Like most golfers, enough of my good shots are sprinkled among the mediocre and the bad to believe that on some future day, the stars might align and my game will resemble the game being played on the fairways of Augusta, Georgia this week. Like most golfers, too, when I see the ease and artistry of these players, I am tempted to believe that the game is within the reach of a less perfect mortal like myself. That is the nature of inspiration, I suppose: to believe, through the example of some better person, that you can get closer to the ideal swing, or song, or essay, or life.
It isn’t so far-fetched to write an entry about the Masters: one of my first entries when I undertook this blog was about an afternoon I spent golfing with a parent and his son. The virtue of such experiences, whether it is with a student, your own kids, your spouse, or friends, is that you spend four and a half hours in their company, which gives time not just for focused communication, but also for unfocused communication, for the thoughts, comments or questions that bubble to the surface randomly. The same can be said of family dinner, or time in the car, or a ski vacation. So much priority tends to be given to quality time that quantity time gets short shrift.
Inevitably, encounters with excellence – or the closest thing to it, on the golf front, which happens to be the Masters or one of the other major tournaments – are not only inspiring, but also humbling. The Masters does try to cultivate a green and high-toned perfection, something they might succeed in achieving if the tendency to pompousness didn’t leak into the behaviour and language of people striving to find words as effectively as Fred Couples or Tom Watson swing a club. Most of the players are admirable, and tend to be self-effacing, avoiding the sententiousness of Augusta officials on the one hand, and the bombast of journalists on the other. Furthermore, golfers are just about the only professional athletes in any sport that hold themselves up to a higher standard of conduct and rule-abiding than rank and file amateurs. Besides, as one mother told me: if she leaves her son at the golf club for the day, she knows he is going to be told to be polite and to dress properly. I suppose there is a thread of consistency in all this – the thread of trying your best, and being good.
Humans being human, of course, there are exceptions, which I will take some satisfaction in not mentioning. But the existence of imperfect or bad examples doesn’t contradict the good examples, it only makes them more exemplary. This means, of course, that I do believe that one day I will have that dream round of 18 holes, when my drives are straight, and my putts are true.