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VOL. 38 | NO. 30 | Friday, July 25, 2014

Tee for 2? Why do golf ‘pairings’ come in threes?

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“Got a pair of nickels for a dime?”

“Sure. Here you go: five, 10, 15 cents.”

On Saturday of the U.S. Open, Frankie Frisco’s “Second Thoughts” column in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette began, “Every golf tournament claims that pairings and tee times are mostly picked at random ….”

Going forward, the item reported, as had other news outlets the day before, that a certain pro golfer was unhappy that, for the Open, he and two other golfers had been put in the same threesome for round one.

It seems all three of these golfers weigh in excess of 230 pounds, leading to the possibility of sophomorically insensitive jokes. Don’t pretend to be aghast that golf fans would be so inclined.

Several who, no doubt, exercised restraint referred to the group as “the heavyweights.”

“Someone’s bright idea! Put the three big guys together,” the golfer, an Irishman, wrote in an op-ed piece. “It is definitely not drawn out of the hat, that’s for sure. I just hope we don’t get stick from the galleries.”

Stick is apparently Irish for sophomoric jokes.

One of the other golfers, an American, said that the USGA was “invoking their 5-year-old sense of humor.” That, of course, would be years before becoming a sophomore.

Frisco, along with Shane Bacon, speculated on what might ensue in similar circumstances at the U.S. Women’s Open.

It’s not my intent to write about the weight of pro golfers or the sensitivity indices of the USGA. I want to know how we, the speakers and writers of the English language, came to let the word pairing mean a group of three – even if in only one sport.

Type in pairing at OneLook, and the four definitions (from MacMillan and WordNet) that appear instantly are

  • The act of making two people do something together or of putting two things together
  • A pair of people or things
  • The act of grouping things or people in pairs
  • The act of pairing a male and female for reproductive purposes.

(I cannot but bemoan loss of the injunction to avoid using the word one is defining in that word’s definition. But that’s not the point.)

The point is that pair implies two. Strike that. Pair doesn’t imply two, it means two. You simply cannot decide to start calling threesomes pairs! Even if you’re a golfer, USGA official, or sportswriter.

Webster’s clarifies that pairing is the present participle of pair. Meanings include:

  • The combination or union of two things
  • The act of grouping contestants or teams in a tournament into competing pairs
  • The list of such pairs
  • In the tech world, establishing a connection between one device and another.

In every instance, pair definitionally equates to two of something or to joining two things.

I see no reason why golf people (and I’m one of these) can’t use grouping when threesomes are involved. It works even if twosomes are involved.

I’d love to have your thoughts on this point.

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.

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