On hitting the golf ball farther, and other golf grammar goodies

If your golf grammar isn’t perfect, don’t worry: Someone is sure to let you know.

Image of Golf Grammar GraphicIT STARTED back in my junior year at the University of Maryland, in the backshop where the daily Diamondback was printed late every night and into the wee hours. The printer had just pasted up a perfectly good headline on a sports-page story that included the word “golfers.”

Along came the editor-in-chief, who ripped the headline off the page dummy.

Golfers is not a word,” he sneered. “There are no baseballers. There are no footballers. And there are no golfers.”

There was no arguing, even when I pointed out that “golf player,” besides sounding ridiculous, used 4½ more points of print space than “golfer,” and even when I found a dictionary entry that said “golfer — one who plays the exasperating and sometimes cruel game of golf.”

OK, the dictionary did not say all of that. But, I do remember that it said a golfer is somebody who plays golf.

Nevertheless, the editor-in-chief got his way. Later, as publisher of GottaGoGolf Magazine, I’d wage another grammatical battle, this time with an outraged reader. She wrote in to say that she was a golfer and she would not condone my use of the word “golf” as a verb. She was so outraged at my “GottaGoGolf” title, she was ready to cancel her subscription.

“But, wait,” I wrote back. “If one can be a golfer — for instance, YOU are a golfer — then that would be a person who golfs, just as a runner is one who runs and a teacher is one who teaches. That means golf may be used as a verb.”

She wrote back a much more congenial reply than I had given my editor-in-chief, and we agreed henceforth to get out and golf.

NOW, FOR THE REAL GOLF GRAMMAR NO-NOS

Frankly, although I disagreed, I thought both of those critics had good golf grammar arguments. Yes, even the editor. I certainly wouldn’t say you were wrong if you said you played golf today and I said I golfed today. I’d say it was weird but not incorrect if you wanted to describe yourself as a golf player.

But we all have our limits. If the announcers on the U.S. Women’s Open describe the contestants as girls rather than players or golfers, then I object. And I refuse to condone the two most common word misuses in the golf vocabulary.

First, there is that golf standard of par. You say you’re feeling a little under par today? Well, yay for you! The boss isn’t sending you home, she’s bringing you extra work, because she’s a golfer and she knows UNDER PAR IS GOOD! It’s what every golfer strives to be! So all of those headlines disparaging someone’s “sub-par performance” are just wrong, wrong, wrong. They are most wrong when they show up in the sports section describing a baseball team’s performance as lackluster. A sports writer or editor should know better.

And, finally, most important, there is the golfer’s dream: farther. You want to hit the ball farther, which means a longer distance. You do NOT want to hit the ball further, which in this context most likely means over and over or, possibly, more and more, as in “let’s speak further about this.” Yes, I know, 18 years ago you saw Finding Forrester, which had the climactic scene between Sean Connery and Rob Brown where Brown’s Jamal character corrected his professor. Jamal went on to disparage the constant misuse of farther and further to such an extreme as to make it sound as if one would never, ever use the word farther except to sound like an ignorant, uneducated imbecile. Thus, the proper use of the word has practically disappeared from golf usage, even when further could not be further from correct.

So enjoy watching the TV golf this weekend and smugly counting how many times the announcers say, “he hit that further than anyone” and “he’s further from the hole.” At least you and I know they really mean “farther.”

And, thank you for listening to this golf writer’s rant. Now, GottaGoGolfers, go out and golf, have a sub-par day and hit the ball farther than all of your friends!

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