By all accounts, the most difficult thing to do in sports is hit a moving baseball. Virtually every sports writer who ever lived would agree with that observation. The ball is traveling at upwards of 95 mph. You're standing approximately 60 feet away. The 5.25 ounce sphere reaches you in less than seven-tenths of a second. Sometimes the pitch curves, sometimes it sinks, sometimes it hops. You're trying to hit a round object with a round club.
If you're talented and fortunate enough to play in the Majors for 12-15 years, and you're able to hit safely three out of every ten times at bat, you have a good chance of not only being recognized as one of the game's true stars, but of eventually being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Think about that. You regularly fail 7 out of 10 times during your entire career, yet you're still celebrated as one of the greatest players of all-time. That's how difficult baseball is.
But there's another component to the art of hitting. It's called courage. Not only do you have to instantaneously decide if the pitch is a fastball or breaking ball, a ball or a strike, you have to be aware that the object coming at you at close to 100 mph could hit you in the face, possibly crippling you, or even ending your career. And you have to deal with these variables on every single pitch, during every single at-bat.
Add to all of this the ear-splitting noise being generated by a hostile crowd. Consider this scenario: You're at the plate, your team is behind by one run in the ninth inning, there's a runner on second base, there are two out, and the count is 2-2. You're in the batter's box, scared spitless, being asked to do what is universally regarded as the most difficult thing in sports.
If there was ever a time when an athlete needed peace and quiet in order to concentrate on the task at hand, this is it. But the unremitting crowd noise is so loud, so shrill, it approaches the decibel level of a jet engine. It's deafening. These rabid fans are literally screaming themselves hoarse, all 60,000 of them. Indeed, the stadium itself, solid and well-anchored in tons of cement as it is, is actually ever-so-slightly rocking.
Now let's consider golf. A pro golfer stands over a two-foot putt. The gallery is dead silent. The golfer studies the ball. The crowd inhales; no one dares exhale. Then, just as he's about to strike the ball, some guy in the crowd sneezes. The golfer abruptly straightens up, steps away, and glares at the man. People shush the hapless sneezer, who cringes in humiliation. A moment later, with the gallery once again silent, the golfer taps the ball in. Applause.
Why is no one permitted to scream during golf? After all, it's a sports event, isn't it? You paid your way in, didn't you? Why is no one allowed to shout at the top of their lungs, "Hey, mister! You're going to miss it!" But if you pull a stunt like that, you know what's going to happen. The marshals are going to escort you right off the course. Still, what makes this sport so special?
Are golfers so sensitive that wisecracks from the peanut gallery is going to give them minor nervous breakdowns? For crying out loud, the ball isn't even moving. It's just sitting there. You stare at it for as long as you like, then you wind up and you smack it. Simple as that. Unlike baseball, there's no split-second timing involved, and unlike baseball, the ball is not suddenly going to fly up and hit you in the face, shattering your cheekbone.
Granted, golf requires knowledge and finesse. No one's denying that. But if baseball players can do their thing, under the lights, with tens of thousands of hostile fans urging them to fail, golfers should be able to handle a few hecklers. "Hey, Tiger... I hope you land in the bushes! Har, har, har." If these PGA dilettantes can't take hostile crowds, let 'em stick with miniature golf.
David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright and author (It's Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor), was a former union rep. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.