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When Golf Poetry Matters

Jerome Travers, the great amateur golfer of the early 20th century, included a chapter called “‘First Aid’ to a golfer ‘Off his Game,'” in his book Travers’ Golf Book ( New York: The Macmillan Company, 1913). He began, “What a note of tragedy there is in those few words “the golfer is off his game.” Travers went on to write,

The golfer ‘off his game’ cannot drive, approach or putt, he doesn’t know what the matter is and he has completely lost confidence in himself.

Travers’ prose gives us a straight forward description of what it is to be off one’s game in golf. However, it takes a poet to get to the essence of the problem and its ramifications.

In a book called Humors and Emotions of Golf (1905), a poet known only by the initials (E.M.B.) tells us what it’s really like when “He’s off his game.”

He’s off his game.”

Like hollow echoes boding ill,
His heart is wild with tremors chill,
And whispers in a small voice still—
An admonition—ghostly—shrill—
.          “He’s off his game!”

His divots fly like night-bats doure;
His drives are never far and sure;
And bunkers, like Charybdis, lure
His erring ball to depths obscure;
.          “He’s off his game!”

In vain seem all the pro’s sage tips;
His little gutty always lips
Or over-runs the hole; then slips
That naughty D——I must ellipse,
.          He’s off his game!”

Thro’ distant whins and stubborn gorse
With grim expletives gaining force,
He plunges on his zig-zag course,
Until he sighs in deep remorse,
.          “I’m off my game!”

At home his brooding spirit shows
The weighty cares of hidden throes;
Too well his Golfing Widow knows
The anguish of her hubby’s woes—
.          “He’s off his game!”

Andrew Lang (1844-1912), a famous Scottish writer and poet as well as golfer, also wrote a poem of similar anguish called “Off my Game.” Could the agonies and frustrations of golf be fully described without poetry? I think not.

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