Yes, it was a provocative statement but he had just turned to the pub’s television screen showing golf and remarked: “Ah, golf! The king of games.” As the famous saying goes, ‘a slap in the face deserves a swift one in response’. So I made my assertion about tennis, an assertion that was eminently irrefutable to anyone with a modicum of sense.
But it appeared that a modicum was greater than the amount of sense my friend possessed.
“Tennis?” he said in disgust, “Superior to golf? Nonsense! Golf is a royal sport that’s played with dignity and poise. Golfers don’t run about like uncouth idiots shouting ‘Love Thirty’ and other such obscenities.”
“That’s because they can’t run,” I said. “Why, most golfers can barely walk. They drive across the fairway in a vehicle, getting out only to strike the ball occasionally. I’ve heard that some golfers find even this task painful, so they request their caddy to do the hitting for them. But if you suggest to a tennis player that he employ a buggy to move around the court and lean out of it with his racquet to hit the ball, he will be mortified.”
I realised I had spoken strongly; so I switched to a more conciliatory note.
“Listen,” I said. “At least golf is better than cricket, where some players get out in the first over and therefore ‘play’ the entire day (or week if it’s a test match) without hitting the ball with the bat, which is arguably the only point of the game. In golf, everyone gets the same opportunity to strike the ball. In fact the poor player gets to hit the ball more often. I like the fact that you cannot dismiss a bad golfer with a good ball. But that’s the problem: there is no good or bad ball in golf. The ball is stationary… and the player almost equally so.”
Saying this reminded me of when, a few years ago, I was getting ready to leave home after lunch. My wife knows I take a nap every Saturday afternoon after a strenuous game of tennis in the morning. “Aren’t you going to sleep?” she asked. “I’m going to play golf,” I said, “which is the same thing.” Guessing he would not find it amusing, I didn’t tell my friend this story.
“If you think tennis is superior to golf,” he said angrily, “tell me why so many tennis players take up golf when they retire. Tim Henman, Ivan Lendl, Yevgeny Kafelnikov and now Andy Roddick are names that spring to mind. On the other hand, can you name one golf player who has taken up tennis after retirement?” He looked at me triumphantly.
“I cannot,” I said. “But that only proves my point. It’s not just tennis players: everybody takes up golf when they retire. Golf is another word for retirement. And when a golfer says he is ready to retire, it means he is no longer capable of any movement. So taking up tennis is out of the question. Even cricket is difficult.”
“Don’t get me wrong,” I continued. “I enjoy golf occasionally, in much the same way that I enjoy a sauna bath occasionally. But when you call golf the king of games, I object, just as I would if you called the sauna bath the king of games. But I like golf; one day I may take it up seriously.”
“When?” my friend asked.
“To answer that, I must resort to poetry,” I said and began to do so:
When my serve has lost its power,
And my volley its vim;
When my strokes have no more vigour,
And my sight has grown dim.
When my shorts have become too tight
For my bulging belly,
Which, when I move from left to right,
Shakes like well-set jelly.
When I can’t sit down once I rise,
Or get up once I sit;
And my concept of exercise
Is to walk a little bit.
When my muscles have become weak
And soft like fresh sponge cake;
And my bones have begun to creak
With every move I make.
When I’m plagued with arthritis,
And racked with whooping cough;
That’s when I’ll give up tennis,
And take up playing golf.