My life has been upended, as I'm sure yours has.
Entering a third month with golf courses closed by edict, the prospect of playing golf again inspires me to look past the annoyances that come with suddenly having no personal space and little time to do my actual job instead of substitute teaching first grade.
This crisis certainly has to put my role in society into perspective. My career is being an informing distraction. Writing and talking about golf isn't an essential job in the governmental sense of the word.
I advocate for the game and hope to hold it to account for its shortcomings. A lot of people are riding on the golf industry to keep the sport from being a four-letter word.
In the same vein, it's become clear that the word influencer should probably be a word we don't use anymore. Eliminate it from the lexicon. The word is devoid of meaning.
Whether a podcaster, a trick-shot artist, a golfer photographed in complimenting athleisure apparel or an internet scraper taking someone else's funny golf memes and videos that for the embellishment of their follower counts, we are a distraction. The self-aware ones always knew that, but it should be obvious now.
That's not to imply this niche of people are useless. Quite the contrary. We all need distractions right now to prevent the cacophony of voices in our heads filled with doubt, fear and longing from overpowering us. Entertainment is helpful. However, even before the pandemic, it was becoming clear that most folks with lots of followers don't have the perceived power of persuasion on which many marketers wagered. Now needing to confront a stark reality, it's clear only a select few are a dual threat: entertaining and commercially convincing.
Social-media personalities and marketing types concocted the idea of an influencer with an ill-conceived idea that people who have a gift for corralling followers ipso facto also have a gift for convincing people to spend money on most anything. Marketers always want to get their wares where the masses are looking and listening. The people with burgeoning platforms wanted to escape their dayjobs and needed to convince marketers their endorsement has a price -- and a value.
With at least 40 or 50 million Americans out of a job, furloughed or taking a smaller salary, the economy is at a standstill. No captivating picture of a far-off destination will convince people to get on a plane. It's difficult to get people to purchase golf equipment and apparel when their account balance is in danger of dipping below zero. Those 50-somes on a municipal golf course will, sadly, have to wait. The entertainment business has always been difficult. Now, it's even more challenging. The attention economy has been monopolized.
The influencers are governments. They have the ultimate influence: the law. Our leaders, however qualified they may or may not be, hold sway over our decisions. When I can go again through my fence and play golf with my friends is completely up to Maryland governor Larry Hogan. He is not posting pouty-faced -- at least that I can tell with the face mask -- selfies on Instagram.
The influencers are my neighbors and the thousands of people I don't know. I'm relying on them to wear face coverings in public, to stay 6 feet away from people they don't live with, to do the right things to prevent the spread of COVID-19 so that we can collectively get back to doing even a slither of the stuff we can't do now. For every 100 people doing the right thing, there's a goofball who's mad they can't just go into any store hacking it up into the open air because they've been somehow convinced this is an elaborate hoax geared to impede their God-given freedoms.
The influencers are the grocery-store workers, front-line health-care workers, delivery drivers and scientists who are working feverishly to keep our society from fraying apart completely. They're making sure we can feed our families and wipe our hands and butts. They're walking into disease traps on a daily basis, for modest hourly wages, to risk their lives. A global network of geniuses have dropped everything they were working on to beat back an unknown enemy in record time.
Golf entertainers are distractors. How do distractors -- people who are trying to make a living on likes, follows, hearts and views -- go about make a livelihood selling themselves instead of now-constricted purchases? The secret is simple, but the execution is often illusive.
The best distractors convince their fans that their timeline is something they can achieve. It's not sinister; it's just business.
Who wouldn't want to be at a top-10 resort in America, playing golf with a photogenic, charismatic, attractive person?
It would be great would it be to travel the country at your leisure, staying in the best accommodations and having a once-in-a-lifetime tee time be a regular thing.
Wouldn't it be reassuring to be in the know on the hidden gems -- or the ones that don't even yet exist -- as a badge of cool?
What whimsy it would be to be to speak in a vernacular and with a casual irreverence reserved for those in the know!
Distractors sell a skewed sense of reality. That you don't have to keep playing the muni all the time. That someone much more attractive than your weekly foursome longs of jetsetting to an iconic destination and can get you there. That you're not alone.
That message might be powerful right now. We're all spending more time -- in many cases, all of our time -- at home. There's no doubt millions of people are feeling a sense of societal disconnect. No amount of Zoom happy hours, video chats, nighttime walks or hurried grocery-store trips can fix that. However hollow a sense of belonging and escape might feel, it can be powerful.
Still, this crisis compels us to figure out what really matters. What matters is what we really have. We have golf. The game gives us wanderlust, exercise, unexpected camaraderie and a lifetime chase of the impossible. It gives all that wherever we seek it, however we want it, without pretense or presumption. Golf is the ultimate distractor, and we need it more than ever.