Golf and the Chinese Communes

In our 70s people become a lot more forgiving of our memory deficit.  Except in golf, except when you are keeping score. We hear that Donald Trump forgets his score on his own golf courses.  Now he is, bless his heart, well over 70 years. That is why this report is instructive. Trump may actually forget a few strokes. But though he may be innocently forgetful, a few people might still silently judge him as unethical. Cruel world, real world.

So if you are just learning the game – as opposed to being a player for several decades – you might hope to be forgiven a few memory mistakes because of both your age and experience. Maybe, but probably not. One of linguistic anthropologist Stephen Pinker’s key findings is that all humans are extremely watchful for situations in which they might be being cheated. All humans. New Guineans and Mongolians, camel riders on the Sahara, and Congressional aides…All Humans. A multicultural truth: It is part of our eye-brain DNA. In golf, you must keep your own score assiduously, lest you seem to be cheating. Alas, that runs smack up against our short term memory lapses ( – yours AND Trump’s).

Your own good intentions will NOT be overlooked, only “underblown” by others in your 4some. (People are sometimes kind if they feel you are stupid.) If you are old and inexperienced, you’ll need some special strategy.  Luckily, I may have found that best way to play golf with others may be to underplay your actual score. Plainly: Add more strokes if you are unsure…or even if you are dead sure.

During the early days of World War II, British and Nazi fighter planes engaged in daily dogfights in the skies over Europe. Below the terrified Belgians, or French, or Dutch watched and tried to keep score. Herr Goebbels set the pattern for the Nazis: exaggerate, exaggerate, exaggerate. If 6 British Spitfires were shot down and 6 Messerschmitts also fell to earth, the radio services interpreted it differently. The Nazi radio said 10 Spitfires went down, to only 4 Messerschmitts. Everyone on the ground could count, and took the Nazi radio with a large grain of salt. On the other hand, the BBC would report 8 of their own Spitfires down, and only 5 Messerschmitts. The result of this underplay, thoughout the war, was that people not only listened more to the BBC, but moreover, tended to trust the British in all things because of that habit of understatement. (Some say that when the British “leaked” a false beach for the D-Day invasion , it was believed – even by the Nazis – because of this carefully built reputation).

Of course, one strategy may be not keeping score at all. It can indeed save you heartache, but your curiosity will eventually get you. So when you chose to keep score, the first rule for we memory-challenged oldsters is not to expect forbearance, but to downplay upward. Unless you are betting (or playing on a team). Go ahead and downplay a 5 to a 6 or 4 to a 5 on each hole. This will auto-guard the foils of your elder memory…

So how is anybody going to know when you are playing well? Believe me, not only will they know…but they will tell you. And that’s a good thing.

In the early days of Communism in China, farm workers became part owners of their farms. It is said they all worked their fields together without hard driving supervisors. To keep track of the work done by each, there was a board with a pin inserted at the level of each person’s production (cabbage heads cut, rows planted, and so forth). Everyone put his own pin in to be paid for his own production. And everyone could see where you put yourself. Were there cheaters? Of course, and because all saw one excessive mark in at once, there was vicious social pressure on the offenders. But one other result occurred. If those who were shy or unsure put their markings LOWER than they’d achieved, their coworkers cajoled them not to lower their actual numbers. Apparently, this system turned out results that were amazingly accurate.

Of course we don’t try to cheat…but we DO fumble scores. So this gives you one strategy to combat short term memory in golf, if you are playing as an individual. Underplay every score and you won’t have to apologize. As long as other players scores are not threatened by your clouded scorekeeping, you can remain a totally charming companion as long as you choose to play.  

Copyright 2022 – David Hon

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