Monday, August 19, 2013

Links on the Links (Poker and Golf)

Not too long ago I was writing about golf and how unlike poker it was a sport that readily appealed to spectators who weren’t necessarily players. I wrote mainly from experience -- or should I say, from non-experience -- seeing as how I’d only played golf a couple dozen times in my life and not for around 15 years.

Well, last Friday I broke my lengthy streak of non-golfing by playing a full round with my father and brother, something the three of us had actually never done before. Like me, they’re both casual golfers although both have been playing now and then over recent years, with Pop having gotten back into the game a lot more since he retired a few years ago. (That’s him up above putting.) But we’d never had a golf outing together, and so besides being fun just spending time with them there was an added novelty to the day as we wound our way around the lengthy course one stroke at a time.

The only time in my life I ever played golf regularly was in grad school at Indiana, joining some buds at a Par 3 many times and occasionally playing the regular course where students could play on the cheap. Lining up my first tee shot on Friday, I had little confidence I would remember how to swing and strike the ball, but kind of stunningly managed to hit it perfectly about 140 yards right down the middle of the first fairway.

Of course, things became decidedly less simple as I struggled to recall how to use the irons and wedges, and indeed I can’t really say even after 18 holes that I’d figured out how to handle the middle game. But I did drive okay all day, even hitting a green on a par 3 (the highlight of the afternoon), and while my putting was erratic I at least didn’t feel incompetent once on the greens.

We didn’t really keep score, and in fact on the back nine decided to play “Captain’s Choice” (a.k.a. “scramble golf”) in order to help speed things along. Again, we were playing my tee shot usually, but after that it was Pop getting us to the greens and then usually one of them getting us to the hole.

I found myself thinking occasionally of various parallels between golf and poker, of which there are many. At one point I remembered a “Pop Poker” piece I wrote for PokerListings a while ago in which I talked with Tom Schneider about some of those connections as well as “Why Poker Pros Love Gambling on Golf.”

It’s pretty easy to think of a single hole of golf as being like a poker hand, and when I say I was fairly comfortable with my tee shots but not so much afterwards it does feel a lot like saying I knew what to do preflop, but would get a little lost on the flop, turn, and/or river. (Indeed, I literally got lost in the river more than once -- that is, the small water hazards that dotted the course.)

There are myriad other connections between the games, too, perhaps the most obvious being the way both incorporate skill and luck, with the more accomplished players being necessarily less affected by the games’ chance elements, and the novices being more needful to get lucky in order to succeed.

Both games feature sometimes complicated rules and layers of etiquette. Both are usually played on a soft green surface. Oh, and of course, in both players occasionally need to be mindful of the rake. (Rimshot.)

Not really seeing myself becoming a regular golfer any time soon, which perhaps evokes yet another personal poker parallel with my choice to remain a “recreational player.” But I definitely was reminded of both the game’s appeal as well as forced to appreciate how mentally and physically challenging the game can be.

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