When I’m feeling a little too good about myself – a little too self-assured – nothing brings me back down to earth, to my normal state of self-loathing and despair, like five hours of nonstop futility and embarrassment. No, I’m not talking about the time I spent writing last week’s blog article (although I can see why you might have jumped to that conclusion). I’m talking about golf.
Nothing reminds me of how inadequate I am like spending half a day in nature, searching in vain for tee shots gone terribly awry, in pursuit of lost golf balls hidden like buried treasure deep in the woods. Which leads me to this poignant ethical question:
If you lose your tee shot in the woods and in the process of looking for your lost ball find another ball, which your golfing partner does not notice, how many yards closer to the fairway can you move your new ball to improve your lie?
But I digress. While on TV the pros make it look so easy, the harsh reality is that golf is a sport whose primary purpose is to crush your spirit and leave you questioning your manhood (unless you’re a woman, that is). The game taunts you by allowing you just enough good shots per round to seduce you into coming back for one more try next month. (Footnote: these rare good shots are technically referred to in golfing lexicon as “flukes”.)
I’m a lousy golfer. I recently took up the sport (and by “recently” I mean June, 1967). In the intervening decades, one thing has stood out about this sport: how utterly impossible and frustrating this sinister game really is. I play a brand of golf that purists refer to as “nautical golf” – so named because of my tendency to tack between the left woods and the right woods – back and forth up the course, doing my utmost to avoid the nicely manicured wide open grass in the middle.
Not long ago, I took a series of golf lessons. From this experience, I came away with two important insights about the game of golf:
You need to remember to keep your eye on the ball and your left arm straight on the backswing and be sure to bring the club head back in a low arc, maintaining a slow, steady velocity, keeping your lower body quiet, while transferring your weight to your back leg on the upswing, always being mindful to avoid bending your wrist, and cresting your swing at roughly a 290% arc away from the target, remembering on the downswing to keep your head down while shifting the weight to your forward foot, rotating your hips in a coiling motion, as you increase the speed of your downward motion, remembering to roll your wrists upon contact with the ball, making sure that the blade is at a 90% angle to your target upon impact, while finishing your follow-through completely, with your waist facing the target, and transferring all your weight on your front foot, as the shaft of your club finishes its arc, coming to rest parallel to the target. It’s just that basic.
The techniques described in Insight #1 only will work on a driving range. The moment you step onto an actual golf course, none of what you learned will transfer. Scientists have proven that you cannot concentrate on more than one golf concept at a time. In most cases, as the golfer initiates their backswing on the first tee, the only thing the human brain is able to concentrate on is, “Why didn’t I pee before we started?”
Golf is an expensive game – costing avid weekend golfers on average approximately one-fourth of their annual take-home pay. So when you decide to take the leap, be sure to spend your money wisely when it comes to your equipment. The three most important clubs for the weekend hacker are their driver, their putter and their ball retriever. If you can only afford one of these, splurge on the ball retriever.
Earlier this year, I purchased a top-of-the-line titanium Titleist driver – pretty sure it’s the same type Tiger Woods’ wife used to smash out the windows of his SUV. I’m talking quality! The feel of my new driver was a bit awkward at first. But after a few trips to the driving range and some helpful pointers from a seven year-old girl who was two mats down from me, I can now consistently hit my drives 20 yards farther into the right side woods than ever before.
Then there’s the all-important putter. Experts (and by “experts”, I’m of course referring to that seven-year old girl two mats down from me at the driving range) say that the fastest way to shave strokes off your golf game is to improve your putting. Personally, I prefer my time-tested technique for consistently shaving off strokes by treating any putt I leave within nine feet of the hole as “a gimme.”
Last year I purchased a high tech, center-weighted alloy putter, with a grid pattern that looks like airport runway lights, designed to help guide my aim. After using it for less than two seasons, I am pleased to report that I have trimmed an average of 7 putts off my game. For full disclosure, I must add that this is primarily because I can’t figure out how to use the damn putter, so I typically put my putter away after about the 14th hole, as I no longer see the point to further compounding my frustration.
So if you’re looking for a way to elevate your blood pressure while lowering your self-esteem, take it from me – golf is your game. I’ve been at it for 45 years. I’m no closer to unlocking the mystery of this game than I am to understanding the appeal of Jersey Shore. The only change in my game in the last two years is that in addition to my banana slice, I have added a banana hook – and I’m just talking about my putting game.
But if after all these purchases – my new driver, my putter and my new ball retriever – and all the lessons I’ve been taking, my game continues to flail, I won’t give up on this cruel sport. I am not a quitter. I may just shift my selection of golf venues and try out some new courses – preferably ones with windmills, ceramic alligators, and pirate ships. And I won’t stop trying until I get the ball through the clown’s mouth on the very first try.
That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.
© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2011
I can see why so many men play golf. It must be thrilling to aim for out-of-reach, tiny holes. In this pursuit, men are allowed multiple attempts, and that’s satisfying because the hole isn’t going anywhere.
I’m just not masochistic enough to try golf; my life already blows.
My favorite club is my machete. It comes in quite handy when my slice catches a wind shear. Unfortunately, I sometimes confuse my machete technique with my mid-range iron technique. This can lead to inintended de-foliation. (Which might help the kudzu problem in the South.)
I also bring along a potion that is guaranteed to help your game. It’s a one-quart bottle of So Help Me Hannah, the official poison ivy treatment of the Albany (NY) Country Club where I learned experiential botany on the front nine.
I just want to know why I can’t hit a two-acre green but I can pick off a greenskeeper on the adjacent hole like I am firing a laser guided missle.
Tim, I share your concerns about golf…in fact, the last time I enjoyed golf, I was dragging a 35 Gallon trash can full of ice and beer across and un-named US Navy Golf Course, while the senior guys in the platoon played with their “New and Revised” Starlight Scopes and new sound suppressors on a CAR 15 (now known as an M-4).
The game went like this:
you bring only 3 clubs, a driver, a putter, and your choice of the 3rd. One Squad would Tee off, while the other tried to follow the ball with their scope, (adding a little tritium to the balls, golf, that is, helped visualize them better). Wherever the ball landed, the other squad now tried to shoot it where it lay, if successful, the teeing off squad relinquished the next shot, they had to come up with a ball for the opposing squad to tee off with. Boys being boys, particularly with access to explosives, each game became a little more risky. We finally had to stop when one ball blew up, sending shards of metal into the offending putter’s ankle. We had a tough time explaining that one.
Nonetheless, despite my “Pack-Mule” designation as the newest member and thus dragging the beer around, never shooting a shot, I still enjoyed the game more than when I’ve ever held a golf club in my hand. You might say I’ve been spoiled….
Tim, I never had enough money to play golf, although two of my best friends at the school you and I attended were members of the golf team. I covered golf tournaments during my media career; my wife, younger stepson, and brother-in-law are all golfers; and spring hasn’t officially arrived until I watch the Masters on TV. So I’m able to experience most of the frustration of golf without actually playing it. As for the idea that golf is a metaphor for life, my dream is to go through life like Boo Weekley — who was actually laughing when his putt rimmed the cup on one of the closing holes at Colonial last week — and not like Tiger Woods, who, after sinking a brilliant birdie on an impossibly difficult hole, invariably looks as though his best friend has just died.