PGA Championship

Valhalla Golf Club

Pars On Mars

June 15, 2015

Chief scientist Jocelyn Dunn, a former college golfer, tried shots with her 7-iron during a NASA-funded Mars simulation mission on the Big Island of Hawaii.

My game has advanced as far as inattentive occasional viewing of the Golf Channel is likely to take it, and if I'm ever going to be the greatest player in the world (I now understand) I'm going to have to move to a different world. An opportunity to do that has serendipitously arisen: A Dutch organization I'd never heard of is vetting candidates for a manned mission to Mars. The organization, called Mars One, hopes to launch in 2024. I missed the application deadline, but that doesn't worry me because I'm pretty sure that, by the time liftoff rolls around, all the eager, adventure-hungry would-be astronauts whose pictures appear on Mars One's website will have realized they can't go after all, because they have to take their kids to soccer practice. I, meanwhile, will be old enough for Medicare and Social Security, so I won't mind spending seven or eight months lying on my back and staring through a tiny window at the blackness of space. My impending status as the combined Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods of the outermost planet in the inner solar system will make the trip seem to zip by, and will more than make up for the unavailability of return transportation. (Mars One is one-way.)

Athletic greatness is as much a matter of timing as of talent. I would have finished no worse than 11th in the first U.S. Open, in 1895, if I'd simply shown up and stuck around for all 36 holes. And if I'd averaged better than 43 strokes per nine-hole loop (Newport Country Club, the venue, didn't have 18 holes yet), I would have won: my first major! Then, just by staying alive for the next 70 years, I could have played in the Masters 26 times, because until 1963 all past and present Open champions got in automatically. That would have given me a record of 20 consecutive Masters appearances without missing a cut, since the first cut wasn't imposed until 1957. My best chance for victory would have been in 1938, when the field was just 42 players, or about two-thirds the size of my club's member-guest (which I've won twice!). In the 1930s, hardly anyone counted the Masters as a major, but as soon as it made the list the previous winners received retroactive upgrades. That would have brought my lifetime majors total to two, the same as Ben Crenshaw, Johnny Miller and John Daly. As is usually the case in life, it pays to get in early.

On Mars, I'm not going to settle for two majors, because if my golf clubs and I survive the rocket trip I'm going to totally dominate the game. Gravity on Mars is only a third of what it is on Earth, and the atmosphere is only a hundredth as dense; that means my tee shots will fly 700 yards or so, with virtually no slice. Temperatures on Mars are lower than on Earth—around minus-200 degrees Fahrenheit near the poles during the winter—but I live in New England, so I'm used to playing in gloves. On the plus side, Mars has no rain, and although it sometimes has frost it has no frost delays (there's no grass). Scientists say that Martian dust and wind storms are less severe than they used to be, for unknown reasons. Again, that's only going to be good for my game.

Because I'll be not just the best player Mars has ever known but also its greatest architect, I'll be able to create courses that perfectly suit my game, the way Nicklaus did with Muirfield Village. Expect innovative bunkering, greens shaped like the heads of "Simpsons" characters, and generous rules concerning relief from rocks. Naturally, I'll call penalties on myself when necessary (you might as well praise a man for not robbing a bank!), but I'm not expecting trouble. Future generations will remember me as a remarkable player and a true gentleman—and I can say that for a certainty because the history of golf's early years on Mars will, perforce, be written by me. No one, on any world, will ever have seen anything like it.