As I watched my new, and inebriated, friend Chris top shot after shot on the range, it dawned on me I was watching the living embodiment of a proverb, one etched on pub walls across the world:
“Alcohol is necessary for a man so that he can have a good opinion of himself, undisturbed by the facts.”
How does alcohol affect your golf game? For centuries, hackers have sought the answer. The prevailing notion is that one or two beverages serve as proper “swing oil,” loosening the muscles and easing those first-tee apprehensions. Others posit three-to-four drinks do the trick, with a vocal minority claiming a six-pack is their Valhalla. (These folks might be called “alcoholics,” but who are we to judge?)
Just as important? Knowing how much is too much. In essence, where’s the line between feeling like Happy Gilmore – busting drives, going for broke, not a care in the world – to, ahem, acting like Happy Gilmore?
It’s a line we set out to discover. I joined fellow Golf Digest editor Stephen Hennessey, along with volunteer Chris (we’re holding his last name to protect his family from further embarrassment) at Rock Ridge Golf Club in Newtown, Connecticut to explore the relationship between alcohol and golf. And by “explore,” we mean pounding brews over a six-hour range session. All in the name of science. Or love of the game. Honestly, we forgot the purpose after beer No.3.
Our test involved three golfers – a low, mid and high handicap – hitting six drives, six approach shots and six putts, tracking the results of each performance. To achieve a baseline, we did each exercise sober. Judging by the scores, you’re forgiven for thinking we snuck a sip of grandpa’s cough medicine beforehand.
Following our first go-around, we headed to the bar to commence consumption. I assumed, given this examination was on camera, we would be served nothing short of the finest, smoothest lager in the land. I assumed wrong, as two Fosters cans came sliding in my direction. Worse, the director of the shoot barked to down them with the fury of a college freshman at a fraternity rush. As enticing as spending a work day hitting balls and getting drunk sounded, I suddenly realised this was a bad idea.
Note: the driving distances in the video are on the lower side. The launch monitor went down in warm-ups, so an observer was tasked with guessing our carries. This guy was so stingy he made the French Olympic skating judge look benevolent. I’ve added a 20-yard bump to each carry as a result. And yes, this preface is a direct response to our experiment’s YouTube comment section.
After Two Drinks
The National Institute of Health classifies heavy drinking as a pathological reaction to unresolved grief. Perhaps this is why many a golfer finds refuge in the bottle, I thought, as my iron shots sailed away from their intended target.
As part of the tracking process, we were breathalysed before each new round to ensure we were properly lathered up. Everything was also captured on film, something that will undoubtedly hinder a promotion at my end-of-the-year review. My blood-alcohol concentration following the first blow: 0.04. On the board.
Steve handles himself with a bit more aplomb than Chris, gaining distance off the tee and corralling the flagstick with his approaches. Of course, Steve did attend Penn State; a sixer over nine holes is what they call Tuesday in Happy Valley.
One of the producers asks if I’m feeling any positive effects of the alcohol on my performance. I respond with confidence that it feels like I’ve added five yards of carry. Upon closer look, turns out I actually lost distance. I am that guy at the bar who thinks he’s in the zone on the dance floor, but in reality appears to be having a seizure.
Dr Ara Suppiah, one of the leading sports-medicine physicians on the US PGA Tour, calls this – “this” being four drinks deep – the “excitement” phase. The senses are dulled, drowsiness and erratic behaviour sets in, and coordination goes out the window. All illustrated in varying degrees by Chris, who, halfway through the driver exercise, admits he’s not sure he’s holding the right club and proceeds to nearly take out a cameraman with a lateral shot. This does not temper his enthusiasm one iota.
Suppiah also notes that a drinker tends to be more talkative in this stage, which could explain why Steve is dishing out running play-by-play commentary, including a shout of “Bony Moronie.” Not 100-percent sure what that means, though damned if it didn’t sound poetic.
According to Dr Suppiah, one’s pain is supposed to feel suppressed after six beers. “Supposed to be” being the operative phrase, as – following three lips-outs in five putts – I have the sudden urge to send my flat stick flying into the woods. However, beer muscles are apparently a thing, as my drives go an average of 16 yards farther compared to the sober test. Popeye has spinach, I have Fosters. Not sure what this says about my golf game, or possible addiction.
Alas, the struggle is real for Steve and Chris, as both see massive drops in iron and distance performance. They seem to be having the time of their lives, though, and really, isn’t that what golf is all about?
Besides, Chris delivers the gem of the day after the short-game session, declaring “Putts are putts” in his self-evaluation. Chris has either tapped into the mind’s subconscious, or has no idea what the hell he’s saying. I’m not here to play God.
Iii jusss wanna thankk allll you guysss for readin’ alonggg it’s soo, soooo nice to feeel loved yaknowww? Whennn thiss is all overr I’ma thinkin’ we shoulddd openn our ownnn golf coursee, righttt? Righttt.
I should point out my alcohol reading before the final round is .14, nearly triple the limit. Don’t even think about driving under such conditions. Cars, that is. Golf balls? Well, judging by our results, don’t do that, either. Though distances were relatively unaffected (Steve and I saw jumps in yardage), our accuracy was that of a Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn fastball. Had this been a real round, it would have been a Herculean effort to get one drive in the short stuff.
However, this stage does give us the highlight of the afternoon, as Chris – who had made all of nine putts in the previous four rounds – sinks four-out-of-five attempts. The production team went nuts. At least I think they went nuts. (Looking at video.) Okay, only Steve and I went nuts. So much for the “stupor” stage, which says one is apathetic to their surroundings.
Our conclusion? In distance, second-shot proximity and putting, the performance remained relatively steady. Driving accuracy, unfortunately, went way south following four drinks. Given the importance of the tee ball in today’s game, a discovery not to be taken lightly.
As for the indulgence aspect? Sure, as the drinks went down, the silliness went up. Yet, as is often the case at a bar, bowling alley or the tee box, it’s not the drinks that maintain your enjoyment, but the company you keep. “Putts are putts,” as Chris says.