So here we are in Bright and Beautiful New England, and it’s Fall. The season, we are assured, that God Intended For Golfing.
I get that, too. The bugs are (mostly) gone. The weather (this year) is spectacular, with low humidity, and fine day after fine day. The trees are bursting into flaming color, and the turf – for the first time since last October – is dry enough that you can play a round without soaking your golf shoes through. Granted, the putting greens are…not at their best. The ones at our usual course had major maintenance a few weeks ago, which seems to involve being driven over with a spike-covered steam-roller and having sand poured on top.
But there is no question, this is the finest time of (this) year for playing golf.
Now, just as a refresher, because I haven’t written about golf since the beginning of the season, Roy and I suck. We started out Totally Sucking. Now, thanks to an extended series of private lessons with a Golf Pro (this is way less sexy than it sounds), we Mostly Suck. The difference is heartening.
One thing I learned from playing golf in the Fall in New England is this: usually, one loses a ball for good in a water feature or in the woods. This sucks. But in the Fall, it is perfectly common to lose a ball on the FAIRWAY. Now, the mind rebels against this. It’s the fairway. The grass is nice and short, there aren’t any weird holes or bushes to hide the ball. One should be able to see a bright white ball sitting atop a pillowy layer of bright green grass from quite a long distance. One should NOT be able to lose a ball on a fairway. And yet. When the fairway is littered with fallen leaves, it turns out to be very easy to lose a ball, and to lose it permanently. Oh, certainly, given enough time one would be able to turn over every leaf and find that wretched ball, but since Fall is Golf Season, there are hordes on every course at every time of day, and the one thing a player does not have is time to turn over every leaf in a 50-foot diameter circle, looking for a ball. At least, anyone that wishes to have the privilege of playing that course again in the future does not have this amount of time.
I have taken a short poll of other golfers, and yes, it reinforces my belief in the Fundamental Wrongness of losing a ball on the fairway. And it had happened to every single one of the golfers I talked to, too, and in their turn, each of them ground their teeth audibly while contemplating the Total Ignominy of losing that ball on the fairway.
So, there is a fly in the ointment. Fortunately, Roy and I are accustomed to losing balls – although we do not lose them at the spectacular rate with which we lost them in earlier times – and so, while I still grind my teeth at the memory of losing the ball in the fairway, it’s not as though I play with the sort of balls that are sold in packages of four (4). I play with balls that are sold by the sack. I buy my golf balls 20 at a time, and I have to buy more than one of these sacks per season. Just bought my second one of the season last week, as a matter of fact, having gone through one and one half of these so far.
So Roy and I have spent load of time sweating it out under the supervision of a Golf Pro down at the driving range all summer. This was an investment with a HUGE return, even though we still suck. I am assured (by the Pro) that “golf is a four-letter word”. I am also assured (by popular media, including the heartening words of P.G. Wodehouse) that I will suck at golf until the day I turn up my toes and die. I am resigned. I would just like to suck less. And the golf lessons did that. I’m still a short hitting, but more of my balls go where I want them to, and – Roy swears it – I look better when I’m golfing.
Shallow? Possibly. Important? Absolutely. After all, if I’m going to suck at golf until I die, I should at least Look Good while I’m at it. And I will say this, my swing has improved dramatically with the golf lessons. Perhaps, next year, after a load more golf lessons, I’ll even be able to hit the ball more than 150 yards.
Today, we ventured out onto a new course. New to us, that is. It’s an 18 hole course, unlike our usual stomping grounds, Beaver Brook, which features nine holes of Watery Wonder. We loaded up the cart, took the attendant’s advice to stick to the front 9 instead of the back 9, and off we went.
We promptly got lost, because this golf course doesn’t believe in Signage. No, really. Every other course I’ve played on, including the Uber-Rustic Olde-Schoole one out on the Cape, had signs next to the tee box with the number of the tee, yardage from each set of tees, and usually, a little drawing of the hole so you can see that there are water hazards or bunkers or dog-legs or other exciting features.
This course? Had a big trash barrel next to each tee with the number of the tee painted on it. That was it. And the map on the score card involved a high degree of…abstraction. The consequence of all this is that we immediately got lost.
I was driving the cart, and trying to figure out the map, and couldn’t see any signs for the tees, because I was looking for signs, not for decorated trash cans.
Roy was all for going back to the clubhouse to ask directions. “No,” I said. “If they could give good directions, we’d be able to use this blasted map.”
“I will go ask for directions!” he said.
Right. Roy is…Directionally Challenged. This situation is compounded by the fact that he understands “get directions” from a socio-political perspective, rather than a goal-directed perspective. Roy believes that people want to be needed and so he lets this belief guide his choice of person from whom to ask directions. When Roy goes into a gas station to ask for directions, he finds the people Most Likely To Be Recent Immigrants, and asks them. If he’s asking for directions on the street, he zeroes in on winos, junkies, and the kind of people who live on the street because the mental health and social services are so poor. If I’d encouraged him to ask directions on the golf course, he’d have searched around until he found someone with a major hearing impairment, or a toddler who had escaped its parents’ custody.
I have had no luck impressing upon him that this assortment of individuals will not Take It Personally if he directs his question to someone who speaks English, appears to know the area, and is not on Planet Nine from intoxicants. Not only will they not Take It Personally, but they will never know that he chose not to ask them.
Roy says he would know, and that’s why he can’t.
This issue is further complicated by the fact that Roy either can’t, or won’t, actually remember anything these people tell him. Say he zeroes in, inadvertently, on a Foreign-Looking Person who actually turns out to be a local. The FLP gives him a series of directions, like “turn left out of the parking lot, go one block, take a right on Washington Street, look for the Stop and Shop, and take the first right after that.”
Roy only ever remembers the first step in any sequence of directions. So all he takes away from this interaction is “turn left out of the parking lot”. After that, it’s a blank for him. He might possibly remember “a grocery store, or maybe a drugstore, or maybe a convenience store” but not “Stop and Shop”. If you ask him, “what do you do after turning left out of the parking lot?” he’s likely to come back with something enraging like “oh, we’ll figure it out” or “I don’t know”. And if you accost him, he pours gasoline on the roaring fire of irritation by saying something like “it’s all good!”
I love him, but honestly, sometimes…
So the upshot is that I never send him anywhere to get directions. It wastes everyone’s time, and usually leads to Homicidal Thoughts. What he takes away from this is that I’m unwilling to ask for directions. This is not true. It also leads him to believe, erroneously, that everyone else on the planet is drifting along in a non-directional Hippie Fog like he is. This is also not true.
We had this whole discussion, for approximately the thirteen thousandth time, as we were trolling around the golf course looking for the first tee. Finally, I saw some golfers with the appropriate Minority Gender element and instructed him to call over to them to get directions. “Follow that path! Back that way!” they said. “Path? What path?” I thought. But at least they’d pointed, and I didn’t have to count on Roy to remember which direction they’d pointed in. Fortunately, I saw it all for myself.
That’s when we discovered the Trash Barrel Tee Markings.
Fortunately, with most golf courses, once you find the tee you need, and you’ve accurately identified the hole belonging to that tee (and this is actually much more challenging than it sounds), you can get around pretty easily. The tee for the next hole is usually pretty close to the last hole. And so on.
I will say this for the golf lessons, they paid off. They paid off even more for Roy than they paid off for me. He’s always had a powerful stroke and been able to really send the ball…but thanks to the golf lessons, he’s sending it towards the hole instead of sending it onto an adjacent fairway or towards someone else’s hole. Since we scramble all our games (that is, we both hit, and play the next ball from the spot of the better shot – this is vitally important in keeping the game moving along when you suck as much as we do), it is incredibly helpful to have someone on board who can move the ball, and move it in the right direction. I can consistently move the ball in the right direction, but I suffer the Curse of the Short-Hitter, so my moving the ball in the right direction isn’t always terribly helpful.
After we’d gotten ourselves settled on the course and headed in the correct direction of increasing tee numbers, things were going really well for both of us.
Until, that is, Roy called down the Wrath of the Golf Gods on my head, by praising my shots unmercifully.
There are cultures where it’s considered the very height of insult to compliment someone’s baby, because to do so brings the Evil Eye, or the Anger of the Gods.
This is also the Culture of Golf. The thing to remember about Golf is that it is 20% Personal Skill, 80% Golf Gods. This is true even for Tiger Woods, as evidenced by fact that even though his Personal Skill is impeccable and highly refined, he still misses easy putts. That’s where the Golf Gods come in to it. If the Golf Gods smile upon you, your drives are 30 yards longer and 10 degrees straighter. Your fairway strokes take lightly to the air, and drop neatly and quietly onto the green. Your putts fly straight and at the optimum speed to fall into the cup. If the Golf Gods are angry, your drives shoot off of your club at sharp angles, or burn off velocity by skipping along the ground, hitting every hummock and pebble on the way. Your fairway strokes get topped, and skim 1/2 inch above the ground for a distance of 12 feet and then stop. Your putts rocket across the green and fall off into the rough on the opposite side, or approach the cup and describe the smallest possible circuit around it before shooting off in another direction. Balls are lost when the Golf Gods are angered. Water hazards grow by 40%. Sand bunkers develop strange magnetic forces. “Par” becomes a hopelessly unattainable target, when the Golf Gods are angered.
On the fourth hole, Roy lost his mind, forgot all of this, and praised my hitting to the skies, boundlessly, and with great pride.
And, in doing so, he angered the Golf Gods. Because they are spiteful fiends when angered, they wreaked their vengeance not upon Roy and his Sin of Misplaced Pride, but upon me. I could not drive, I could not chip, I could not putt. I lost a ball in the fairway among the leaves.
I grew wroth with Roy for putting the Curse on my head. He scoffed at my Pagan Beliefs, and scorned the existence of the Golf Gods. And, in doing so, he was the architect of his own Fall from Grace.
“No Golf Gods?” I said. Thank heavens there wasn’t any electrical storm activity handy in the region. “No Golf Gods?” I said. “I’ll show you.”
And while he took his practice swings at the fifth tee box, I spoke of his dramatic improvements in his swing, in his back swing, and in his follow through. I assured him that his speed, distance, and straightness were without compare, and all of this, I said, due to his own personal efforts. How glorious he was, I said, to have mastered the techniques so consistently, as witness his strokes on the last four holes. How magnificent the payoff to his investment in personal skill. I blew a ton of sunshine in his direction.
And then I waited.
Because, you see, I know that it doesn’t matter if you believe in the Golf Gods, they exist. And nothing makes them angrier than being denied.
Roy took his practice swing, which was gloriously smooth and relaxed. He stepped up to address the ball. He took a swing, gloriously smooth and relaxed. And he knocked the ball off the tee by about 3 feet.
“I get to do that again,” he said.
I agreed. We don’t keep score, we suck too much for that. We get three mulligans per nine holes, just to make sure the game isn’t comprehensively frustrating. I said “It was just a chance accident. No Golf Gods there.” He snarled “I don’t believe in the Golf Gods.”
The next ball went directly into the underbrush and disappeared forever. The ball after that skittered 20 feet down and barely came to rest in the fairway. The fairway shot rocketed off nearly at a ninety-degree angle and went directly into the water hazard. The shot after that traveled drunkenly for thirty feet and came to rest in a ravine.
“No Golf Gods, eh?” I said. He reluctantly agreed to the existence of the Golf Gods. “Now you should apologize to me for cursing me in their eyes,” I said. Because, I knew, he knew better. He knew that the Golf Gods giveth, and the Golf Gods taketh away. Mostly they taketh away. He alienated the Golf Gods so badly at one point that he was in a three week slump, even in his golf lessons.
You’ve gotta respect the Golf Gods.
Fortunately, we have come to the Understanding that there shall be no Praising Of The Personal Skill while on the course. There shall be no Complimenting Of The Shot, mine, his, or otherwise. Nothing shall occur that raises the attention of the Golf Gods. Since we don’t know how to invoke them so that they will smile upon us, we will not be invoking them at all. That is the Understanding that exists now. It remains to be seen whether it continues to exist the next time we hit the links. Until then, may we find favor in their eyes by truly and profoundly condemning the value of our Personal Skill.
Say it now, and say it loud: We suck at golf.