Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Proposal of Modest Proportions: that time I wrote an essay in high school in the style of Jonathan Swift

I was talking to my cousin Will the other day and he mentioned that he took a course on humor in literature. I mentioned Jonathan Swift, known for his classic satirical piece A Modest Proposal, wherein "Swift suggests that the impoverished Irish might ease their economic troubles by selling their children as food for rich gentlemen and ladies." (source) And I then recalled having not only read that essay in my English class in high school, but also having written a satire on that satire!

I do not remember the details of the assignment, or how I came to this idea, but I wrote an essay that both satirized and paid homage to Swift's writing style, while simultaneously putting forth several "suggestions" about how to improve the game of golf into a sport. As an avid golfer, this was all written with my tongue poking right out through my cheek. I enjoyed writing this very much and was ecstatic to later win an essay prize for it!

Here it is in its unedited entirety:

Brendan Sullivan
AP English Literature
May 3, 2003

A Proposal of Modest Proportions:

How to Make Golf a Real Sport

When one examines the physical and intellectual capabilities required of participants in many of today’s popular sports, one might observe that these characteristics encourage athletes to train and prepare to become both mentally and physically fit. For example, the sport of long-distance running, particularly the marathon, breeds contestants who are not only able-bodied, muscular, and healthy, but also mentally sound, for there is indeed an intense cerebral component to this sport. To complete the same motion, that is placing one foot in front of the other, for approximately 26 miles, occurring over a time period of anywhere from two to twelve hours, depending on the ability of the performer, is a mentally demanding task, and one that should not be taken lightly. Now, if one studies the professional sports that are popular with today’s television-viewing public, such as baseball, football, or wrestling, it is clear that a similar level of physical and mental aptitude is required of the players, who are sufficiently rewarded for their services, as seen in their moderately respectable salaries.

There is one sport, however, which has received some not undeserved criticism for its players’ lack of function of mind and body: golf. A majority of sports enthusiasts and aficionados have criticized this sport (the term “sport” being used loosely in this sense, as its status as such being similarly questioned) for producing overweight, weak, and I might add, simple-minded, players, who have apparently been relegated to the unfortunate rank of “professional golfer” due to their incompetence in other, more demanding and respectable, athletic endeavors. One must only look at past and present golfers, such as Craig Stadler, aptly nicknamed “The Walrus” for his tremendous girth, both in waist and in mustache, to be convinced that this game produces individuals who are extremely thick (to be interpreted in both senses). Even Jack Nicklaus, the game’s “greatest player,” at least in the twentieth century, was widely known for his practically pear-shaped torso, culminating at the brain in an almost metaphorically nonexistent stem.

Lest one has forgotten, as well, or in the same manner, due to proper ignorance of this game, has never learned of the various incidents of stupidity exhibited by professional golfers, I shall convey these stories. Most widely known among the measly 26.5 million golfers in this country is the story of Roberto de Vicenzo, who, in 1968, surrendered a place in a playoff for the title at the Masters Tournament after authorizing with his signature an incorrectly tallied scorecard kept by his playing partner, Tommy Aaron, who had marked de Vicenzo’s score for the 17th hole as a 4 instead of a 3. Surely, if these poor souls cannot even count to four, how can we expect them to serve as role models for our nation’s youth, a responsibility that, thankfully, has been adopted by the much nobler, law-abiding athletes of professional basketball and football.

Slightly lesser known, yet still a prime example of the very mental incompetence of which I speak, is the story of the aforementioned Craig Stadler incurring a two-stroke penalty for not comprehending one of the basic rules of the game. In a tournament in 1987, Stadler was forced to play a shot while kneeling, due to some low-hanging tree branches above his ball that prevented him from taking a normal swing. To preserve the untarnished condition of his trousers, Stadler placed a towel on the ground, which prompted a television-viewer at home to telephone the tournament officials and correctly inform them that Stadler had violated Rule 17-1, which unequivocally states that “a player shall not improve . . .the area of his intended swing.” Again, this is a strong deterrent from allowing our children to watch these golf events, as these players hardly even know their rules better than the average Joe sitting on his living room couch.

I would be rightfully described as disrespectful and negligent if I were to merely identify this already-recognized situation. To prevent this criticism, I shall therefore propose a variety of schemes that will not only make the game more demanding, both physically and mentally, but also much more interesting to watch for the general public. These suggestions will attempt to incorporate the admirable characteristics of other professional sports into the game of golf, in an effort to make the game more like a true sport.

Firstly, the use of caddies, a tradition that undoubtedly developed from the game’s origins in 17th century Scotland when some foolish golfer probably indulged himself in an excessive amount of Scotch and consequently lost his ability to even carry his own bag, will be abolished. Since baseball players are forced to carry their bats from the dugout to the batter’s box, shouldn’t golfers be similarly required to carry their “bats?” In addition, the prohibition of caddies will compel the players to cogitate without external assistance, an aid that the players have come to rely on too heavily, as they can hardly even take a drink of water without asking their pathetic subordinate for help, thus necessitating a keen intellect.

Secondly, there has been much discussion today about the lengthening of golf courses, particularly to “Tiger-proof” them and prevent this dominant golfer, Tiger Woods, who for some reason was featured as the “Sportsman of the Year” in Sports Illustrated in 1996 and 2000 (evidently, the magazine editors were bribed or blackmailed into awarding such a prestigious title to an undeserving golfer). Not only is Tiger prompting this craze for distance, but the improving technology, as well, has yielded this onslaught of opinion in favor of increased yardage. It seems as though every day there is a new club, ball, glove, tee, shoe, or some other fancy contraption, that promises increased distance and accuracy. “Twenty yards longer, and thirty percent straighter” is an example of a claim that might be made by a golf equipment company. These assertions are partially true, as professional golfers are continually hitting their brand-new, high-tech, updated balls ever farther down the fairway and ever closer to the hole with their brand-new, high-tech, updated clubs.

This begs the question, how do other sports respond to such drastic improvements in technique, bordering on the edge of unfairness? In baseball, for example, officials have become more aware of corked bats and seek to prevent cheaters from hitting pitch after pitch out of the ballpark. Similarly, the Professional Golf Association should impose stricter limits on players’ equipment, thus putting an end to the current trend towards limitless distance and clubheads larger than one’s foot with spring-like properties at impact almost on the order of magnitude of particle accelerators. I humbly suggest that first of all, the current limit of 14 clubs should be reduced to a more reasonable number, such as two or three, in respect to equity, for basketball players are allowed but one ball on the court at a time. In addition, I feel that these two or three clubs should be restricted to a material such as wood or paper, which would serve to reduce the explosive power of the modern-day titanium, steel, or other metallic alloys that are being fashioned into drivers.

Now, particularly clever and studious patrons of baseball history might argue that Major League Baseball did not respond to such displays of power as Roger Maris’ 61 home runs in 1961 by greatly lengthening the distance between home plate and the outfield wall, or by moving the pitcher’s mound closer to home plate. In fact, this is exactly why I propose to lengthen golf courses by a significant amount; it would be unprecedented, a trend-setter, a paragon for other sports to follow. What could golfers possibly enjoy more than returning home from an 18 hole round on their local, 20,000 yard, par 54, public course and lounging in front of their big-screen television, on their oversize couch, with a two-gallon soda in one hand and a three-pound bag of potato chips in the other, to watch a football game played on a 250-yard field, or to see a batter hit a 500-foot pop fly that only reaches halfway to the bleachers, or to see another airball shot from behind the 60-foot three-point line, all because these sports decided to follow the example set by the PGA? Now that would be entertainment!

Thirdly, continuing on the theme of making golf more difficult, and subsequently more entertaining, I suggest that the so-called “hazards” should be more hazardous. One major aspect of sports in the modern age is injuries: broken wrists resulting from diving for a line drive, concussions from being tackled by a charging lineman, and skin lacerations from being scratched by an opponent’s eyebrow ring while battling for a rebound—all of these potential mishaps add to the excitement of sport. Where, I ask, is there a risk for injury in golf? Excluding the inconsequential heat strokes, pulling of muscles, food poisoning (which Tiger Woods himself suffered from after carelessly consuming his girlfriend’s poorly-cooked spaghetti), and the countless kinds of back injuries that result from years of twisting one’s body back and forth hundreds of times a day, there exists no major disease, affliction, or condition that could possibly plague a golfer any more than the average human, and therefore the excitement is lessened.

To remedy this, bunkers, or sand traps, should be replaced with quicksand traps. Not only would this force players to be more accurate with their approach shots in an effort to avoid these hazards, but they would also force the golfer to hit the shot hastily. Due to the ever-present risk of becoming an eternal part of the hazard itself, any relatively sane golfer (my apologies for the blatant oxymoron) would be sure to spend a little less time settling his or her stance and taking a few practice swings, thereby shortening the abnormally and painfully long time period exhausted by a single round of golf.

Similarly, water hazards should be augmented, not only in size, but also in content. From now on, lakes, streams, creeks, burns, and ponds shall contain all varieties of poisonous insect, frog, fish, amphibian, and reptile, namely piranhas, alligators, poison-dart frogs, and an assortment of species of deadly flies and bees. Likewise, forests adjoining golf holes should be inhabited by all sorts of creatures, such as grizzly bears, wolves, coyotes, and if possible, depending on the course’s location, savage cannibal warriors. These new and improved hazards would also quicken the pace of play while boosting the excitement factor at the same time, for who wouldn’t enjoy watching a frantic golfer sprint down the fairway with a menacing grizzly in hot pursuit and narrowly escape the bear to finish the hole in a record-breaking 6.2 seconds?

While I am considering the topic of time commitment, I shall introduce my next modest suggestion, which is the concept of a timed element of play in this getting-close-to-a-sport-now game of golf. Consider, for a brief moment, the impact of a clock on the outcome of football or basketball. Not only is there a game clock, there is also a shot clock or play clock. Each time-out is carefully timed by the referees. There are two-minute warnings, loud buzzers, and fans chanting the countdown from ten to zero. In fact, these sports enjoy the period-ending alerts so much that they play games in quarters, to allow this electrifying event to happen on four separate occasions throughout the game.

To allow for similar excitement to be instilled in the somewhat humdrum and tedious affairs of golf, I suggest that a game clock be utilized during a golf tournament. At the beginning of the tournament the clock should be set for ninety minutes, and upon commencement of the round, when all players tee off simultaneously on the first hole, the clock will count down. Any player who does not complete his or her eighteen hole round in the allotted time period, which is an entirely reasonable amount of time, will be immediately disqualified.

A correlated consequence of this decree would be the subsequent universal adoption of a new style of play. Golfers will no longer leisurely promenade between shots while idly gazing at their surroundings, signing autographs for fans, or pondering their next shot. Instead, players will hurriedly dash to their ball’s location and, within a matter of seconds, hit the ball, only to dash off once again. This would assist in enhancing the mental and physical properties of all players involved, a process which, as I have previously mentioned, has been lacking for quite some time. The exercise required for the actual running on these lengthened, hazard-filled courses, would surely improve the kinesthetic functioning of all players, and the required quick thinking and decision-making would make golfers slightly more intelligent, although certainly not up to par (no pun intended) by normal standards. All in all, the introduction of a game clock could do no wrong in bringing the game of golf out of its confines, and might possibly change it from a “good walk spoiled” (in the words of Mark Twain) to a good run spoiled.

While professional golfers are rushing from shot to shot, desperately trying to avoid each hazard on their quest to beat the clock as well as par, I believe that the players should encounter another obstacle: defense. Surely, this could not continue unobserved for too long. Baseball, basketball, football—all these sports present two teams on opposing sides of the field, with both trying to score and attempting to prevent the other team from scoring. Why is there no element of defense in golf? Besides the incredibly difficult courses, carefully designed and carved out of the landscape to present golfers with every imaginable obstacle, along with the forces of nature, such as wind, rain, and heat, there is no resistance offered by an opposing side.

To fill this unfavorable gap in the game’s properties, I recommend that each competing golfer be allowed to hit not only his or her own ball, but also the ball of an opponent and, in doing so, place that adversary in a less manageable situation, such as in one of the new and improved quicksand traps. Such an act would incur no penalty on the player and would in fact be encouraged, as it would make the game more difficult, both by forcing players to incorporate new strategic measures and by intensifying the battle against the game clock, for hunting for a ball recently batted away by an opponent would waste precious seconds.

Finally, my last proposal to make the game of golf more exciting for the spectators, and more exhausting and demanding for the players, is to modify the concept of “sudden death.” When a golf tournament remains tied after regulation play, it is customary at some tournaments to complete a sudden death playoff, where the first player to beat his or her opponent on an extra hole is regarded as the winner. I advocate a new playoff system, one that would involve literal sudden death. Each player involved in the playoff should be given an opportunity to hit their shots, after which the player furthest from the hole would be subsequently shot for the poor quality of their shot. This process would continue until only one player remains, who would therefore be declared the champion. Obviously, if only two players are competing in the playoff, this procedure should not take too much time or effort on the part of the tournament committee, and the matter should be resolved rather quickly, after the first shot.

It goes without saying, which is why I am saying it, that these new rules and systems should only be adopted by the professional golfers, and not by amateurs. In other sports, amateurs and professionals play different games by different rules. For example, how many pickup basketball games provide three referees, an array of sportscasters, and cheerleaders and slam-dunking mascots at halftime? Accordingly, every effort should be made to ensure that the game played by amateur golfers remain at its current state. The aforesaid proposals are only intended to improve the quality of the game for the entertainment of the television-viewing public and, at the same time, counter the countless complaints of these obese, unintelligent wannabe athletes polluting the nation’s professional sports arena. In no way am I suggesting that something be done about the obese, unintelligent wannabe athletes polluting the nation’s amateur sports arena. That topic alone, my dear reader, would warrant its own modest proposal.

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