Luck In Golf – The View From 1898

Luck In Golf - The View From 1898
Luck In Golf – The View From 1898

Luck In Golf – The View From 1898

I have been on a bit of a binge lately in reading golf magazines and articles from late 19th and early 20th centuries that I have found in various online archives. One of the things that struck me in an article called “Luck In Golf” is that while equipment and courses have changed, the nature of the players has not.

Most golfers will recognize (hopefully not in themselves) players who believe that “they are born under an unlucky star and are constantly on the outlook for the finger of destiny,” the “Fatalist,” and the “man with a temper.”

That said, here is the text of “Luck In Golf,” from Golf magazine,  from January 1898:




Luck In Golf

by Garden G Smith

There can be no question that there is a great deal of luck in golf. The extraordinary number of ways in which a badly hit ball can arrive, or the extraordinary number of badly hit balls which arrive at a given spot, owing to the accidents of the ground, their own inherent eccentricity, and in a manner totally opposed to the intentions of the striker, is sufficient proof of the fact. How often the missed iron shot scuffles over or through a bunker and finally rests near the hole. How many a topped putt lands up dead, to the silent joy of its perpetrator and the ill-concealed rage and contempt of his opponent! In addition, the most unfair treatment is often meted out to perfectly played strokes. How frequently a well hit ball dispatched on the proper line and with the requisite force to reach the green, is kicked off on alighting to either the right or left of the green, how often it drops dead without rolling, or, getting a downward fall, shoots forward over it, and lands in a hazard! This aggravating uncertainty as to what is to be the fate of even the best played strokes, has induced a pessimistic golfing friend to maintain that there is only bad luck at golf and that good luck, inasmuch as it is only compensatory and that to the smallest degree ought not to be considered. Certainly the irritation provoked by certain kinds of bad luck at golf will almost justify this contention, but whether it be called good or bad the game is undoubtedly full of luck, and it is the precise mingling of chance and skill of which it is compound, the kind of pleasing anxiety that accompanies every stroke that makes up much of the fascination of golf.

Nearly all golfers are superstitious, for golf in its ever changing fortunes is an epitome of life. Here the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the the strong, and the wicked too often flourishes like a green bay tree. It is the constant presentation of the painful facts that makes the game so difficult. He who thinks the fates are against him will do nothing well in golf, any more than in life. The man who has luck will at once gain courage, and attempt, and succeed at, things which with luck against him he would never have dreamt of essaying.

No doubt the best players are those who, like the average professional, have but little imagination, and if they have any superstition in their natures are not so subtly-minded as to apply it to golf.  Th writer does not know a single professional who ever regarded himself habitually as unlucky, though he may have complained about his luck on individual occasions. Many amateur players, on the other hand are always complaining about their bad luck. They believe that they are born under an unlucky star and are constantly on the lookout for the finger of destiny. This attitude of mind has, of course, a fatal effect on their game, both positively and negatively. For while it robs the golfer who adopts it of all courageous initiative, his game assumes a weak and pusillanimous character that seems almost to invite the very thunderbolt which he lives in dread of.

To deserve good luck is the sure way, in the long run, to command it. The best player always has the best luck. To be continually whining at the decrees of destiny is to justify their rigorous application to oneself.

It must not be forgotten that the golfer who has got this fatalistic tendency can never be brought to see that any of his misfortunes are the result of his own bad play.  it is just his cursed luck. Conversely, the good play of his opponent is only the result of his superior luck. No more disagreeable or depressing  partner than the fatalist can be found. His only comments on the game are remarks drawing attention to the marvelous luck that you enjoy, in contrast to the bad luck that invariably pursues him. It is no use getting irritated with such a player. A good plan is to agree and sympathize with him cordially in every particular. This will have an admirable effect in preserving your own game and temper and may suggest to your opponent, as the game goes on, and if he has any sense of humor, that he is behaving very absurdly.

The habit of blaming luck at golf for all of his mistakes, breeds in the golfer all kinds of absurdities. The player who exclaimed “Cupped again!” when he topped his tee shot is a good instance of the disastrous effects of this habit of the mind. If he cannot by any possibility set down his bad play to his luck, he will invent all manner of other excuses to account for it. There is a good story told of a St. Andrews player who, having missed a putt, in dead silence, within a foot of the ole, immediately remarked: “As, somebody must have moved.”

But these distressing symptoms are only, after all, one effect which the existence of luck in golf produces its votaries. The fatalist elects to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, but there is another order of mind less passive and humble which takes arms against the siege of troubles and seeks, by opposing, to end them. There are men whose proud and impatient spirits cannot brook the predominance of matter over mind, which the game of golf so often exemplifies. In “Fractured club and cloven ball,” in “foozled drives and putts not in,” they see not, like their meek brethren, the finger fo fate. These Ajaxes defy the lightning and with their eyes in a fine frenzy rolling, give tongue to the anger which consumes them. When one has the misfortune to play against “the man with a temper,” much care has to be exercised to avoid risk of offence, for, like the fatalist, he is always searching for occasions, and goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. If, however, his temper has been aroused, the very greatest tact and knowledge of human nature are necessary if one is to attempt to soothe his savage breast. “Touch not the cat without the glove.” But the demoralizing effect of the golfing temper on even the finest natures is so terrible that it is extremely dangerous to say anything, however, apparently sympathetic, and the patient is much better left severely alone til the paroxysm has passed. The breaking of the club wherewith the fatal stroke has been delivered is a common symptom in these cases and usually this sacrifice is less an act of reprisal on the club itself, than a solemn protest and testimony against the outrageous injustice of winch the golfer conceives himself the victim and a necessary step towards the rehabilitation of his mind. The angry golfer also frequently relieves his pent-up feelings, bu hurling his club far from him, after the ball. This is an extremely dangerous habit, as in his anger the golfer is frequently careless of the direction in which it flies and his partner will do well to keep an eye on his movements.

Like the “fatalist,” the “man with a temper” had better be avoided whenever possible. No pleasurable game is to be had in such company and their peculiar habits are extremely infectious.

The well-balanced mind will not be unhinged by the untoward chances of golf. The wise golfer recognizes that but for these alterations of luck, the game would cease to amuse or to charm and if he has more than his share of back luck, or bad play to-day, he says nothing about it, being sure that tomorrow things will go better for him. To go on inventing reasons for one’s bad play is fatal to improvement , and can only annoy and irritate your partner. “Deeds, not words,” is the rue golfers’ motto. “In my opeenion,” said a wise old caddie, “A man sud niver mak excuses for hisself at gowf. It’s like being disrespectfu’ to Providence. Gowfers sud jist tak things as they come and be contentit. In my opeenion some fowks like to shaw off a bit, by bletherin’ aboot their bad play.”

Be not thy tongue thine own shame’s orator,

Look sweet, speak fair.





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