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Out of Bounds: The new Coronavirus mutant is airborne. Lockdown or not, this is not the time to be playing golf in India

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Set up a net indoors if you have the space, or use a mirror. Don’t go out to play

“It’s a real pain, I can’t even take a caddy,” pinged one of the members on a golfers’ group on an instant-messaging platform. Other members took the cue to make silly if not entirely mistimed jokes on this gent’s lack of fitness levels, or how pulling his own clubs might not be a bad way to finally get into shape. I sat there, looking in bewilderment at my phone that kept pinging as more and more people joined in the action.

I didn’t say anything: for the past few weeks I’ve become rather unpopular on some of these groups that I have been, willingly or unwittingly, drafted into. No one likes to hear ominous predictions; and no one is interested in portents of doom; especially, as one of the members pointed out. “You’re just frustrated because there’s a lockdown in Delhi, and you can’t play. We’re lucky to be living in Gurgaon.” Right.

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The suburban cities of India’s National Capital Region—Noida and Gurgaon—do not have complete coronavirus lockdowns in place. And, from what I can gather, based on the frenetic requests for setting up four-balls, and games at different courses, a large number of my fellow golfers in these cities haven’t yet truncated their playing schedules.

I don’t get it. Specifically, I don’t get why they don’t they get it. What pit bunker have people buried their heads into, to not comprehend, not just the gravity of the catastrophe that Delhi, like most parts of India, is witnessing, but the remarkable danger that their actions pose to themselves and the world at large.

In theory, you could book your round online, tee it up an hour before sunrise, pull your own bag, play alone, have zero interaction with anyone, and rest at ease knowing that you’ve minimised your chances of being infected with Covid-19. I was certainly of that belief a couple of months back but have had to re-evaluate things in light of new emerging scientific data about the new mutation that’s wreaking havoc in Delhi. Apparently, this new evolved variant is airborne, and by that I don’t mean just through droplets emanating from the breath of someone who’s a carrier. A microscopic organism that could be lurking anywhere in the air that we breathe. An invisible enemy most insidious. I know this is not what most players want to hear: I’ve got plenty of blowback on these views on golfing fora online. But trying to make sense of such egregious madness is of the same order of difficulty as shooting par on a pitch dark night.

Thankfully, for most of us, not being able to go and play gives us time to indulge in our favourite off-course activity: working on the golf swing at home. The lucky few have golf simulators at home; I have a gorgeous Korean putting mat (slopes et al); but everyone has a full length mirror and that’s all you need to re-work on fundamentals-stance, grip, alignment, and swing positions. Jack Nicklaus’s now-famous anecdote about doing precisely that for a full month before he was allowed to hit a golf ball is the stuff of lore. I don’t think any of us have ever done that for a week, let alone a month. This might be a good time to start.

Professional golf tours around the world are still trying to stick to tournament schedules, albeit sans spectators. If all goes well, then it’s likely we might see the return of normalcy by the end of the year, but as things stand right now, even the 2021 Tokyo Olympics may or may not take place. In principle I understand, and agree with, the argument for keeping professional sports going for the sake of giving fans something to cheer about. But irrespective of all the safeguards, there is no doubt that we’ll never really be able to guarantee zero transmission until most of the world is vaccinated. And it is a gamble for all the athletes taking part in sporting events; all it takes is for one person to fall prey to the virus, and the entire show could go up in flames.

Golf, by all accounts has fared relatively well during the pandemic, and has been considered a ‘safe’ sport albeit with social distancing and other caveats in place. This new mutant, however, appears to have the ability to neutralise all these seemingly effective measures. And so it is, that, with a heavy heart (I do understand your pain), we must insist on putting the weekend Nassau on ice.

I understand passion for golf; I really do. If I’d put half the effort that I’ve put into the game over the past two decades, into a business venture, then I would have been a millionaire many times over.

It’s not a game for us; it’s a way of life; a panacea for all ills, for all afflictions, except, as it turns out, the Coronavirus that will strike us down if we continue to act irresponsibly. Enthusiasm for golf is the most infectious malady there is; just know that this time around a sneaky virus might piggyback on that and ruin everything. If, like me, you want a long golfing life, then it’s imperative that you take a break. Don’t tee it up.

A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game

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