baseball golf

When Golf and Baseball Converge

The start of the World Series gives pause to consider the striking similarities between the two sports 

By Michael Bamberger
October 28, 2022

At heart, golf and baseball are the same sport. In both you start at home—the first tee, home plate—head out and play back to the house. Along the way, all manner of strange things may happen, and often do. Is there anything riper for disaster than a baserunner in a rundown between third and home, or a golfer trying to play a ball in a creek? One reason, among many, we keep watching: We can’t get enough of the odd and the unpredictable.

And now the 118th playing of the World Series is upon us, with those upstart Houston Astros, born as the Colt .45s in 1962, playing the Philadelphia Phillies, who have been doing baseball since 1883. Baseball and golf are both games with rural roots that came of age when days had 24 hours, but seemed longer. This year’s U.S. Open at the Country Club was No. 121.

golf

Yes, that days-seemed-longer thing is borrowed from Harper Lee. The author of To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee grew up in Monroeville, Ala., and spent a lot of her time there smoking her way through rounds of golf at her home course. She spent her adult life in a modest apartment in New York City, smoking her way through radio broadcasts of Mets games. It seems that people who are drawn to baseball are drawn to golf, and vice versa.

As baseball had Babe Ruth, golf had Walter Hagen. As golf had Charlie Sifford, baseball had Jackie Robinson. As golf had Joe Dey, baseball had Kenesaw Mountain Landis. As baseball had Roger Angell, golf had Herbert Warren Wind.

John Smoltz, the former righthander for the Atlanta Braves, is a Fox baseball analyst. The Hall of Famer qualified for the 2018 U.S. Senior Open, but had no chance of making the cut after a first-round 85. As Lee Trevino has been saying forever, golfers have to play their foul balls.

The baseball swing and the golf swing are strikingly similar, when you look at them frame-by-frame. Clearing the hips is a key component to both. When you watch Jose Altuve, the Astros second baseman, at the plate, he kind of brings to mind Kevin Kisner over a golf ball: compact, square, under control, sneaky fast, line drives up the middle, where fielders ain’t and short grass is.

baseball

On the other end of the spectrum is Bryce Harper, the Phillies slugger, who stands at the plate like he owns it. Brooks Koepka did the same on some of golf’s biggest ballparks, standing on various tees at Bethpage Black on Long Island and Bellerive in St. Louis like he owned them. Leading up to the first game of the World Series, Harper batted .419 in 11 playoff games this fall. Koepka has eight tour wins, four of them majors. Different sides of the same coin.

When we played back-of-school baseball as kids, we did the knob-up ritual to see who would bat first. In golf, we flip the tee. Once again, with feeling: different sides of the same coin. Baseball and golf. Golf and baseball.

Koepka loves baseball, and his father’s uncle, Dick Groat, played for the Pittsburgh Pirates. “He played other sports, and he could have easily been a baseball player,” Tiger Woods once said of Koepka. “Players like that who come to golf generally hit the ball far because a baseball bat is so much heavier than a golf club. If you’re able to generate bat speed, you can definitely generate clubhead speed in golf.”

Tiger’s father, Earl Woods, played baseball at Kansas State just as Groat was starting his baseball career. Groat owns a golf course to this day. Tiger once compared the second shot on 13 at Augusta National, with the ball above your feet, to his days as a Little Leaguer and “a high inside fastball I have to turn on.”

baseball golf

Yes, we all sort of overdo our Little League experiences. Here’s my one-inning pitching line on the hill for People’s National Bank, circa 1970: walked four, struck out three, sent back to second base.

Tom Seaver’s father, Charlie, played on the U.S. Walker Cup team in 1932. About a month later, the New York Yankees beat the Chicago Cubs in the World Series, winning four straight. Seems like everybody’s talking about the summer and fall of ’32 these days. Last Saturday night I was at Citizens Bank Park, when the Phillies were playing the San Diego Padres in the fourth game of the National League Championship Series, to see who would represent the Senior Circuit in the Fall Classic.

Neither starter made it out of the first. So the question was asked, and no sport produces these kinds of questions like baseball does: Had that ever happened in a postseason game? Yes, Game 4 of the ’32 Series.

As a bit of sporting oddness, golf can’t give you that, but you can say this: You never know in either game. Paul Lawrie was 10 shots back after 54 holes in the 1999 British Open at Carnoustie—and the winner after 76. Jean van de Velde considered playing a shot out of a burn on the 72nd, but didn’t. Golf and baseball both have irregular playing fields, and the stop-time greatness of both games start right there. There is no dribbling out the clock or taking a knee in victory because there is no clock. You have to get 27 outs. You have to hole-out on the 72nd.

A playoff baseball ticket can be tough to snag. Not as hard to get as a Masters ticket, but about the same as one for a Ryder Cup. I was at Game 4 last week because Mike Tollin, a devoted friend and a devoted Phillies fan, had an extra one.

Mike and I met through a mutual friend, David Montgomery, who worked all his life for the Phillies, though he would not have used the word work. David and I knew each other both through golf (we played at the same club) and through the Phillies. He was a Phillies executive and I covered the team for a brief while. You could not know a finer human being—warm, funny, fair, patient, tough, dedicated. I was 2 up with three to play more than once and lost. He scored every game he ever attended, and that was in the thousands.

As you can draw a straight line from Charlie Seaver to Tom Seaver to the Astros’ Justin Verlander (talk about your big righthanders), the fourth game of the 1932 World Series is now and forever linked to the fourth game of the 2022 NLCS. You can draw a line from Robin Roberts, Phillies pitching legend, to David Montgomery to Mike Tollin.

The last time I saw David, he was in a hospital bed and we talked about Tiger’s recent win at the 2019 Masters. He wanted play-by-play. We talked about the Phillies prospects for the new season, spring optimism being a real thing. Dave died about two weeks later. Cancer, 72. There was no spring that year. The Phillies wore black. Cooperstown honored him.

The point here is that golf and baseball connect people, and the years, like little else in life can. If you have one or the other, you’re lucky. If you have both, you don’t need much else, not in the way of fun and games.

Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at [email protected]

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5 thoughts on “When Golf and Baseball Converge”

  1. Baseball used to be “America’s game””…..it is now second tier….has been for a long time. Wake up Michael. Sports connect people, as do the arts. Like minded people enjoy being together, it feeds their sense of being. Enjoy golf for what it is, an honorable sport with a narrow appeal that builds character, commands truth and displays respect to those who have built traditions for generations.

  2. The golf/baseball connection doesn’t really connect. Golf involves hitting a stationary ball off the ground with an assortment of stylishly designed and meticulously engineered sticks. Baseball involves hitting a speeding, spinning ball (often aimed directly at your head) with a blunt club. Golf is played in the great outdoors of woods, rivers, lakes, oceans, meadows, and deserts. Baseball is played on grass (or plastic) in enclosed stadia (often indoors). When writers start waxing poetically about baseball I am compelled to ask them if they’ve ever stood in a batters box and tried to hit a 98 mph fastball or an 85 mph curve ball aimed at their skulls. It’s really not something I would call poetic.

  3. Michael – as a Philly native and if I’m correct a Philadelphia Cricket Club member you must be reveling in our Phillies and Eagles success! Finishing 18 and watching the Eggles on TNF while simultaneously watching Game 5 of the World Series is a wonderful challenge to have!! Love Alan and you on the podcasts! PLEASE PLEASE consider doing a “Night with Michael Bamberger” at Media Theatre or similar venue! You would sell it out for us golfers and fans to hear your stories for 2 hours!! As a Philly native , you are the golf equivalent of Ray Didinger waxing poetically about the Eagles! My Best! Brian

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