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FIRST-PERSON – Golf & its rules: below par for postmodern pragmatists

McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–A costly mistake occurred in this year’s British Open. Ian Woosnam’s caddy had inadvertently left an extra driver in his bag. Thus the Welsh golfer was carrying 15 clubs. The rules of golf stipulate that a player can tote no more than 14. The punishment for the infraction — a two-stroke penalty. The Welsh golfer assessed the additional strokes without hesitation. Had he not, he would have risked disqualification.

The Woosnam incident made me ponder. Can golf thrive, much less survive, in a world becoming increasingly dominated by postmodern pragmatism?

The assertion that no absolute moral truth exists is a hallmark of postmodern thought. The “game” of life has no transcendent “rules.” Pragmatism is the belief that whatever assists you in achieving your goal is good. The end justifies the means. Postmodern pragmatism is growing in influence the world over. Some social critics believe the popularity of the “Survivor” television series is due to this emerging philosophy. “Winners” on these “reality” shows have schemed, connived, lied and done whatever was necessary in order to achieve their goal.

Golf stands in stark contrast to postmodern pragmatism. The grand old game is governed by absolutes. The rules of golf are precise and unyielding. Is it possible for such a rigid sport to exist in a world that chants “what is true for me may not be true for you”? If postmodern pragmatism is applied to golf, participants will sound like Willie Nelson when asked what par was on his golf course. The singer replied, “It was 100 yesterday, because that’s what I shot.”

No one is exempt from the regulations of golf. In fact, the better the player (i.e., professional) the more stringently the rules are enforced. Just ask Ian Woosnam. Hackers and duffers may hit a mulligan here or take an illegal drop there, but professionals are held to a higher standard. They are the role models for how the game is to be played. Thus, when Woosnam learned of his plight, he accepted the penalty without complaint and without excuse.

By postmodern standards, Woosnam is not righteous for admitting his fault; he is foolish for having not covered up his mistake. If his goal were to win the British Open, then anything he did in pursuit of that goal would have been acceptable. He should have at least protested the penalty on the grounds that it wasn’t his fault. He was simply a victim of poor caddying.

Golf is a game of self-governance. At the end of a round a player is required to sign his scorecard, thus accepting responsibility for his play. Grant Spaeth, a former United States Golf Association president, said, “The scorecard is a competitor’s written warranty to the rest of the field that he negotiated the course in a specific score and did so in accordance with the rules of golf.”

The consequences for lying and cover-up in golf are severe. If a player will admit his mistake, he is simply penalized by adding a stroke or two to his score. However, trying to hide the fault will result in disqualification. Repeated lies could result in a professional being barred from the sport.

Golf purists have nothing to worry about. In its present state, the grand game will never appeal to the postmodern pragmatist. Unless it can be altered, it is just too absolute and moral an endeavor. Now the World Wrestling Federation, there’s a “sport” with a lot of postmodern possibility.
Boggs’ column appears each Friday in Baptist Press. He is pastor of Valley Baptist Church, McMinnville, Ore.

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  • Kelly Boggs