It is often our job at No Laying Up to be skeptics (even cynics) when we think about the landscape of golf.
We strive to remain, despite the steady growth of our company over the last decade, grounded by the idea that we ought to represent the voice of the fan, the avid community of golfers around the world that is mostly just asking to be informed or entertained each week. It can be easy to grow disillusioned or frustrated with aspects of the game, whether television coverage, the massive commercial load, slow play, or the endless bickering over money, and we feel like it’s important to give oxygen to those frustrations, particularly when we share them.
We may not always get it right in your eyes, but we promise you this: Our feelings are never anything but genuine.
With that in mind, on this Thanksgiving, we’d like to (temporarily) remove our skeptic’s hat and talk about a few things we are thankful for in this sometimes messy, often-fractured, frequently confusing world of golf.
It’s important to give thanks and to be grateful for the stuff you believe in.
So let us start with municipal courses, which are both the skeleton and the soul of the game. These are not to be confused with accessible but expensive tracks like Pinehurst, or Bandon Dunes, or Kapalua. A bucket list trip is a gift and a membership at an exclusive club might be a goal, but there is something irreplaceable about a Sunday morning tee time at a local muni with a group of friends.
You might change your shoes in the parking lot. You might warm up by hitting balls off a threadbare mat. You might see someone mark their ball with a beer can. None of it matters if you’re lucky enough to get that first tee time when you can still see the dew on the grass and the ball disappearing (then reappearing) in the early morning light.
Every golfer, no matter how wealthy or successful they become, ought to have a favorite muni they return to from time to time, one where the superintendent punches above his weight, where the hot dogs at the turn are better than they deserve to be, and quirks of layout test your patience but feel as familiar as the lyrics of an old song.
You know that bunker, the one on the wrong side of a dogleg with its ragged edges and concrete sand? Every muni has one. She’s infuriating, but … we’ve been through some stuff together. Job changes, a marriage (or two), a couple kids, a sore knee, that magical round when we flirted with a score that didn’t seem possible. We used to hate that bunker. Maybe we still do. But at this point, we can’t help but love it too.
We might as well see things through.
Let us also feel thankful for the places golf takes us, for borders and oceans we sometimes cross just to put our peg in the ground and stare down that first fairway.
Maybe you’ll never get to play Tara Iti in New Zealand and hear the waves crash on the beach as you line up a putt. Maybe you’ll never gaze out into the dunes of Nebraska, and marvel at the ripples that nature made before Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw went looking for 18 holes in an ocean of sand.
But every course — even one on the other side of town — is a mystery until you explore it for the first time. It doesn’t need to change your life. But it might draw you in like a magnet, and give you an excuse to visit a dot on the map you’d otherwise ignore.
If the weather is merciful where you live, go find a course you’ve never played before the calendar flips. It might be forgettable. But it also might surprise you.
Speaking of surprises, we are thankful for Ludvig Åberg.
He wasn’t a surprise to us, the way he was to many. But what started as a joke — a funny, off-handed defense of the future of the European Ryder Cup teams during the beat down at Whistling Straits — turned into an answered prayer. Åberg hasn’t played in a single major, and already he’s become one of the brightest lights in the game today.
Will Åberg be the next Tiger Woods or even the next Rory McIlroy? Probably not. The odds are obviously against him, as they are with any young golfer. Even voicing those expectations may serve as fuel for the machine that eventually grinds him down. But none of that matters at this moment. What matters now is what he could be — the best driver of the ball the sport has seen since Greg Norman.
There is nothing in golf as intoxicating as the beginning of a prodigy’s career. And in this case, the prodigy seems grounded and mature and willing to embrace the expectations.
Hope, as Red said in Shawshank Redemption, can be a dangerous thing.
It’s almost like a drug.
But every once in a while, you have to go on a bender.
In this case, the high might last for years.
We are thankful for the Ryder Cup, which remains as riveting as any event in sports. Even the blowouts give us a reason to care. When have you ever seen Scottie Scheffler or Rory McIlroy weeping in defeat outside the Ryder Cup? Where else could have seen Boo Weekley riding his driver like a pony down the first fairway, or Shane Lowry bounding along the rope line like a professional wrestler waiting to be tagged into a match?
As a mixture of drama, pride and entertainment, it remains undefeated.
We are thankful for Luke Donald and Eduardo Molinari (some of us more than others) for their leadership and competence, the way they took a potential mess left by Henrik Stenson and turned it into one of the best European Ryder Cup squads in memory, choosing the best team and then putting them in the right mindset to succeed.
But not all our praise goes to the men in blue. There was a moment this year in Rome when Max Homa stood over a putt on the 18th green at Marco Simone on Sunday, that reminded us how inconsequential the squabbling over money feels when you contrast it with something that actually matters. LIV Golf could play for a billion dollars — which they may propose at some point — and it would still not measure up to the pressure Homa faced needing to defeat Matt Fitzpatrick to keep the United States alive in the competition.
There wasn’t a lot of upside for Homa at that moment. The United States was most likely going to lose the Ryder Cup regardless of what happened on Homa’s putt. But for now, the Ryder Cup hung in the balance. It was black and white. If he missed, the Europeans would win. If he drained it, the United States still had a sliver of hope.
He hit the purest putt of his life.
How do you not feel thankful to bear witness to a moment like that?
Some stuff — thank god — will never be up for sale.
We are thankful, each day, for the existence of the alternative golf media, even the weird corners of Golf Twitter (which we refuse to refer to as X) that feel like they could be creatures in the Mos Eisley Cantina.
If Twitter sputters and flickers out, or descends further into a cesspool of bootlickers and losers, it will be a shame. Because golf, much like college football, has to be covered with a sense of humor if you’re going to do it right. Mainstream golf media has always been a little too stiff, a little too serious, for its own good. Imagine if there wasn’t a community of golfers eager to poke fun at the haughtiness.
This includes the litany of content creators on YouTube, most of whom seem to be having way more fun than anyone playing professionally.
In the same breath, we remain thankful and indebted to Data Golf, which has given us reams of stats to pore over, the quality of it far better than what any tour has to offer.
We are thankful for Trevor Immelman, who has been a beacon of hope in a frequently frustrating broadcast space. He is prepared, cogent, consistent and entertaining, qualities that are not often combined by those in his position.
We are thankful for Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm, two generational talents who remind us how much the majors matter above everything else. Would we like to see them face each other more often? Certainly. But what truly matters is watching them lock horns with history on the line. We remain optimistic we’ll see more of it in 2024.
We are thankful for the youth uprising in golf, for the way the game resets itself every few years and ushers in a new generation of potential. Like Ludvig, we are thankful for the promise of Rose Zhang, or her precocious, timeless swing. There was a world of expectation on her shoulders when she turned pro, and she has navigated it thus far with grace. (Winning in her first start didn’t hurt either.)
We are thankful for Adrien Dumont de Chassart, who made the most out of his PGA Tour U status and is quickly en route to the PGA Tour. And we are thankful for Sam Bennett’s unique swing and his unique facial hair. Bennett’s performance at the Masters represented some of the most exciting days of watching a major championship this year. And we are excited about recent NCAA national champions, Ricky Castillo and Fred Biondi, who have a chance to make noise as professionals. Platforming rising stars instead of letting them fade into pro golf obscurity was always the right move.
We are thankful for Angel Yin’s laugh, Charley Hull’s swagger, Lila Vu’s putting stroke and Nelly Korda’s tempo. Each was a reminder of how much joy we got this year out of following the women’s professional game.
We are thankful for architect Tom Doak, the crusty genius that he is. His routing of The Tree Farm, and his work on Pinehurst No. 10, represented two of the best courses we played this year, and it feels like he might be entering the most fun, dynamic period of his career.
We are thankful for the homemade peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at The Loop at Forest Dunes, for the chocolate chip cookies at Erin Hills, and the tacos at Sand Valley. You cannot go wrong with any of them, but if you buy one for yourself, buy a second (or a third) for someone in your foursome. Good karma will follow.
Lastly, we are thankful for The Tribe we have found in all of you — readers, listeners, viewers — a community of motley misfits who can’t help but make golf a regular part of your life.
We may not agree on everything. You may be skeptical about Åberg, annoyed with Rory McIlroy, or heavily invested in the future of the Aces, the Fireballs and the Cleeks. (Can you believe, btw, that Blandy re-signed so quickly?)
Perhaps all we have in common is we can’t resist chasing that feeling, the one you get when you flush a long iron and you watch it dance on the wind, well above the horizon line, just before it tumbles back to earth.
That’s all you need, some days, to chase the cynicism out of your body, and to feel thankful for whatever comes next.
Kevin Van Valkenburg is the Editorial Director of No Laying Up. He wrote this piece after consulting with other members of the squad on what they were thankful for this year. You can guess who nominated Ludvig.
Email Kevin at firstname.lastname@example.org.