Minor differences

By Bill Felber

Of the three “lifetime” sports —  bowling, golf and tennis — I am 85 percent a golfer, 15 percent a bowler and 0 percent a tennis player. That I have managed to work alongside members of the Seaton family for more than four decades thus may qualify in some eyes as remarkable, but I’ve never really known there to be hostility between golfers and tennis players — just mutual disinterest.

There may even be a few folks who like both golf AND tennis, and I may just not have met them yet. Message me if you’re one of them; I’d love to hear from you. Florida, Peru, Mars — it doesn’t matter where you live.

All games, of course, are great in their own ways. I’ll defer to Ned on the pluses and minuses of tennis. He has equal access to this space and a deeper understanding of the merits of that particular game. I presume the preference will boil down to fitness.

Plainly tennis is played at a short burst pace that would be foreign, even inappropriate, on a golf course. So I’ll cheerfully concede that tennis is more of a test of classic athleticism. It also requires the reflexes to return a 100 mph serve, and that’s saying something. As has been pointed out by critics for centuries, in golf the ball just sits there.

Golf is played at a walking pace – except, critics note, when it’s played at a golf cart pace. It can sometimes be difficult to work up a good sweat on the course, although you can do so pretty easily walking the 6,000 yards of rolling terrain of Manhattan Country Club on any of our numerous summer 100-degree days.

To me, the challenge of golf has always lain in the precision it demands. There are eight or 10 fundamental aspects to the golf swing; get any one of them out of tune with the rest and you’ll spend your afternoon chasing the ball through chiggers, ticks and poison ivy. And even if those physical elements all align properly, precision is still elusive. On the occasions when I can hit a 150-yard shot within 15 yards of my objective — the flag — I consider that shot a success. Yet my margin of error was a full 10 percent.

There are two other elements that recommend golf to me over tennis. The first is that in the moments — and they are literally moments — when I’m at my best, I can hang with the best golfers in the world. I recall the day I struck a three iron into the hole from 190 yards out on the third at Stagg Hill for an eagle. Tiger Woods couldn’t have hit a better shot if you gave him 1,000 tries. I don’t hole many, but I probably hit one shot every round or two that would qualify as “professional” quality.

No matter what my tennis-playing buddies do, they’re never going to hit a shot that would challenge Roger Federer.

I often tell people that the difference between Tiger Woods and me doesn’t lay in our best shots, but in our worst. His are about three percent degraded from his best shots, and he hits maybe three or four at that level of imprecision per tournament. I am several orders of magnitude less consistent, and I am capable of being that inconsistent a dozen times per round.

The second element is the physical beauty of the surroundings. I have played desert golf courses, seaside golf courses, prairie golf courses, mountain golf courses, and each has its own unique set of challenges. I haven’t seen a tennis court yet that didn’t look pretty much like all the rest. Granted, there are occasional variations of surface and background, but the net, the lines, they’re all subscribed identically.

Personally, I enjoy the challenge of carrying my drive over a 150-yard wide canyon, a fully-grown oak tree, a lake or a boulder field, all of which I’ve done…and also failed to do. I have fished for wayward golf balls in creeks and in desert scrub, the latter being tougher. Playing your ball from amid a rattlesnake-infested landscape of jumping cholla requires a level of precision and focus that I can say from personal experience will never be demanded of any tennis player anywhere.









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