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Golf vs. Basketball: Which Sport Is Tougher?

Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player of all time, has openly stated that he believes the hardest sport to play is golf. This begs the question, which sport is tougher, golf or basketball?

Although golf and basketball are very different sports, there is enough overlap in each sport that it can be said that basketball is the tougher sport. While golf is mostly a mental game, basketball is a more demanding sport physically and requires a smart team strategy to be successful.

“Toughness” is a difficult metric to measure anything due to its subjective nature. While toughness implies physical strength, agility, and raw power, it would be amiss to dismiss the need for mental and strategic toughness.

Let’s dive into the debate of golf vs. basketball and see which sport is tougher.

Golf Balls and Basketballs. Golf vs. Basketball

Golf vs. Basketball – Physical Differences

Whether you are playing at a competitive or casual level, a typical basketball game consists of twelve minutes a quarter for a total time of forty-eight minutes. Bearing in mind that the clock stops for fouls, time-outs, injuries, etc. 

Although forty-eight minutes with breaks doesn’t seem like a particularly long time, the nature of basketball is a sport that requires high-intensity explosive power for the entirety of game time.

This requires full-body movement and awareness of all the players on the court. Both attacking and defensive duties will require large amounts of sprinting, forceful physical contact against other players, jumping, passing, and shooting.

Consequently, basketball players must be fast, strong, and agile to perform at the highest level.

Basketball also tends to attract athletes that are naturally tall and long-limbed. As of 2019, only two players in the NBA were shorter than six-foot.

Basketball Game

In contrast, while a round of golf can last for hours depending on the time it takes for a player to complete eighteen holes, it is a game that encourages a leisurely pace.

Along with ample stops, halfway house breaks, easy-to-walk courses, and the quality of life benefits such as caddies to carry golf bags or golf carts to traverse a course, the challenge of golf does not rely on one’s physical prowess.

An exception to the rule is the ban on golf carts in most competitions, but this still does not take away from the fact that, except for some golfers that look for distance off a tee shot, it is not nearly as physically demanding as basketball. 

Not surprisingly, many basketball players have an excellent athletic background for golf when considering metrics such as players’ height, developing explosive power, and coordination.

Tougher Sport: Basketball

Golf vs. Basketball – Mental Differences

Both Michael Jordan and Stephen Curry have hailed golf to be a harder sport regarding mental fortitude than basketball, primarily due to the individual nature of golf compared to basketball’s team dynamics.

The challenge with golf as an individual sport is that it’s always a game of individuals vs. other individuals. Some tournaments are an exception, such as the Ryder Cup.

This means that you are always looking to play against yourself as you reduce your strokes over hours and often days during lengthy tournaments.

While including multiple team members for moral support, even team golf tournaments cannot play or strategize each team member’s strength against each other.

Instead, each golfer must complete a full round of golf by themselves, whereafter the scores are tallied up to determine which team won.

Further to the challenges of golf as an individual sport, it’s a fact that golf is all about consistency, be it over a lifetime or simply from shot to shot.

A single poor shot can derail a hole, round, or even an entire tournament for a golfer. It then depends on how they react to a poor shot and their subsequent response as the round progresses.

Therefore golfers need to be confident, calm, and precise with every shot they take and the subsequent result from the shot. Do you want to know more about the mental side of golf? Check out this article, Why Golf Is a Mental Game.

A Golfer Putting

While basketball also requires mental toughness in the face of opposition teams, the inclusion of teammates, vocal crowd support, and the reduced pressure of doing everything perfectly, means it relies more on team dynamics to remain confident.

Further to the above, while golf requires a cool head at all stages of a round, basketball encourages different players to employ different mental stages to succeed, including aggression or volatility, which golf does not promote.

Tougher Sport: Golf

Golf vs. Basketball – Strategic Differences

Golf is an incredibly strategic sport, as the various weather conditions, club options, and courses present multiple challenges for golfers to overcome.

For this reason, top golfers all employ professional caddies to help them strategize and determine the best choice of club and stroke for every shot during a tournament.

However, while numerous dynamics to golf require an on-the-fly strategy, the use of consistent courses and tested shots means that the individual strategies being employed fall squarely on one person who can adjust their game on the fly.

On the other hand, basketball is a team sport, whereby whole coaching teams need to employ offensive, defensive, and emergency strategies before and during games.

These strategies need to correlate to the strengths and weaknesses of each player in a team. They also need to relate to the strengths and weaknesses employed by the opposition and whatever strategies they may employ before and during a game.

Furthermore, the speed at which basketball operates and the added dynamics of injuries, fouls, suspensions, etc., means that both coaches and players have to adapt strategies on the fly and communicate the change to their team.

Plus, a player having a poor game or not executing the coach’s game plan in basketball can be ‘benched,’ whereas this is not an option in golf.

In conclusion, while golf is undoubtedly a challenging sport from a strategic perspective, the holistic nature of basketball as a team sport that favors quick reactions both physically and mentally means that it slightly trumps golf in this regard.

Tougher Sport: Basketball (albeit marginally)

Let’s Wrap This Up!

Due to golf mainly being an individual sport and basketball being solely a team sport, it will always be up to the individual playing each sport to determine which is harder.

However, the consensus would suggest that basketball is a tougher sport than golf. When contemplating the whole golf vs. basketball debate, which sport do you think wins the ‘tough award?’

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