When I solicited Sinead FitzGibbon’s advice as to a lower abdominal strain that’s annoyed me for a while and has kept me off the tennis courts, she, a long-distance athlete for all seasons, said, “Take up golf.”
Taken aback, I said, with as much finality as a diffident sportswriter could muster, “Never.” Which reminded her of her 82-year-old father, who had said when she made the same suggestion to him, ‘I’ll play golf when I get old.’ ”
Now that’s the spirit! It’s not that I dislike golf . . . well yes I do. It is intriguing, yes, and, yes, it is fiendishly difficult, and thus a beguiling challenge, but I think the benefits, in the form of those well-publicized euphoric moments when the ball takes flight and lands where you want it to, far outweigh the costs in terms of the suffering one must endure.
Besides, in golf you’re supposed to suffer in silence, take the slings and arrows in gentlemanly stride rather than rail at Fate and sling your irons arrowlike into the woods. One must, contrariwise, behave honorably, be courteous, and play by the rules. To do so builds character. What was it Falstaff said about honor? “Who hath it died a Wednesday”? Of course he was treating of risking one’s life on the battlefield, rather than self-destructing on a golf course, but I think there’s a connection. Who hath character shot 30-over on a Wednesday.
And don’t pretend such woeful imperfection, such egregious falling short of the mark over the course of a four-hour round — for which you’ve laid out good money — doesn’t gnaw at the vitals. Okay, perhaps you have derived some pleasure, you’ve hit some shots of the sort they say keep you coming back. In the end, though, it’s a will-o’-the-wisp, a game for masochists in loud clothing.
Now tennis on the other hand. Ah, tennis. A game that offers the joy of kicking butt (read reveling in the suffering of others), the antipathy that attends the invariable arguments as to whether the ball was in or out, and (for nine months a year) the ecstasy derived from bouncing undeleted expletives off resonant walls. Sort of like CERN in that respect.
Tennis is a game for vicious people wearing white. I yearn to get back to it. In the meantime I must content myself with cheating at backgammon.