Golf’s oldest championship, what Americans call “the British Open” and Europeans call “The Open Championship,” is underway on the Old Course at St. Andrews in Fife, Scotland. As a major championship, the event gets extensive TV coverage, but with Scotland being several time zones ahead of the U.S., ESPN’s coverage begins well before dawn.

I kept a TV on yesterday as I spent much of the morning doing household chores, and was amazed at how low some of the scores were: young Rory McIlroy, from Northern Ireland, went out early and shot a record-setting round of 63, nine shots under par. In fact, many of the golfers who played early also posted low scores. Those who had afternoon tee times, playing later in the day, did not fare so well.

Why the difference? Heavy rain the night before had softened the course, and there was no wind to speak of during the morning hours. Golfers had a field day. During the afternoon, the course began to dry out, and the wind kicked up, putting teeth back into the course and making it more difficult to play.

Afternoon golfers might have had reason to complain, but they did not, because they know “that’s golf.” Even when conditions are perfect, some golfers will get lucky bounces, and others will see it go the other way. A bad shot might hit a rock in the rough and bounce back into the fairway, while a beautiful drive striped down the middle may roll into a deep divot left by a previous player.

Having to play under different weather conditions or falling victim to bad bounces may seem unfair, but “fair” is not the question, other than that all players are subject to the same vicissitudes of the game. One of golf’s greatest lessons is that you learn to live with conditions as they are and play the ball as it lies: you don’t ask what’s fair, but recognize what is. Then you go from there.

Anyone who’s lived long enough will enjoy good weather and endure stormy times. We will get some good breaks and face some unexpected obstacles. In happy times, we may assume we’re deserving, while in hard times we may think life is unfair. As in golf, however, the question is not what’s fair but what is: we take the conditions as they are, we play the ball as it lies, and we go on.

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