Someone made the mistake today of asking Raymond Floyd how he had changed his golf swing this week coming into the Memorial Tournament here at Jack Nicklaus' playground. Floyd said he'd keep the explanation simple. Because his whoozis came from outside the line (he explained), he adjusted the frazzlegub for more room on the downswing when he has to marrumphskit the club.
Among the rewards of journalism is the chance to hang around golf tournaments where you can pick up tips from great players such as Floyd. O, diary. All these years of struggling with my whoozis when the problem is probably the frazzlegub. If only Floyd's simple explanation had reached these ears when the world was young. Then things would have been different.
This is assuming, as Tom Watson was saying, that golf courses were fair in their demands. Too often, the master was saying in the clubhouse today, golf course architects seem bent on exacting pain. If the greens slope toward Everest (Watson preached) and you must marrumphskit a three-iron from a flying lie to a rolled green crosscut at 1/32nd, that's not what God had in mind.
"It ought to be a game of strategy," Watson said while waiting for today's rain to go away. "Too many courses now are penal and only penal. It's okay to demand a heroic shot. Maybe one or two heroic shots. But not nine or 10. And greens shouldn't be such that you have to defensively lag-putt from 25 feet."
Watson's listener, a veteran lag-putter from distances much shorter than 25 feet, nodded in vigorous agreement to the opinion that golf course architects are out to ruin our lives. The evidence is there to see, as on those several occasions when creeks, ponds and entire lakes have been moved during the flight of my shots and placed under the falling projectiles.
It occurs to the typist/masochist that the dear reader may wonder where we're going. We're going to say this Memorial Tournament is a wonderful illustration of the passion that makes golf special. Whether it's Raymond Floyd being unintelligibly (but agreeably) technical or Tom Watson asking that it be golf and not pinball, the players show how much they care about the game.
The Memorial's primary objectives, as decreed by Jack Nicklaus, are to "further the game of golf" and to "keep alive and visible the great golfing achievements of the past." Today, as before the previous Memorials, Nicklaus presided over a ceremony honoring a legend. He began with Bobby Jones. Next came Walter Hagen, Francis Ouimet, Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson, Harry Vardon, Glenna Collett Vare and, now, Tommy Armour.
Nicklaus and his Memorial also have honored distinguished golf writers: Henry Longhurst, Grantland Rice, Bernard Darwin, O.B. Keeler, Herb Graffis and, today, Pat Ward-Thomas and Charlie Bartlett. This ceremony for an accomplice moved Alistair Cooke to say, "Can you imagine this? The greatest player in the world honoring writers. What baseball player would do this?"
Cooke's ears still ring from the epithets of Pat Ward-Thomas, his British countryman whose newspaper work on golf was poetry. "Here was a writer with an unflagging love of the game," said Cooke, who invented urbanity and taught us American history on the telly. "Despite his prose which tiptoed through the pages of The Guardian and Country Life, to play golf with him was to be exposed for three hours to all the expletive-deleted passages from the Watergate tapes. He was the most outrageous, most blasphemous golfer who ever lived."
Only the most passionate golfer could earn such superlatives, for there are many candidates. Ward-Thomas qualified. Flying with the Royal Air Force in World War II, he was shot down over Holland and spent 4 1/2 years in a prisoner of war camp. It was not long before this POW found a familiar way to punish himself.
He built a golf course in the POW camp. The Red Cross and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club sent clubs. From rubber cushions and shoes, the prisoners fashioned golf balls.
It was more than something to idle away time. The golf, Cooke said, answered a need that is the source of the game's passion.
"I don't think in billiards or in football there is so much of human nature involved as in golf," Cooke said. "I am keeping my fingers crossed, but right now golf is the only game where etiquette lives. Tennis is populated with (a Ward-Thomas epithet is deleted here). It is inconceivable that a John McEnroe, as a golfer, could scream at an official and get away with it.
"We see the strength of human nature in golf. It is the rise and fall of human emotions, all controlled. But the passion, ah, the passion, it is there because human vanity is involved. We play against ourselves. Then you sit around for five hours and tell jokes, most on yourself.
"You must convince everyone that you are better than you looked out there. So you joke about yourself, as if it weren't all that serious, when, in fact, you were praying for divine assistance.
"I have a friend who is a passionate tennis player. Well, there are three jokes in tennis. Golf is a million jokes, all told because we must play this genteel game while in the middle of absolutely volcanic episodes."
The game, Cooke said, can make one batty.
Then he had to leave. Probably to hit some practice balls.