If you’ve ever picked up a golf club, you will know that golf can be an incredibly difficult game to master. Broadly speaking, there are three things that make golf so hard:
1 – Learning how to hit a golf ball toward the target is much more difficult than it looks
Non-golfers falsely assume that it’s easy because their only exposure to golf is watching professionals on TV. When most beginners first pick up a club, it’s comically bad to watch them hit a ball. The ball basically travels everywhere other than the target. Also, you would be surprised by how many absolute beginners hit freshies (when you hit fresh air rather than the ball).
2 – Golf courses are designed to be challenging
When playing golf, it’s basically a challenge between you and the environment. While golf courses are often beautiful, they are also filled with hazards and obstacles designed to increase your score.
3 – Golf is extremely tough mentally and emotionally
All it takes is one bad shot or one bad hole to completely drain your mental confidence. Most non-golfers fail to appreciate how emotionally draining the game can be, especially when you aren’t playing well. Simply put, there are few other sports where your mental confidence can evaporate in a heartbeat, regardless of how many hours you’ve spent practicing and all your previous achievements.
Why Is Golf The Hardest Sport?
1. Winning Percentages Are Very Low
One of the main reasons that golf can potentially be classified as the hardest sport in the world is because of the winning percentage. Even if you are the No.1 ranked player in the world, you will still lose the vast majority of the tournaments that you play in. This applies to Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Jon Rahm and every other player that has achieved the No.1 ranking.
In other words, even the very best players in the world only have a small chance of winning when they enter a golf tournament. So, if you measure a sport according to ‘winning percentages’, golf is comfortably the hardest sport in the world. There is no other sport where the top players are so often outplayed by people with higher (ie worse) rankings than them.
To put this into context, let’s compare golf with another popular individual sport, namely tennis.
- Novak Djokovic Winning Percentage At Majors: 88.6%
- Tiger Woods Winning Percentage At Majors: 33%
As you can see from the stats above, to be considered one of the greatest tennis players of all time, your winning percentage the majors needs to be close to 90%. To be considered one of the greatest golfers of all time, that winning percentage drops down to about 30%.
2. Mistakes Are Extremely Punitive
You need to play golf to understand how punitive it can be. You can play incredibly well for 71 of 72 holes and still lose a tournament due to 1 bad shot.
For instance, Kyle Stanley had a 4 shot lead on the final hole in the 2012 Farmer’s Insurance Open. Despite landing his ball on the green with his approach shot, it would spin back into the water, leaving him with an awkward pitch of a similar distance. Naturally he hit the next shot a bit further than the first one (to avoid the water), but then left himself with a tricky 2 putt to win. He promptly 3 putted, giving away his 4 shot lead, and then losing to Brandt Snedeker a playoff.
This example demonstrates how quickly things can go wrong, and it doesn’t have to be on the 72nd hole. One small mistake can destroy your entire tournament. This happens to amateurs and professionals all the time.
3. Golf Is Much Harder Than It Looks
People who have yet to try their hand at golf mistakenly believe that it looks easy. This is partially because the only thing they ever see is highly trained professionals smashing golf balls with pinpoint precision on TV. However, when a beginner eventually tries to hit a golf ball, they quickly realize how difficult the sport truly is.
Most beginners think they will hit a golf ball like a professional.
In reality, beginner’s are often very awkward to watch, almost comically so.
4. Golf Can Break Even The Best Players In The World
There are few other sports where it is possible to reach the No.1 spot in the world, only to drop outside the top 500 within a few years of reaching the top spot.
David Duval is a prime example. In 1999, he ousted Tiger Woods from the top spot, winning several high-profile tournaments. In 2001, he won the Open Championship with absolutely stellar ball striking. But then things started to unravel. In 2002, David Duval finished the year ranked 15th in the world. At the end of 2004, he was ranked 527.
Sadly, Duval would never make it back inside the top 100. Golf broke his mental game, and he never really recovered.
Luke Donald is another former No.1 that is no longer capable of playing elite golf. He went from No.1 in 2011 to No. 609 in 2018.
Hunter Mahan is another golfer that used to be great (he was the No.1 ranked American golfer for a short time), but can no longer crack it at the highest level.
The point is, golf has the ability to shatter a player’s confidence with such overwhelming intensity that they quite literally never recover. In terms of form, there aren’t many other sports that can be so brutal and elusive. These examples also illustrate that once you lose your form, you may never get it back, even if you are ranked No.1 in the world.
5. Golf Courses Are Designed To Be Difficult
When a course designer sets out to create a golf course, one of the key components of their agenda is course difficulty. Every hole and every green is designed to offer some form of challenge that the golfer must overcome. It could the length of the hole, tight fairways, extremely thick rough, water hazards, sand hazards or quick sloping greens. In some cases, all of these factors will be added to a single hole.
The point is, golf courses are meant to be challenging. It isn’t simply a matter of hitting the ball down a flat field to a hole in the distance. Golf courses are filled with beautiful obstacles that are literally designed to catch you out and increase your score.
6. The Wind Amplifies The Difficulty of the Game
When hitting a golf ball, there are two types of spin that are created. Backspin and sidespin. Importantly, these spin rates range from 2000 rpm to 10,000 rpm, depending on which club you hit and what ball you play.
When you add strong winds to a golf ball spinning at several thousand revolutions per minute, you have to hit the ball almost perfectly in order for it to travel along the intended path. Even the slightest miscue with sidespin can see the ball travel more than 50 yards offline, depending on wind direction.
In addition, strong winds make it more difficult to balance when you are standing over the ball, and strong winds can even influence the direction of your putts on the green.
In essence, the wind dramatically increases the difficulty of a golf course, decreasing the margin for error when striking the ball, and amplifying the consequences of making even the smallest mistake.