It is undeniable that opposites attract.
How else do you explain the relationship between hockey and golf?
The two games are so much the flip side of each other that “golf” becomes a hockey euphemism for “loser” each spring, the four-letter word alone signifying the year is over for most hockey players and has ended in failure.
This week, those differences have been on display as the Stanley Cup final got under way in Chicago and the U.S. Open began just outside Philadelphia.
The Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins will end their series with hockey’s traditional handshake; Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia, two equally bitter rivals, began their week at the Merion Golf Club by, finally, shaking each other’s hand.
The only other similarity is that the Stanley Cup playoffs and the U.S. Open both go four rounds.
So why, then, does hockey have such a passion for golf, its polar opposite in play? Whenever players on Canadian NHL teams get a few days free in Florida or California during the regular season, they golf. Most NHLers play in the off-season, many – like Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson and the Calgary Flames’ Mike Cammalleri – extremely well.
Some retired hockey players – Dan Quinn, Grant Fuhr, Brett Hull – have even given the lesser professional golf circuits a go. Quinn is even caddying this week at Merion for South African Ernie Els, last year’s winner of the British Open. Scotty Bowman once raced off from coaching a Stanley Cup winner to volunteer as a score carrier at the Open. And if Slap Shot is the hockey favourite movie on long bus trips, then Happy Gilmore, with Adam Sandler as a hockey player gooning it up on the golf tour, must be a close second.
The only explanation is opposites attract: one game is individual, one team; one on ice, one too often in water; one polite, the other rude; one obsessed with fitness, the other so often contemptuous of it; one clean-shaven, one ridiculously scruffy these days.
Perhaps it’s just as well the two games make such strange bedfellows. One can only imagine the results if hockey were played more like golf, or golf more like hockey.
The crowd: Fans are expected to be so well behaved in golf that the Masters Tournament refuses even to call them fans, preferring “patrons.” Hockey’s only comparable to the golf course library demeanour is Scotiabank Place, where the Ottawa Senators so often play in silence. Golf, on the other hand, might be a lot more compelling if every hole in the U.S. Open were played as the 16th at TPC Scottsdale is during the Phoenix Open – where fans, many of them inebriated, are encouraged to trash-talk players and boo at will any shot on the par-three that comes up short.
Pace: Golf is a leisurely game – Mark Twain called it “a good walk spoiled” – but it does have a ruling for players who move too slow, as happened during the Masters to Tianlang Guan, the 14-year-old Chinese sensation who moves down a fairway as if he could use a walker. A penalty for unnecessary stalling in hockey would be welcomed by those fans who had to watch the Tampa Bay Lightning or New York Rangers in recent times.
Tattling: Golf has a rather bizarre record of allowing television viewers to call in and demand penalties be called on players – as happened to Tiger Woods for a drop in this year’s Masters and many years back to Craig Stadler for kneeling on a towel to swing so he wouldn’t dirty his pants. If hockey were to adopt this, the NHL would have to hire the entire India subcontinent to serve as the call centre.
Telling on yourself: Legendary golfer Bobby Jones called a penalty on himself in the 1925 U.S. Open when, out of sight of anyone (and no golf channel available), he accidentally touched his ball before swinging. “You might as well praise a man for not robbing a bank,” he told reporters after. There are not enough reporters covering the Stanley Cup final should even a handful of players decide to own up to their cheating.
Boors: Hockey gets slammed regularly for its staged fights and for allowing the likes of Matt Cooke to lace up, but so far the game has yet to produce the total idiot who screams “IN THE NET!!” every time a player – even a defenceman in his own zone – takes a swing at the puck.
Scoring: At Merion, there was some early fear (unfounded, it turned out) that greens softened by heavy rains could lead to record lows. In the Stanley Cup, scoring fell from 5.26 goals a game in the first round to 4.75 in the second and 4.33 in the third.
Game 1 in the final, however, produced a welcome seven goals – the Blackhawks counting four, the Bruins only three.
But then, if you look at it from a golf perspective rather than hockey, that would mean Boston won, wouldn’t it?