So this post has its roots in a little wasted time on social media. I know, the argument can be made that almost all time spent on socials is wasted, but that's for another time and place. For without that time spent scrolling, I wouldn't have come across this ludicrous idea to write about.
I honestly forget where I found it, but I flicked across a list entitled 'Sports Ranked By Difficulty' one day. A little digging led me to discover that ESPN was the source of this nonsense, so take that however you want. After a quick scan of the top 10 sports, I got curious to see where golf ranked. Once I came across that, I literally scratched my head.
More than once, I might add.
Before I get too far ahead of myself, I have to say that this is an unattributed list with no citations as to how the difficulty of each sport was determined nor was there any rhyme or reason to how one sport earned its place on the list when compared to another.
The top 10 in order are as follows: boxing, ice hockey, football, basketball, wrestling, martial arts, tennis, gymnastics, baseball/softball, and soccer. I would not argue that boxing is brutally hard and is likely deserving its place at (or at least near) the top of this list, but I could also take a persuasive stand that combat sports like mixed martial arts (ironically NOT listed at all in this 60-sport compendium) should be wearing the crown here.
Difficulty is a relative term, which I am willing to acknowledge, and for the purposes of going forward I am going to pose the following stipulations: each of these sports will be compared to one another using well-trained athletes as the standard, and that apples-to-apples will also be another standard (I won't compare #21 volleyball to #55 archery because it's just nonsensical to do so).
When played at its highest level by the best in the world, I would argue that golf is at least inside the top-15 places in terms of difficulty. Sports where full or partial contact are commonplace (combat sports, rugby, football, lacrosse, hockey, any kind of rodeo, and basketball if we're talking about the Bad Boys-era Detroit Pistons) are in a class of their own and I'm willing to cede that gives those sports an edge over most others.
Nothing against baseball, but you're somewhat stationary for long portions of the game and you have a pretty good idea of what you're up against more often than not (remember, we're talking best of the best here). I'm not saying hitting a Jacob deGrom fastball is easy, but if you know its coming you have about a 50/50 chance.
So what makes golf so hard? I know that the ball is going to be in the same place until I hit it, and nobody is going to slam into me on my backswing, but golfers have to account for weather conditions, course conditions, course type, and the mental game. While I could agree with you if the argument of putting something like water polo (#12) ahead of golf (#51!) had merit, I would be tempted to laugh in your face and shove a tee up your nose if you told me that badminton (#30), skateboarding (#37), table tennis (#47) or distance running (considered track & field, #41) were harder.
Each of them requires talent, and I won't dispute that, but I have serious doubts that badminton really belongs in the conversation. Surfing at #23? Sure.. sounds about right. Fencing at #24? Are you freakin' kidding me?
For further comparison, here are some of the sports that golf was judged to be harder than: cheerleading (#52), equestrian (#54), bowling (#57), billiards (#59), shooting (#58) and fishing (#60). I'd say that equestrian should be much higher and closer to auto racing (#32), while billiards and fishing shouldn't even be on the list. And some of the omissions are just as befuddling: decathlon (elements of it made the list individually, but I would argue doing them all in the same sport is harder), mountaineering, triathlon, and Aussie Rules football.
And let's be honest -- that last one is more a combat sport than anything else, right? Or is it more like MMA with cleats? I'm not sure...
You will never catch me saying that golfers are the toughest, most macho, fittest athletes on the planet (most of us aren't creatures of the cross-fit culture, you know), but we're not marshmallows. Hitting a tiny white ball into a wind pushing back against you with countless trees, water hazards and other assorted road blocks giving you pause takes talent, patience and a willingness to repeated chase unobtainable perfection.
Thus ends my rant. Hear me, ESPN, and the next time you undertake such a ranking just know that it takes most skill and nerve to hit a triple-breaking putt at Augusta National than it does to return a shuttlecock in play!
And as Ty Webb says in Caddyshack...