Are Golfers Athletes? The Debate Has Gone on Forever

Before the golfers get all worked up, let me say something. It takes a ton of talent to be a successful golfer. With that said, I’ll go on record as saying golfers are not athletes. Merriam-Webster’s definition of ‘athlete’ is a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina. That, alone, should be convincing enough to prove my point, but I’ll dig a little deeper.

Should golf be considered a sport?

John Daly waits to play a shot on the fourth hole during round one of the Cologuard Classic at the Catalina Course of the Omni Tucson National Resort on February 26, 2021 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

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Let’s head back to Merriam-Webster again. The definition of ‘sport’ is an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment. Take out the ‘physical exertion’ part and we could get away with calling it a sport. To me, walking isn’t physical exertion. Otherwise, grocery shopping would be labeled a sport. Those who are pro-golf may argue it’s similar to baseball, and baseball is considered a sport. The one difference is after you swing in baseball and hit the ball, you sprint to first base. There’s your physical exertion. If golfers teed off and immediately sprinted after the ball, then we have a sport.

Golf is in the category of bowling. There’s no real physical exertion in bowling. I felt the same way about NASCAR as well, but Mario Andretti sort of convinced me to change my tune a bit. Golfers, bowlers, jugglers, salesmen are all the same to me. They are awesomely talented, but I’m not giving them the athlete label.

Sure, walking 54 holes of golf over the course of a weekend could get you a little tired. Walking just doesn’t qualify as that physical exertion needed for athlete status. Brushing your hair for three straight hours will also get you tired.

What’s the pinnacle for golfers?

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Winning the Masters Tournament or any other major is the highest point for a professional golfer. For an individual playing the game, what’s that peak moment? It’s the hole-in-one. When golfers nail that ace, it’s all-out, high-five celebration time. It’s similar to the slam-dunk in basketball, but without the athleticism.

In December of 2014, Gus Andreone of Sarasota, Florida, reached golf’s pinnacle for the eighth time in his career. “I can’t say that I felt any different about one or the other,” he said, according to The New York Times. “I just felt like another hole in one.” The dude was 103. Andreone broke the record for the oldest person to record a hole-in-one. The previous mark was set by a 102-year-old woman in 2007.

People will tell me I’m putting down golf because I’m not good at it. First, I’m not putting down golf. I’m simply saying golfers shouldn’t be judged as athletes. I also agree that I’m not good at golf. I’m also not good at swallowing cough syrup, but I’m not knocking on ESPN’s door trying to promote a Robitussin chug-a-thon.

You don’t need to be an athlete to play golf but maybe it helps

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The question of whether or not golfers are athletes has been debated for quite some time. Sports Illustrated had a story back in 1955 on this same subject. Herbert N. White, former baseball coach at VMI, answered the question perfectly.

“No. An athlete can be a golfer, but a golfer need not be an athlete,” White said. “An athlete should have courage, combativeness, strength, and speed or agility. This does not imply that a man with one or more of these qualities is an athlete. A golfer can get along very well without any of them.”

Tiger Woods is an athlete who golfs. John Daly golfs. Maybe because Tiger is in good physical shape is why he’s considered one of the best. Who knows? I’ll change my opinion when someone who’s 103 flies through the air to finish that one-handed dunk or steals second base.