Point of View: When the Light Pales

Golf is the last game you want to take up when you’re old

It was distressing to read that the traffic snarl exacerbated by the U.S. Open had eased during the weekend, which means, I guess, that they really are going to have it again, in 2026.

I’ll be 86, perhaps having by then taken up the sport, though, frankly, I wonder why old people ever do. They’re creaky, their suppleness, if they ever had any, has left them, and it’s a maddening game, hardly what you want to be playing when you’re about to evanesce.

Actually, golf is the last game you want to take up when you’re old. It is, as we saw this past week, a young man’s game. Tiger Woods, though he is to be praised for playing at such a high level again following spinal fusion surgery of a year ago, missed the cut, and while Phil Mickelson didn’t, he finished at 16-over, tied for 48, his age.

Speaking of the latter, I had thought, when I first heard of it, that he had executed what in polo would be a nearside backhand shot — with the right hand having swung the mallet over the mane of the player’s pony before reversing the course of the ball — on the 13th green on the third day.

Mark Herrmann, I believe, likened it to a polo shot, and I was very proud to have put a name to it, but when I saw the video it was clear that I’d been wrong. He chased it, pivoted, and, having taken up his accustomed stance, sent it back again toward the hole — a disappointment, to my mind. Still, it was bizarre, as everyone agreed, and, because of that, I was inclined to let him off the hook, for I can’t stand the slavish obeisance paid to the rules of the game. That Mickelson was unruly, even for a moment, was worth the price of admission, which, I’m happy to say, was in my case waived, being a member, however vestigial, of the, ugh, “media.”

I had barely been able to get through the credentials process, digitally illiterate as I am. I submitted my photographer friend Craig Macnaughton’s application twice, hinting at the level of esteem I have for him. And also because he, in contradistinction to me, really wanted to go.

And so he went, and I, who’d been as apprehensive as he had been eager, didn’t. 

And it all ended well. Craig’s photos were terrific, better than any I’d seen in the daily papers — which is all the more remarkable given the fact that, despite the glad-handing, the U.S.G.A. has stiffed us when it comes to getting inside-the-ropes access since 1995.

Those — the 1986 and ’95 tournaments at Shinnecock Hills — were the days. Things were more humane then, less regimented. You could run into, and shoot the breeze with, Jack Nicklaus on a quiet Sunday afternoon before everything began, you could listen to and learn from Pete Smith, the then-superintendent, a member of the Shinnecock Tribe, which had owned the land and had built, with the receding glacier’s help, the singular course, and Alex White, the septuagenarian caddiemaster. 

You could read Larry Penny’s poetic description of Shinnecock’s flora and fauna: “When the colors fade and the light pales, look up and listen again. The woodcock is on the wing, fluttering in the semi-light, dancing on high to impress his mate . . . whippoorwills fly by at shoulder height with mouths agape, hawking insects. . . .”

“After rains, the gray tree frogs utter their melodic one-note trills and the Fowler’s toads their drawn-out whines from the shadowy waters of the pond on the sixth hole. Cottontails and pine voles sport, and Reynard comes to look for them. In the late summer the slender ladies’ tresses orchids abound.”

You could feel connected then. No more.