The Golf Curse
A recent Monday led me to Lower Hillyard, where I wound up in a sinkhole of self-loathing and shame.
Some call it “playing golf.”
I take responsibility for the psychic trauma inflicted on myself and my faithful sidekick, Jim Lyons, aka “Dr. Hippie Pants.” Considering my lifelong contempt for this ruinous pastime, it was unkind to ask such a good friend to share in my doomed return to Spokane’s Esmeralda Golf Curse.
If you’re getting the idea that I hate golf, well, kudos to you, Kreskin!
Let’s examine a few scientific facts. According to historians, the game of golf was invented in 1457, presumably by besotted Scots hitting an overcooked haggis with sticks.
Since then, the world has endured…
The Haiphong Typhoon, The Irish Potato Famine, The Worldwide Influenza Pandemic, The Great Depression, World Wars I & II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and the Ben Stuckart for Spokane Mayor campaign.
Horrifying coincidences? Not in my mind.
The Clark/Lyons outing at Esmeralda was just the latest golf-related cataclysm that began when Jim couldn’t get our golf cart to move. We sat like two useless lumps until a passing clubhouse manager took pity and showed us how to release the cart’s parking break by simply stepping on the throttle.
The actual golfing was even more mortifying—a montage of hooks, missed putts and drives dribbled shorter than Peter Dinklage.
Metaphorically speaking, golf bent us over and had its way with us. No surprise there.
But later being stalked and scolded by the course marshal? Well, that was a humiliating first even by my shabby expectations. (More on this later.)
Confession time. For a shimmering moment as a teen, golf was not my enemy. In fact, your narrator was considered to be something of a wunderkind on the ol’ links.
That’s what my golf-loving Old Man thought, at least. While teaching me the game, he harbored pipedreams of his youngest son becoming the next “Slammin’ Sammy” Snead, his all-time golf hero.
I know. Who?
All but forgotten now, the late-Sam Snead was the Tiger Woods of his day. Excepting that Snead was a white hillbilly who learned the game as a barefoot kid caddy. He supposedly played with a hickory limb he fashioned into a makeshift club.
That’s the legend, anyway. What’s beyond argument, however, is that Sam Snead owned perhaps the sweetest swing the golfing galaxy has ever known. His record 82 PGA titles still stands though Tiger is now a win shy of tying it.
Snead was the very first to win a coveted green Masters jacket, with two more to follow.
I, alas, did not learn the game with any hunk of foliage. Nor by traipsing the fairways as Shoeless Doug.
My Old Man loaned me the ancient set of clubs left to him by a deceased pal. The driver resembled Bullwinkle’s bulbous cartoon schnozzola and it had a “sweet spot” (the area where you’re supposed to hit the ball) that was about the size of an aspirin.
Still, at age 15, I could smack moose nose into a ball and drive it 200 yards consistently off the tee. Ah, fifteen. The year my golfing aspirations soared, only to crash and incinerate ala Icarus.
It all came together for me on a bright July day when I shot my all-time best: 41 on Esmeralda’s front nine.
I was riding higher than Nixon after the ’72 election, congratulating myself for mastering this silly simple game.
Oh, how the Golf Gods love to screw with you.
My last serious outing took place later that same week on a scorcher of a day when everything went horribly askew. Moose nose failed me. Irons failed me. Even my trusty Robert Jones “Calamity Jane” blade putter turned on me like an ex-girlfriend out for revenge.
I shambled off the course with a case of borderline heatstroke and a scorecard that recorded triple digits. Somehow, I managed to find a way home and into my bed where I harbored dark thoughts and a splitting headache.
Lying in a feverish gloom, however, I experienced a moment of clarity where I realized that golf was not like any other normal sport.
Golf is about remorse.
Take tennis, for example. Hit a backhand long and you can redeem yourself a few seconds later with a forehand winner.
Hit a terrible golf shot? You’re in for five, maybe 10 minutes of brooding about your inadequacies while you slog to your ball, presuming you can even FIND THE DAMN THING!!
And what’s with all the confusing clubs? You not only have to master each one, but then decide which club deserves to be bent over your knee first before being tossed into the nearest bog.
Then there’s the golf course itself. Every other sport enjoys a consistent field of play.
The MLB diamond, say, is mathematical precision: 90 feet to a base; 60-feet, 6-inches from the windup to home plate.
Likewise, every NBA basketball hoop hovers 10 feet above the hardwood and circles 18-inches around whether you’re a Knick or a Laker.
But golf? Hah! Every course is a different Rorschach Test with unseen fiends regularly moving the tees and the greens and the pins.
Forests of trees. Sand traps. Water hazards. Deep Titleist-gobbling roughage.
Is it any wonder why “where the hell’s my ball?” and “just shoot me now” are the two most commonly heard phrases on a golf course?
If all that’s not enough to turn the average duffer into a club-trashing psycho, you’ve got the elements to contend with: m==onsoons, tornados and the risk every so often of being fried by lightning.
The more you play, the more your inner remorse compounds like billable hours at an upscale Manhattan law firm. Play long enough and even Mother Teresa would start begging for the lightning.
So, with all this wisdom running around in my 15-year-old brain, I made a decision. No more wasting time chasing little white balls. I instead would do something constructive with my life.
I joined a rock band.
Sunday, April 14, 2019. I was one of the millions who watched Tiger’s televised return to green-jacketed greatness.
My eyes filled as Tiger sank his last putt. Then came the volcanic eruption of LOVE that erupted all across TV Land.
Did you feel it? For a few minutes, all Americans were united: Democrats and Republicans forgot about the Mueller Report; red and blue states merged purple, Trump ceased tweeting; Rachel Maddow tongue-kissed Hannity…
The goodwill flowed as Tiger hugged his caddy and his kids and his family and that’s when this alien thought stole into my brain.
You know, I told myself, if Tiger can make a golfing comeback, why can’t I?
Delusion really is the strongest drug.
I called Esmeralda and booked a tee time. Dr. Hippie Pants, loyal to a fault, jumped on board.
Oh, yeah. About that nickname. My friend is actually a longtime nurse and clinical emergency room coordinator for an area hospital. The Dr. Hippie Pants sobriquet was bestowed on him one night by an unruly inebriated woman in handcuffs. She came hollering into the ER, escorted by a lawman. My ponytail-haired amigo, who has had to be a drunk whisperer many times before, told her soothingly that such obnoxious verbiage was not allowed in his ER. Sure enough, the woman calmed down. But for the rest of her stay she said she would only talk to “Dr. Hippie Pants” and the alias stuck.
Back to golfing. I’ve already delivered most of the bad news. Things, however, took a worse turn when I pulled my head on a drive and topped my ball, which skittered straight down the fairway for maybe 30 yards.
“A wormer.” That’s the label my Old Man had for such miscues.
Dr. Pants, however, hit a monster drive, his longest of the day. Sadly, it was last seen jetting over the cart path in the direction of Rockford.
While my friend pulled out a compass, donned a backpack, and set off for the unknown, I trudged to my ball, cursing those 15th century Scots under my breath. Then I looked dead ahead. There, to the left of the green, sat a golf cart that held a stern-faced man staring directly into my soul.
“That’s all I need,” I mumbled. “A bloody audience.”
Now self-conscious as well as inept, I took a ferocious swipe with my 3 iron, again topping the ball for maybe 10 yards this time.
The stranger sat, unmoved and still staring.
Now completely unnerved, I repeated my second shot and then added another for an encore. I could’ve thrown the lousy ball from the tee for more mileage.
Finally, the interloper tired of the Clarksville Follies. He zipped over to where Dr. Pants was in his desperate attempt to find Jimmy Hoffa.
Pants says the stranger identified himself as the course marshal who then told him he had violated the three-minute rule for lost ball hunts by four minutes.
Good thing this guy wasn’t in charge of locating baby Lindbergh.
Jim dropped a ball and took his penalty like a man. Eventually, we both made it onto the green where I missed enough putts to record a 13.
Thoroughly deflated, I asked my partner what I’d shot so far. “You’ve got a 36,” Dr. Hippie Pants announced, after examining the scorecard.
“We’re done!” I told my comrade, who seemed equally relieved. “I’ve beat my all-time best by five strokes!”
So back we rolled to the clubhouse, neither one of us addressing the fact that we’d only finished four holes.
Doug Clark is a Spokane native and lead singer/songwriter for his band, Trailer Park Girls. He recently retired from The Spokesman-Review after writing three columns a week for more than 30 years. Clark’s humor and general-interest commentaries have won scores of local, state and regional honors along with three awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. He can be reached at [email protected].
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