The worlds hardest, most difficult sport?
Sports Tips by Burleson Consulting
There is a debate raging about
what is the world's hardest sport, with the top contenders being
golf and polo, both considered among the most difficult sports
to play proficiently.
Many of today’s most popular
sports have a huge barrier to entry, the time and commitment that is required to
become proficient enough to play the game.
In traditional field ball
games such as soccer, football and baseball, a basic proficiency is kicking,
catching and throwing are all that is required to go out and play.
However, this is not true for
sports like tennis, golf and polo. You cannot take a few golf lessons and go
out and play on a standard 18-hole course where you are expected to complete a
hole in 10-15 minutes. In tennis it can take months of practice before you are
skilled enough to sustain a rally, and polo can take years of practice to become
Polo: The world's most difficult sport?
In my experience, Polo has
the highest barrier to entry of any of the popular sports. Even a minimal
proficiency in polo requires a sound foundation in horsemanship and amazing
hand-eye coordination. It can take years of practice before you are even ready
to begin playing Polo.
First, you must master
English-style riding on a small pony (usually between 13.5 to 15 hands), and
learn to stand in the stirrups while spinning on a dime. It's far harder
to ride a smaller horse than a large saddle horse, and polo ponies are trained
like reining horses with incredible ability to change directions quickly.
A polo strike is also
incredibly challenging. You must start your backswing long before you
approach the ball, and it you miss the timing it's impossible to strike a clean
But despite the year of
practice required to become proficient in Polo, many still maintain that golf is
the worlds most difficult sport.
Golf: The world’s hardest sport?
Depending on your definition
of minimal proficiency, it can take hundreds of hours of practice to be able to
enjoy playing golf. My Dad used to say that you must strike at least 10,000
gold balls to be proficient, while other claim that you must hit at least
100,000 golf balls to achieve proficiency as a golfer.
To play “bogie” golf (a score
of 90 or less), most experts estimate that it takes an average player six years
of regular play and weekly golf lessons. On the golf channel they claim that an
average proficient golfer takes about 300 weekly lessons while playing at least
32 holes per week over a period of many years. This is a major investment of
time, over 20,000 hours of practice. For example, if you take 5 hours to play
18 holes, you are looking at a time investment of at least 10 hours per week, 40
hours per month, totaling 360 hours of yearly practice. It’s not just a sport,
it’s a second job.
I have heard that PGA
professionals like Tiger Woods always hits hundreds of balls every day and
becoming proficient in golf requires lifelong dedication. Golf is not a casual
game, and mastering the basic sub-games within golf requires dedication and
The long drive
– A proficient golfer must be able to control club speeds at least 70 miles
per hour to hit the green proficiently (1 stroke on a par-3, two strokes on
a par-4, and three strokes on a par-5), and most male golfers strive to
achieve a 100+ MPH swing, a club speed that can translate into a 300 yard
drive (the length of three football fields). It’s even easier today because
of the high-tech drivers, huge titanium milk-jugs (e.g. the Callaway FTi,
and the Sumo) which can add 100 yards to a duffers swing and straighten-out
a shanked drive.
The short game
– It is incredibly challenging to pitch a high wedge shot to drop and stick
near the cup at 50 yards, and it requires the same trajectory skills of a
cannon artillery officer. Your must be able to mentally calculate the
height and distance of a long pitch, and then command your muscles to
replicate your desired swing. It’s amazing to watch a PGA pro drop a 8-iron
shot from 150 yards that lands inches from the cup, denting the green and
sticking with a backspin.
– Putting is a whole game unto itself, and proficiency in putting required
incredible skill. Proficient putters must learn to read the breaks,
understand the grain of the grass, and learn to “read” the speed of the
putting surface. You must become a grass expert and understand how the
“grain” of the grass affects a putt strike. It’s no coincidence that most of
the winners of competitions on southern Bermuda and players from the south
who have had the most experience reading the nuances of reading Bermuda
There are many people who
make fun of golf because of the incredible difficulty of the game. Golf is a
great game for people who work in a “perfectionist” profession, like computer
scientists who must create code that works perfectly each time, every time.
Unlike the bowler who can
roll a perfect 300 game, nobody can ever master a golf game. Even the top pros
have bad shots, and getting a hole-in-one is a rare occurrence, even for the
best PGA professionals.
Golf is a humbling game, and
most people with perfectionist tendencies will abandon the game before they get
good enough to enjoy playing. The barriers to entry are high, and becoming good
in golf requires acknowledging your shortcomings and tolerating months of
In today’s business world,
all executive are expected to be at least minimally proficient in golf. Golf
country club memberships are a common perk for executives because many business
meetings are conducted while playing golf. The easiest way to ruin a
multi-million dollar deal is to anger your clients by taking too long to
complete a round of golf.
If golf is so hard, why do people play?
Golf is unique among sports
because all players occasionally get a glimpse of greatness. Even a beginner
will get the occasional adrenaline rush from hitting a long strait drive or
sinking a 30 foot putt, and that’s what makes golf an addicting game. Even a
modest player can play the same courses as the pros, and that’s what makes
watching golf on TV so much fun. You can follow Tiger Woods playing the same
course that you have played and you come to appreciate the amazing skill that
comes from many years of dedicated practice.
Golf is also a great game
because it does not require high athletic skills, and even a fat middle-aged
duffer like me can achieve 100 MPH club speeds. Golf is more about flexibility
than raw strength, as testified by the tall and lean Tiger Woods, who has no
great muscle bulk, but amazing flexibility. It’s the stretching and release of
your muscles that make for a long drive, not brute force.
In sum, golf will always be a
game with barriers to entry, but for those who are committed to suffer the
humbling trials of becoming proficient, golf is without question the greatest
sport in the world.