Golf can seem terribly complicated to the uninitiated, and that’s the point. At the risk of seeming egotistical, there’s something distinctly human about being a golfer; there’s something deeply relatable to watching a guy whack balls out of a tee box or make incredible putts on a grassy greenside caddy pad. The most legendary sportsmen of all time are like that: The legends were able to embrace a simple notion of what it means to play, and they were good at it.
We know that on the golf course, things happen fast. But it’s also clear that at some point on the course, as the rest of us are stuck staring at a plastic scorecard on a table, someone will decide it’s time to change the course or maybe blow a putt that could land them in a red-card penalty. The difference between winning a tournament and winning an incredible lifestyle depends on some very subtle, life-changing decisions.
In The Longest Game, Joe Sheehan used the term “disembodied intelligence” to describe the mental process of golf. Golf writers often romanticize their own skill levels as of possessing the kind of superhuman abilities that can flip a couple of putts and sometimes even a whole round. But at the end of the day, the most successful golfers have the ability to rely on a handful of deep instincts that have evolved over time to create the style of play they prefer. Sure, they’re practicing a bit harder now than they were 20 years ago, but the ability to grind out a dozen 8-iron offcuts for par in the final hole of a grueling round of golf is a skill-set that most of us should be able to take for granted, since we can get this skill practicing with a golf simulator like this.
We talk a lot about sports’ different genres, but the person who I think has created golf’s version of ’80s disco is Lee Trevino. He hit a few spectacular drives on the PGA Tour, and even though he didn’t win a major, he never let his talent falter. He’s kind of like an animated character in a sports movie: Everyone has a crush on him, and he’s always that one guy who makes everything better.
And in that, we can see a little bit of what golfer-cum-screenwriter Terence Hill-Burton is doing with Longest Game, because if you believe there’s anything worse than being in a quiet room to watch two guys who would be pros if they only knew how, it’s watching a 20-year-old Trevino grind out something like 75 miles of straight hole-in-one off the 18th hole of the first round of a major.
To be completely fair, Longest Game is not a game of cat and mouse, nor a battle of the rock bands. Though we’re in the middle of a round of a British Open at St. Andrews in which Rory McIlroy and the rest of his buddies have been working very hard to get one back for two hours, Trevino is letting off the gas as hard as possible. The ace isn’t the point; it’s the attention to detail, the fact that his delivery, his footwork, his ball