Feb 6, 2009

Of Gods and Men (Part 1 &2)

Part 1: Of Gods and Men

Ahh, I love that. Not the color. The sound. The sound of a well hit golf ball.
Golf is a mystery to me. It’s a wondrous sport that we sometimes love to hate, yet it keeps calling us back no matter how bad things get. It’s a simple premise that takes a tremendous amount of skill and patience to play well. It can be very frustrating. It’s essential that we mere mortals leave certain things at home before going to the course. These things include expectations, emotions and guns. You need bring only a keen sense of humor. I tip my hat to anyone who, by the end of playing a round, can say that they still have all their clubs in their bag and a stable enough mind to operate a motor vehicle.

I believe you need to be super-human. Take the men and women on the professional tours. These are not mere mortals. An unseen hand has touched them. Butch Harmon's perhaps? A David Leadbetter? They play with such control, such certainty. How is it that they can hit a drive without taking up two feet of prime real estate or shape a shot that drops fifteen feet past the hole, then mysteriously reverses back to within three. No magic. No strings. It’s just divine.

I enjoy the game of golf especially when I’m eyeing every putt from the undulating green of my couch. I haven’t played in months. I’m not very good. Perhaps there are easier recreational endeavors that are not so taxing on the mind or body; things like log rolling or zoo docent. My commitment and faith to the game has dwindled so much that I’ve considered giving it up. Almost.

A while back, I attended a Champion's tour event, the one held by the senior PGA players. It was exciting to watch so many legends, these gods of the game, and in such an intimate and beautiful setting. When I arrived, Lee Trevino and Tom Watson were chipping on the practice tee. Bruce Lietzke and Andy Bean were further down, effortlessly hammering straight shots that disappeared into oblivion. Gary Player was already out on the course tending to his devoted flock of followers.
I watched them practice for a while then made my way down to the first tee. A crowd of fellow seekers had bunched around the tee box so I made my way up the fairway and waited at the dogleg with another group of believers. It was amazing how quiet we were, serene and silent, waiting for that unseen object to drop out of the sky. The people around me talked in low whispers as if in a holy place. The few that were disobediently using cell phones were unaware that they were setting themselves up for a sudden public stoning.
Then out of nowhere, I heard that sound again.

It’s what you pray for. The thud of the ball landed safely on the fairway about ten yards in front of us. In golf, there's always a chance that someone might drop suddenly, an unwitting recipient of an errant ball to the left frontal lobe. Two more thumps nearby indicated that things had gone well for the threesome teeing off and no calls for medical assistance were needed from any of us. Our threesome featured Trevino who hit a nice shot into the green up ahead. He made zigzag hand gestures to his caddie as though he had expected the ball to do something different. I would have been pleased with still having a ball to hit. Oh, these gods; so demanding.

As the crowd moved on, I waited. According to my schedule, Tom Watson was part of the next trinity, along with Doug Tewell and Peter Jacobsen. I decided to follow them. All of their tee shots landed in the same proximity as the previous group. While the players hovered with their caddies, we stood as still as lawn gnomes, our ears sharp to the hushed utterances on the fairway. We listened for a suggested path, a defining word. Any small crumb of truth that might help us unlock the mystery of this game. The trinity continued on, seemingly oblivious to our presence. They proceeded to create their own little universe, miraculously dropping balls around the flagstick like planets around the sun. I followed them on their pilgrimage for three holes and then decided to leave.
On the way out, I passed Raymond Floyd on the practice tee. He was going through his routine. I stopped and watched the way he stood over the ball, the form of his back swing and his classic finish. I seared the image in my mind. Was it possible to believe that I could shape myself in that image? Transform myself from mere mortal into...one of them? I was feeling a sudden renewal, a rebirth. Was there hope? Three holes of perfection had been enough to actually make me consider retrieving my golf clubs from the thrift shop. All the way home, I searched my spirit for an answer to the question: Could there be salvation for my game?

Later, as I dozed on the couch, I heard that beautiful angelic sound again. Pink!
Reaching for the remote, an undeniable truth revealed itself to me. God no. I realized then that if I were ever going to reach salvation, I would have to completely surrender and submit my life to golf’s siren call.
Starting from scratch, I was willing to renew my spirit, reclaim my clubs and with absolute free will, deliver my body and soul to golf’s ultimate madness.

Part 2: Of Gods and Madmen

I began with a basic fundamental: etiquette. Understanding that the game of golf is first and foremost, a gentleman’s game, I came up with five simple rules of etiquette to ensure a great round of golf. When out tearing up the course, I thought it might be useful to remember this acronym: OCRAP, which stood for Observe, Courtesy, Repair, Attire and Pretend.

#1 Observe
Golf is a game of observation. From the first tee to a rough fairway to the smooth surface of the green, the goal is to observe and follow your ball, your fellow foursome’s balls, and even other foursome’s wayward balls. You must always be observant for the game of golf is fraught with hazard. Water, sand, wildlife, marshy thickets, wandering elderly, well, it’s a real challenge to the full-of-himself golfer in his colorful attire. Try to forget for a while your own ‘look at me’ attitude and start looking around. You never know what’s lying ahead or for that matter, what’s tracking behind. Always be on alert. Golf is full of surprises. For instance, you may come upon an elderly couple quietly tending their tomato garden in a bunker on the eighth hole where unfortunately, your ball has landed. Senility may have led them to this place but they are more likely than not, harmless. Is it a surprise? Of course it is, quite frightening really. But if you’re observant, you may see that there are a bunch of discarded tomatoes littering the crooked path up to a house just behind the bunker. Suggest to them that you would like to purchase a few tomatoes and when they head off to the house to get you “a nice brown paper bag”, pitch your ball out (careful to avoid the scarecrow in tam o’shanter cap and knickerbockers) and move on quickly before they come back.

#2 Courtesy
Golf is played in the wonderful wonderland of nature. Lost in the wild, you’ll need to be aware and respectful of sharing this carved out piece of natural habitat with its current rightful inhabitants: eagle, rabbit, gofer, fox, snake, homeowner foolish enough to have purchased along fairway. All reside in your field of play and are potential targets for your unskilled gaffs. Yes, it is possible for your wayward tee shot to de-beak an unsuspecting falcon that was peacefully dozing in its nest deep in the woods some thirty feet off the fairway. It’s not unheard of to inadvertently scorch the top of a rabbit‘s skull or even blow a lizard in half that was minding its own business sunning on a rock near the thirteenth hole. (Oh, unlucky 13!)

These things weren’t planned but they happened anyway due to your unforeseen actions. There’s really nothing you can say other than “Yikes!” but if you find yourself stepping in and falling down this all too common rabbit hole of course discourse then listen up especially if you encounter that unpredictable homeowner. With him, you will need to muster all of the courtesy you can get.
Golf will test all of a player’s mental, physical and emotional considerations. The trick here is temperament. Don’t let these needless maiming and deaths affect your play. Just let it go. Yes, express a heartfelt apology to Mother Nature but then quickly move on. (run if you’ve only winged the coyote) It’s understandable that you’re upset at the loss. That ProV 1 cost bucks! If it’s that crazy homeowner that you encounter remember, it was he who fell for that real estate agents “Location! Location! Location!” bullshit and so tactfully inform him that damage to his broken sunroom window or headless ceramic lawn gnome should be settled with his HOA and not you. Remember, be courteous but pick your fights. There will always be something or someone just around the next dogleg that will challenge your sense of good golf etiquette.

For instance, out of the blue, a ball lands on the green just as you are about to putt. What is your response? Your initial reaction probably goes something like this: reason tells you golf balls don’t grow on trees so it didn’t just drop from that annoying knotty pine overhanging the green. Searching the horizon, you zero in on the asshole that had the luck to hit her ball some three hundred plus yards. You simmer as the foursome of silhouetted cavewomen dance and high-five each other. If this tribe of hostiles had any understanding of golf etiquette, they would know that all players currently on a green should be clear of it before the next group can hit. Did they extend you that courtesy? I think not but perhaps it was just an unfortunate mistake on their part. When a second ball lands even closer to the hole, follow this helpful rule. It’s called Burying the Hatchet.
Using a sand wedge, hatchet deep furrows in the green where their balls landed and then bury them deep using your heel to really get them down there. This should delay them for a while and allow time for some welcomed breathing room.
As the day wears on, you may grow tired and impatient and your genial spirit may start to suffer. Try to refrain from setting your clubs on fire. Instead, focus on your fellow players and offer courteous words of encouragement. Phrases like “Nice shot!” or “Great putt!” are cliché but always prized. Friendly warnings such as “Watch out for that OB marker or rattlesnake” are helpful too. Though most players don’t really mean it when they say it, it’s better than hearing, “ Nice shot…asshole!” or “Great putt…putzinberg!”
Courtesy is essential, a gift really and as with any gift, it’s the thought that counts.

#3 Repair
This rule is less of an issue mainly because you’re surrounded by nature and not in an environment that can be easily controlled or readily fixed. You can’t just turn off the wind. That huge sequoia rudely planted in front of your ball can’t be moved. That nutty squirrel running down the fairway with your ball can’t be arrested. What can you do? Just understand that the leaves, acorns and vermin strewn about can be a good thing, a logical reason as to why you didn’t play well. Replacing divots, plugging ball marks, raking bunkers; these minor disturbances shouldn’t bother you too much for they take very little time or effort to fix or ignore. Now if you come across, for instance, an unfortunate ‘Burying the Hatchet’ incident…

#4 Attire
Attire covers everything from what you wear to the clubs you use so be conscientious of how you appear on the course. Loud is a good way to start. I believe, depending on your handicap, following a color code similar to that of Homeland Security. It’s a safety issue. A bright red jumpsuit for a high handicapper tells fellow golfers you’re a clear and present danger. A serene green for a low scratch player suggests an incident-free round and just a hint of envy from others. Your golf clubs should also match your playing ability though this is usually not the case. Many players feel the fancier and more expensive the club; the better they will play. This truth is not always true. For instance, I was once paired with an imbecile dangerously waggling a shiny new Cobra. His ensuing tee shot traveled ten feet and forty-five degrees right, squarely into an unaware Palmetto bush. He had several immediate excuses ready. The day before, he had moved his three- bedroom apartment and he was currently nursing a hangover. I would suggest he wear a Caution yellow outfit that screamed “Liar!” Our round became nothing more than an advice column. “You should keep your head still when you swing,” he said while searching the water hazard. “You keep looking up.” On the next hole, a disembodied voice floated from the woods, “So you’re thinking a pitching wedge eh…from here?” This from a fool who, while on the way to the par five third, asked to borrow my extra golf balls and 3-wood.

#5 Pretend
Golf for most enthusiasts is a fantasy. It’s beautifully marketed on the idea that if you spend enough money and time on gizmos and gadgets, videos and lessons, practice and practice, you will eventually be able to break that magic number of 200. Yes it’s fun and good exercise and a way of escaping the family but ultimately it’s a chance to imagine possessing an improbable skill. Miraculously, that elusive skill will actually show up sometime during the round when by chance, one in your delusional foursome will fluke a magical shot. Congratulations will abound and all will pretend to buzz about the shot as if it had actually been planned. Try to remember that moment because it may be the one thing that will keep you all coming back to the course to try to recreate again.

* * *

My last round of golf was a disaster. Though I did try to renew my spirit by following my rules of etiquette and wearing something green, nothing worked. I lost all my balls on the front nine and walked away.

I periodically have thoughts of playing golf. I periodically have thoughts of purchasing a new set of Cobra golf clubs. My non-playing wife disagrees. A new washer and dryer have been suggested instead. Honestly, she may be right. I now think that golf may be a waste of time, money and valuable real estate that would be better used for building a state prison or a Costco. I’m realizing now that maybe it’s all bullshit. My clubs are down at Gig’s Thrift and Rifle Repair. I don’t care if he sells them or forges them into gun barrels or musket balls. They are out of my life! There will be no salvation for me.
No, get the washer and dryer combo. I’d rather sport a clean pair of shorts than a lingering foul mood.