It’s a stupid game. A famous person described it as a good walk spoiled. Someone else said it is a lot of walking, broken up by disappointment and bad arithmetic. I am talking about the game of golf. It may be a stupid game, an opinion shared by David Feherty, who played on the European Ryder Cup team a few decades ago, but it is also my new passion. I guess that means that golf is my new stupid passion.
In my opinion I am terrible at it. My best game so far is a round in the high 80s. Now, in fairness to myself, that score was the result of a round of golf on a regular-size course. When I play 18 holes on my “home course” at Deer Creek Motorcoach resort (the one in Virginia), my score can be as low as 54.
FIFTY FOUR! Wow, you say. Well, it isn’t all that remarkable considering it is a nine-hole pitch and putt with the longest hole sitting a mere 125 yards from the tee. Then again, maybe it is remarkable. The greens are the size of pot holders, the fairways narrow as a 1960s era men’s dress tie, and there are numerous hidden water traps along with some that are obvious to the eye. In other words, my short game is not bad.
Put me on a large course with big greens, and the story changes.
I cannot drive worth the time it takes me to hunt for a lost cheap ball. Someone once said that if I hit it right, it’s a slice; if I hit it left, it’s a hook ; if I hit it straight it’s a miracle.
That pretty much sums it up for me.
I am an active member of the Lambert’s Point Golf Course Ball Exchange Program.
Lambert’s Point is a nine-hole golf course in Norfolk, Virginia, that is built on top of what used to be a huge landfill and garbage dump. It sits in the elbow of the Elizabeth River and so it is surrounded by water on two sides and a driving range on one side. I tend to lose balls off the first tee into the river on the right side. I just can’t leave my 1 wood in the bag! I have a very fast back swing and an even faster down swing, but somewhere in the process of going up and down, my arms just seem to get confused. As a result, my hands are pointing in the wrong direction, which opens the club face and I hit this very long and ugly slice.
I joke that my slice is so bad that a soft drink is named after it.
On the rare occasion that I don’t slice, it is usually because I skull the ball and stick it in the mix of marsh grass, blackberry bushes, and cattails that surround the course. So the hunt begins. I lose one ball and find three. Not a bad exchange rate, if you ask me.
I keep working at it. I shine my clubs thinking that will add some polish to my game. I blow through buckets of balls at the Portsmouth City Park Links driving range. I watch training videos and take advice from all the guys I play with. So far, not much has helped.
David Feherty said that Jim Furyk’s driver swing looks like an octopus falling out of a tree. An octopus has some coordination, some fluidity, and some intelligence. So in comparison, my swing must look like my driver is falling off the back of a moving truck.
My second shot shows some promise. I can take a fairway wood or a hybrid and knock the crap out of the ball. It just too bad that the crapless ball tends to go left. On occasion, however, I have hit the green on a par-five hole in two if I aim right. Once on the green, I can putt decently. My playing companions seem to have a higher opinion of my game than I do.
I am improving. I know which club to use based on distance from the pin. I have learned the terms of golf and I can now drive well at the range when loading up the tee from bucket number two. The key is shooting straight from the first tee and hitting the green in regulation.
Although I have been golfing for only two years, I am not totally new to the game. I spent the last 10 of my first 12 years living next door to the Ocean View Municipal Golf Course in Norfolk, Virginia. Our two-bedroom bungalow house was located at 609 Greenview Lane, right across from hole number 3. I used to wade in the ditch that ran parallel with the fairway and look for golf balls. We could be sitting at the dinner table and hear “Fore!!” and a couple of seconds later a ball would hit the roof of our house. My brother Rodney and I would charge out the back door and hunt for the ball to add to our sizable collection kept in buckets in our car port. We would clean them up and sell them, possibly back to the golfers who lost them, for a tidy profit. We would cut the covers off damaged balls, slice the rubber band inside and watch the ball hop like some crazed animal all over the carport pad.
I used to stand for hours, peering thru the 30-foot tall chain link fence, that semi-protected our street, and the kids who played on it from the errant balls that hooked left. I watched the carts pull up at the tee. I was fascinated by the clothes the golfers wore, and the clubs they used. I watched the balls fly down the fairway. I heard the congratulations and sometimes the swear words coming from the golfers. I so wanted to play on that course.
I wanted to be a golfer and play on the course for real.
I had a couple of clubs. One was a shortened persimmon wood driver, the head held on with masking tape and glue. I salvaged that club from a water hazard. The other club was a nine iron that the pastor of our church gave me. I would sneak out onto hole 3 just before dark, wait until I knew no one was going to find me, and I would tee up a ball for myself. I could hit it hard and straight. I could par hole 3, a 369-yard par four, the only hole I played, with that old driver, that also was my putter and my nine iron.
Why can’t I do that now?! Just a few weeks ago I got my 50-year-old wish. I played Ocean View with my friend John, a retired school principal and a good golfer. We formed a foursome with a couple of ladies, who like us, had no reserved tee time. It was fun but at the same time a bit surreal. John drove a cart with our clubs while I walked with the ladies who were playing nine holes on foot. When we hit the tee at 3, I looked to my left and saw my old home, the 609 easy to spot on the front of the house. I could almost see my Mom coming out the front door to check if I had sneaked out onto the course.
I thought about those days. Now here I was 50 years later playing for real.
I teed up my ball, coiled up for the hit and sliced the ball into the fairway of hole 5.
Why do I keep playing this stupid game? I will tell you why. I play for the memories, for the time I spend with friends, including my motor coaching ones, and for that great shot that I make every now and then. I play for the green grass, the blue sky and the cheap clubhouse hot dogs.
I play it in spite of that shot off tee 3 that went so far right that Teddy Bear, my Cocker Spaniel, couldn’t find the ball if it was wrapped in bacon.
I sort of fudged that last line from Feherty. He won’t care. Fudging is allowed in golf.
It may be a stupid game. My wife sure thinks so, but golfing is now as much a part of my life as motor coaching is. They are intertwined. I have two sets of clubs, one for the coach and one at home.
In the months and years ahead, I hope to drive my coach to somewhere new and find a beautiful golf course that has a good ball exchange program and is looking for new members. Then, again, maybe I will make that miracle shot and hit the greens in regulation.