by Jeff Skinner
One of the biggest pleasures the game of golf offers us is the joy of friendship. We get to spend hours on the course playing a round of golf with our friends. It’s a scene that is repeated daily on courses around the world. Two, three or four friends get together for a round. We all have our buddies and playing partners that we enjoy being with and golf is a great way to spend time with them. There are times when playing alone is acceptable, but for the most part golf is a game to be enjoyed with another. The weekend foursome or the afternoon pairing, it doesn’t matter; it’s all about friends. The game of golf is a great game indeed, but a round as a single can’t compare to a foursome of buddies out there busting each others chops and needling each other week after week.
It appears that in the world of professional golf, the friendship aspect of the game has become lost. Today’s professional golfer is under so much pressure to perform and win. Certainly, the pros today are not expected to act like they are best friends with each other on the course during a tournament, but they have lost an aspect of golf older professionals had learned to cherish.
During the 1960’s and 70’s the touring professionals of the day formed bonds of friendship with each other that is not seen today. Lee Trevino has said recently that one of the differences with today’s golfers is that nobody is talking to each other. Trevino was the most talkative golfer in the history of the game. He enjoyed talking to everyone; playing partners, fans, anyone that would listen, and some that wouldn’t. Trevino’s biggest rival was Jack Nicklaus and Trevino always talked to Jack when they played, even if Jack did not talk back. Trevino says that even though they were rivals, that did not stop them from being friends that laughed at each other and made fun of each other. That is Trevino’s advice to the touring pros; have fun, “Nobody is having fun out there. We always had fun.” Today’s golfers arrive in their private jets with their entourage. They don’t really socialize like the older golfers used to, they have to work out, do commercials or tend to business matters. If their families are with them so are their nannies. It’s a business and this is their job.
Jack Nicklaus is famous for his game of course, but he treasures his friendships with his rivals also. He and Player and Palmer were bitter rivals on the course. Off the course they and their families spent a great amount of time together. Jack has said that,” on the course we tried to beat each others brains in.” Away from the course they were fast friends. Nicklaus seemed to be the closest with his most bitter rivals. Palmer and Nicklaus had a love/hate relationship, but were very close and remain so today. Player and Nicklaus were so close that Jack named a son after Player. Nicklaus and Tom Watson admired each other for years on the course and consider each other the closest of friends. Maybe part of it is a mutual respect for each other and for the game itself. Player has called Nicklaus the “greatest golfer, but also the greatest loser of all time.” Of course Player was referring to the way Jack handled himself on those occasions that he did not win. He always lost with dignity, class and honored his opponent.
If the greatest golfer of all time can be friends on and off the course with his biggest rivals, why can’t today’s golfers? I know the stakes are great for today’s golfers. One win and they are set for life, but wouldn’t a little levity and friendship on the course go a long way. Wouldn’t it be better for the golfers if they were more relaxed on the course? Trevino has the right idea; Lighten up guys, it’s only golf. The money is there, the wins will come, even if they don’t second and third place still pays the rent. If you can relax on the course chances are you will perform better and maybe win. So relax, enjoy the round with your friends. It was good enough for Nicklaus, Palmer, Player, Trevino and Watson. They seemed to have done all right.