Thursday, February 24, 2011

An Endless Series of Tragedies

I confess.  I'm a golfer.  Kind of.  More of a hacker really, and not the computer kind.  Some might use the word "Duffer".  Ok, I know I'll never play on the PGA tour or any other tour for that matter.  I'll probably never break par on 18 holes.  I'll almost certainly never hit an albatross (aka the "double eagle").  I'll probably never play on the finest golf courses in the world.  I'll almost certainly always use Canadian Tire equipment.   But I still love it.  Why?  Over the course of human history many men have attempted to answer that question and many have come close, but many have gotten it all wrong.  Some of the answer may lie in my previous sentence, in that even human history has been played out on a course.  Who are we to change that?  

The love of golf  may have a lot to do with the hope that exists in the heart of every golfer.  It's the hope that maybe, just maybe, on this next shot, or on the next hole, maybe with this next long putt something amazing and brilliant could happen.  As a man once said, "Golf can best be defined as an endless series of tragedies obscured by the occasional miracle."  It's for that miracle that we play.   We hackers will put up with unimaginable conditions and torture ourselves beyond what many other mortals could take and not even break a sweat, all in the hope of that occasional miracle.  It's amazing what can all be gleaned about life by a player of the sport.  There is literally a smorgasbord of truths to be learned about sportsmanship, math, perseverance, habitual behaviour, honesty, nature, other sports, your temper, logic, and so much more!  It fires the imagination and gets the creative juices flowing in a way that nothing else in life does.  Why do we love to play the game of golf?  It's because there is nothing else out there that has anything to offer that even come close to the experience that the golfer/hacker/duffer can get from a round of golf.

One of those occasional miracles of golf is the sensation of perfectness that flows up your club and all through your body upon the perfect union of club head to golf ball.  "The Sweet Spot".  You don't even feel the impact of the club on the ball and the ball departs the earth on a trajectory that is a thing of beauty in a world of chaos.  Nothing else in life is like it.  I remember my first experience with the sweet spot.  I would have been around 9 years old and my Dad was hitting a wedge around the yard.  He'd been playing back and forth for some time with fairly consistent results when he caught one perfectly on the sweet spot.  I was playing at the other end of the yard when my attention was drawn to the yelling and waving arms of my Dad.  "Look out!"  So I looked.  Near and far and in all directions I could perceive nothing that was a danger to my being.  He had just broken into a sprint in my direction (as though he could beat the golf ball to me) and I had just decided that all this ruckus really had nothing to do with me when "WHACK!!!"  Golf ball squarely off the top of my noggin.  "Titleist" permanently emblazoned on my scalp.  The sweet spot.  It didn't hurt too badly though.  I knew some of those golf truths even at that young age.  I believe that Gerald Ford said it first, "I know I am getting better at golf because I'm hitting fewer spectators."  I knew that Dad's game was improving.

Golf is also a great way to teach sportsmanship.  It's a gentleman's game.  Basic rules of conduct for golf flow beyond the sport and often make the aspiring golfer a better person all around.  For example, when speaking of sportsmanship in golf one day Mark Twain made the comment, "It's good sportsmanship not to pick up lost balls while they are still rolling."  Words to live by.  Good sportsmanship indeed.  Many people find golf to be habit forming and the advice of Harry Vardon can be an encouragement to the golfer who is struggling with golf as an addiction.  "Don't play too much golf.  Two rounds a day are plenty." 

Inevitably, honesty is an issue that arises many times as one traverses the course on a fine summer afternoon.  As Bob Hope put it, "Isn't it fun to go out on the course and lie in the sun?"  Harry Vardon stated, "If your opponent is playing several shots in vain attempts to extricate himself from a bunker, do not stand near him and audibly count his strokes.  It would be justifiable homicide if he wound up his pitiable exhibition by applying his niblick to your head."  If you don't know what a niblick is, Google it.  Many golfers take offense to the stereotype of the dishonest golfer.  "I do too play in the low 80's.  If it's any hotter than that, I won't play."  Paul Harvey described golf as "a game in which you yell 'fore', shoot six, and write down five."  The golfer's pencil has been described as the most valuable wood in the golfer's bag.  A fail proof tip for taking shots off of your score?  Use an eraser.  But I digress... 

Golf has spawned it's own language and culture.   Opinions have been written, self-help books on golf published.  It's an endless black hole of advice and wisdom at the golfer's fingertips!  Henry Beard wrote that "Duffers who consistently shank their balls are urged to buy and study Shanks - No Thanks by R.K. Hoffman, or in extreme cases, M.S. Howard's excellent Tennis for Beginners."  Are you having problems with your drives?  Blame your equipment!  There are limitations to the equipment blame game, however.  Robert Browning in A History of Golf made the keen observation that "The trouble that most of us find with the modern matched sets of clubs is that they don't really seem to know any more about the game than the old ones did."  

What is it about golf that we love?  Golf is played by over twenty million mature American and Canadian men whose wives think they are out having fun.  A.A. Milne said that "Golf is so popular simply because it is the best game in the world at which to be bad."  Woodrow Wilson said, "Golf is an ineffectual attempt to put an elusive ball into an obscure hole with implements ill-adapted to the purpose."  Mark Twain described it as "A good walk ruined."   P.J. O'Rourke said, "Golf combines two favorite American pastimes:  taking long walks and hitting things with a stick."  Will Rogers describes one motivation for taking up the sport, "I guess there is nothing that will get your mind off everything like golf.  I have never been depressed enough to take up the game, but they say you get so sore at yourself you forget to hate your enemies."  I could go on and on about golf and why I love it and play it.  I think that Nabar Gulbenkian (don't ask me who that is) said it best in 1972 when he made the following observation, "It is more satisfying to be a bad player at golf.  The worse you play, the better you remember the occasional good shot."

I'll close this post with one of my defining memories of a good shot that I hit.  This was one that will keep me coming back for more for the rest of my life.  It was in the year 2009, and I was playing (I use the term loosely) a round of golf with my brother in law Arlen.  There was a significant breeze blowing and I was starting to feel a little bit weary as we walked onto the tee-off box on the 7th hole at Spruce Meadows Golf and Country Club near Sexsmith Alberta.  Arlen had honors, and left his shot just short of the green on the 184 yard par 3 hole.  I debated changing clubs after I saw the result of his shot, but decided to go with my gut on this one.  I hit my 7 iron high in the air and watched as the wind pushed it from a line just left of the green more and more into line.  Arlen said "It's short." and in that second I agreed with him.  My ball landed on the fringe of the green and rolled towards the hole, where it disappeared.  Hole in one.  The holy grail of golf.  After a moment of sheer terror and exhilaration followed by what was (in anyone's estimation) a lame celebration by yours truly, we walked down the fairway and I collected my ball out of the cup.  I now keep it on my shelf at home.  It's a cheep no name brand, but who cares.  I hit a hole in one.  I'm now ready and willing to go and experience what golf has in store for me after this.  My own endless series of tragedies.

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