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August 13, 2018

I am not a huge golf fan, but I have a mild liking for the game. I play it very occasionally (and extremely badly), and when a major championship is on I might watch it with a certain low-key enjoyment, though I would not go out of my way to do so. I don’t agree that it is a ‘good walk spoiled’ (apparently this famous saying did not come from Mark Twain, as everybody thinks, but from a writer called, appropriately enough, HS Scrivener, in a 1903 book about tennis, where he attributes it to his friends the Allens – see the Quote Investigator website for more details about the saying’s provenance:

This is all by way of preamble, simply to make the point that I quite like golf but am neither an expert nor a fanatic, in order to prepare for my main point about the use of the word charge in sports reports about golf. The newspapers today are full of Tiger Woods’ thrilling charge on the final day of the American PGA championship, when he went round in 64 to get within two shots of the eventual winner, Brooks Koepka. But what does it mean, to make a charge on the last day of a championship?

Apologies if this is well-known to you, but the golf Majors are played over four days, so each player has to go round the course four times. It’s thus possible to have a poor couple of rounds to start with and be way off the lead, but then start playing better and catching up with the field; and if you play really well on the last day then you are said to be making a charge towards the lead. I can see that the term makes this rather sedate sport sound more exciting, with its suggested imagery of an armoured knight thundering along on a charger. But really it is a ridiculous misnomer. A charge suggests there is something purposeful about it: a deliberate ploy; a strategy of lurking just behind the leaders and then charging for all you’re worth to take them by surprise on the last day. But golf isn’t like that. It’s not an interactive game. Dropping shots early on has no effect on the leaders, other than to increase their lead. Players don’t deliberately take it easy at the start and then, as a tactic, start playing well on day four. The object of golf is to take as few shots as possible on every hole in every round. You’d get a hole in one every time if only you could. And in the nature of things, you won’t play equally well every round, and sometimes the final day will be your best. But that does not mean you are purposefully executing a charge on that last day. You just happen to have started playing better.

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  1. Simon Carter permalink

    A charge also implies, to me, that more than person is involved.
    Barry Humphries in The Adventures of Barry McKenzie on seeing the meter told a taxi driver that he “charged like a wounded bull”.

  2. Phyllis permalink

    I agree with Twain (oops I mean Scrivener, thanks for the correction I have always attributed that quote to either Wilde, Twain or Groucho Marx as historically I believe that they have provided the most memorable and thoughtful epigraphs). I am not a fan of golf but my son-in-law is so I tend to conceal my disdain for it around him. In fact, my favourite part in the Michael Douglas film “Falling Down” is when his deranged and sociopathic character berates a man on a golf course regarding the waste of open space where children should be playing. It really ruins my advocacy when the golfer dies of a heart attack due to tje character’s vitriolic attacks. Plus I recently suffered from a condition in the feet known as plantar fasciitis which is eased by rotating a golf ball on the sole of the foot, so who did I go to for a golf ball? Of course, the now beloved son-in-law.

  3. Mark Brafield permalink

    I have recently come across a variant of this as business-speak; if a particular piece of work needs to be undertaken, the leader of the project is now said to be ‘leading the charge’. I have heard this several times in recent weeks.

  4. Simon Carter permalink

    A slightly odd choice; the most well known charge in history was hardly a signal success!

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