opportunity to incorporate the word 'pusillanimity' is equally impressive!
More Strokes, More Fun (1932)
The tearing up of a card is generally regarded as a rather discreditable business, showing at once vanity and pusillanimity in the tearer; and I must say that I do feel something more of a man when I have gone on to the bitter end and handed in the horrid thing. Circumstances, however, alter cases; there are occasions when, if only for the sake of the players behind, we are almost justified in the cowardly act, and I am about to write of one.
As a rule, when a golfer tears up a card he does so not merely figuratively, but literally, and no one but his marker knows the exact facts. A card has now come into my hands which, I think, its owner must have intended to destroy. He did not, however, and his marker first secreted it and then passed it on to another who, thinking that it might be useful, gave it to me. The whole business is, as you will perceive, a shady, if not a positively dishonourable, one. I feel rather ashamed of it; but so poignant a 'human document' as this card cannot be allowed to lie hidden. So, with all due precautions of anonymity as to player and course, it shall be set out.
The score was compiled in a qualifying competition on a well-known seaside course, and here it is as far as it goes:
Out: 10, 12, 9, 9, 10, 7, 11, 9, 8
Home: 12, 17, 12, 9, 20, 8.
That is to say, the player took 85 to go out and he had taken 78 for six holes on the way home when he gave up the unequal struggle. Statisticians will note that he took double figures at eight out of the fifteen holes played, and that his average score for a hole was 10 13/15. There appears to be some doubt whether the tally was duly kept. Both marker and player, though persons of the highest probity, may have grown a little tired, and one who played behind them declares that in the twenty recorded for the fourteenth hole 'air shots were not counted'. I entirely dissociate myself from any such slanderous statement, but there it is.
With nothing but the card and the length of the holes to help us, we must employ the methods of Sherlock Holmes if we are to discover anything about the round, and those methods, as Watson found, are easier to admire than to apply. We are probably justified in guessing that the wind rather favoured the player on the way out, but, on the other hand, his later falling off may only have been due to a natural and cumulative fatigue. In those first nine holes, I think, he must have played more or less his normal game, for there are no purple patches, and the two holes at which he took fewest strokes, the 6th and 9th, are both one-shot holes. He holed them in seven and eight respectively and, judged by that standard, his eleven at the 7th, which is 478 yards long, was a noteworthy achievement. On the way home, seventeen was superficially bad at the 11th - a mere 352 yards long - but my recollection is that at this hole there is a deep and cavernous ditch running along the left of the fairway, and once the player is in it, anything might happen. Of course, the twenty at the 14th was a real tragedy, because this is only a one-shot hole of 162 yards. Heaven forbid that I should call it an easy three; it is not that, and especially not in a wind, but it is a little hard to understand where there is enough trouble to account for an 'approximated' twenty.
No praise can be too high for the way in which, after this calamity, the player pulled himself together and did his second eight of the round, and that not this time at a one-shotter. This makes it all the sadder that he never holed out on the 16th. It is a long and severe hole (510 yards) in hilly country, and I am told that the getting there was a long business. He had almost reached the green when suddenly his courage forsook him. His marker urged him to go on, but he answered quietly that he had 'no chance now', and picked up his ball. So his card only remains a noble fragment. Had he been able to hole the last three holes in thirty six shots - an average of twelve - he would have just beaten 200. There was a one-shotter coming at the 17th, where another eight might have been hoped for. Could he have done it? That we shall never know. An inscrutable riddle, he mocks us to the end of time.
It chanced that this card was handed to me at the hour of the cocktail in a place where people congregate before luncheon. Several sniggered over it with me, but there was one who took a rather different and more serious view. He said, possibly with some exaggeration, that his golf was of the same quality as that of the man who made the score, and that he and his like got much more pleasure out of the game than did superior persons. Would I, he asked, write an article to that effect, and then, in an inspired moment, he exclaimed: "More strokes, more fun, there's your title ready-made for you!' So, having adopted his suggestion, i must do the best I can with this subject, but I am not convinced that he is right. His title might be true of cricket, where, roughly speaking, the more strokes the more runs, or, at any rate, the more prolonged the innings. It might be moderately true of lawn tennis. Give me an opponent of exactly my own futile calibre, and we can now and again have quite a long rally by means of our mild little lobs backwards and forwards over the net, which we find exhilarating and enjoyable. Our strokes are contemptible, but they do, during that rally, attain two primary objects of getting the ball over the net and into the court. Our ambitions are strictly limited and are satisified. On the other hand, the man who takes twelve to a hole at golf is nearly all the time failing miserably to attain his object: a large proportion of those twelve shots must be tops or fluffs, unless, indeed, they are, most of them, accounted for by a rapid rain of blows in a bunker which leave the ball in statu quo. And surely nobody, except a man who is blind with fury and wants to hit something can enjoy a mere unsuccessful thumping.
Admittedly, my friend, taking him at his own valuation, is much more easily pleased than the superior person. One good, honest drive, if he hits one, will give him a greater thrill than a champion will get from a whole round of perfectly struck tee shots. Just to see the ball rise into the air is, for him, something, and when it flies over a tall bunker and disappears into the happy valley beyond he is doubtless ecstatic. Moreover, he is not unduly bothered about hooks and slices; as long as the ball soars, its direction is a secondary consideration. Granted all these things, I still think that his joys are few. 'I 'ate heights', said a famous professional, who did very few of them. The lowliest must come to hate them when they are part of the regular routine. If an eight could represent perfect play, judged even by the humblest standards, it would be a different matter, but on no course of my acquaintance is there a hole which can be described as 'a good eight hole'.
This is not to say that the very best of golfers must enjoy the game more than the next best, and so on down the scale. I do not believe that for a moment, but I do say that beyond a certain pitch of badness golf cannot be very much fun. Probably the exceedingly steady and trustworthy golfer with a handicap of five or six gets as much pleasure as much people. Within his powers he makes a great many good shots, he gets a little the best of it in match-making, he wins, by means of his steadiness, a large proportion of matches and half-crowns. He is not tortured by mad ambitions to be a champion: but stay! is he not? We do not know what is going on inside that old grey head of his, and it may be that he would give all his steadiness just to hit one drive like the young slasher in front. 'See how strangely we men are made!' said Prince Florizel.