Originally published in Asbury Park Press June 22, 2018
If you’re a golfer, read no further. I have nothing to offer that you don’t already know and in some cases would rather not be reminded. However, if you’ve never played the game and have no intention of doing so, I think I can make you feel good about yourself.
I am a golfer. I’ve been playing golf for over thirty years. When I started out, I was VERY BAD. But I practiced. I took lessons and went to the driving range. I worked on my short game and logged in long hours on the putting green. I subscribed to all the major golf magazines, read their tips, and drilled away. It may have taken three decades but I can confidently say that I have now elevated my game to the status of simply BAD.
This is no admission of self-deprecation. I’m probably in the top twenty percent. The inference here is that this is a game that almost everyone does poorly. I just like to be in the majority.
Good golfers have a “handicap”. That is the average score above Par (which is the recommended score for Tiger Woods). Most courses have a par of 72 so if your handicap is a 10, your average score is 82. My handicap is the inability to even maintain possession of my golf balls. They seem to prefer the company of oaks and poison ivy. One day, at Forge Pond in Brick, we came upon a fox sitting squarely in the middle of the fairway. Apparently he felt that was the safest place.
Most golfers, even bad golfers, are obsessed with the game. It is the centerpiece of their life, marriage being a distant second. But it’s not just the performance that’s daunting; it’s the related nuances that are equally imposing. Tee times, for example.
Tee times are arranged in eight minute intervals, meaning that a group of four should take eight minutes to move along before the next group tees off. This is a time frame with no foot in reality. The first tee time is coordinated with sunrise. At this time of year, around 6:30. Invariably the first group to tee off are senior citizens. It’s a known fact that old people don’t sleep so they’ve already been watching TV for two hours. Now that they’ve been schooled in the best way to develop killer abs and prepare for their “final expenditure”, it’s time to hit the links. This may be due to the anticipation of a good round or the fact that they went to bed right after their afternoon nap.
After this foursome, the time frame quickly unravels while one golfer after another launches a drive that falls eight feet in front of them. Some players correct this miscue by taking a “mulligan”, a made-up when the second attempt falls short of the first.
The book of rules for golf is only slightly longer than the Bible. If you’re in a tournament or playing for money or battling OCD, you must follow the rules. That’s like driving under 70 on the Parkway. There is a secret to successful golf. It is unspoken but universally known. If you want to break 100, don’t count everything! The ball you kicked out from behind a tree? If nobody saw it; it didn’t happen. The one you puff up in the high grass? Why do you think they call it a rough? Of course, it shouldn’t count.
After flailing away for a couple hours, some golfers seek salvation in the beer cart. This is a golf cart stocked with beer, snacks, and soda and driven by a girl auditioning for Hooters. Because there is a direct correlation between the length of your drive and your manhood, after six straight holes of emasculation, the only redemption is to cleverly flirt with this eighteen-year old and buy a round. Figuring in a gi-normous tip (because she’s obviously “into you”), you’ll be fifty bucks lighter for your next approach shot.
Golf balls are attracted to water. It’s in their DNA. Isn’t it enough to just lose a ball? You need to get penalized too? There is a remedy for this: a ball retriever. The ball retriever is a telescopic pole with a cupped end that can be stretched out into a pond and cradled around a ball. But, as with everything, there are side effects. Golf balls, like minnows, tend to congregate in clusters. The tendency to retrieve as many balls as possible is unavoidable. Some guys take this opportunity to restock their bag. Meanwhile the group behind them take the opportunity to hit balls at him as a subtle reminder that they too would like to play.
Golfers are an encouraging lot. If you miraculously manage to dislodge your ball from a sand trap, It’s a “nice out”. Doesn’t matter where it goes; it could land in the parking lot; out is out and it’s nice. Every ball that drops in the hole is a “nice putt”. Twenty feet or twenty millimeters, it’s a praiseworthy event. No par ever goes un-applauded. “Nice par” is the proper accolade. It’s unthinkable that a par could be anything but nice.
The game of golf was invented in Scotland. This we know. Most likely by a woman scorned. This we can just surmise. She must have taken great delight in watching some heart-breaker sling his sand wedge into a tree. Or pound the turf with his three-wood until he needed Tommy John surgery and knowing full-well that Tommy would not make his entrance for another hundred years.
It’s not a game; it’s a disease. It’s responsible for more failed relationships than infidelity. More bad debt than student loans. But that one crisp shot; that one great putt, that one birdie makes us come back for more. Now aren’t you glad you have Netflix?