My current handicap index is 19.4 (8/19/2008). I have made shots that Woods, Nicklaus, Palmer, Player, Hogan, Snead, and Jones would envy. These are currently outnumbered by the ones that challenge my faith in golf. These perfect moments are a glimpse of what may be. My faith in what may come keeps me a golfist. May your ball find the hole.
I was at work the other day, when someone brought it to my attention that some people thought I was playing too much golf. Ever since the season started, I have been focusing on tuning my game. The time spent, usually in the early evening, runs about an hour and a half -the time it takes to play a “speed nine.”
In response, I thought about taking my golf underground, to deny my involvement, and evade the scrutiny. But then I realized it would be caving in to a basic prejudice people have about golf and golfers. There are two sides to this coin: ignorance by non-golfers and failure by golfers to defend themselves.
If I was taking that time at the end of the day to run in preparation for a marathon, it would be considered laudable, but practicing sand shots and putting for an hour is viewed as dilettantism.
It was while I contemplated the approach shot on #1, that it was revealed to me that I was no longer just playing a game but also living completely and fully. My drive had drawn partially up the hill, landed, then rolled back. I was 165 yards from the middle where the pin was. It was an uphill stance. I set up for a fade, framed my stance at the large oak on the left, aimed my clubface at the pin, and felt completely comfortable in that moment, aware of myself, my thoughts, my body, my club, and the tiny white ball.
The fading sunlight on the ball brings different things into focus, and I was no longer just there on Wakonda #1, but nowhere and everywhere. I remember swinging and striking the ball which arced to the left, peaked on line with the oak tree, then gently arced right like a promise fulfilled. It landed on the upslope slightly left of the pin, taking a flopping bounce out of sight over the fringe. It was only a few feet from the hole. This moment was not only satisfying, it was transcendant.
Golfism is the set of beliefs centered around this moment. No, that’s not right. There are no beliefs. Does a rabbit have a set of beliefs set around the transcendance of running fast? It just is “rabbit.” Words clog the flow of this “my presence emphatic.”
Golf is Good For You!
America’s DNA rejects elitism. If you watched the animated feature, Ratatouille, it’s market appeal is through its anti-elitist stance. “Anyone can cook,” is the motto of Chef Gusteau. But look closely, and you see that it’s message is still elitist in its original sense: that the best qualities are in fact rare qualities that deserve to be celebrated.
America’s political tapestry is fraught with this uneasy relationship with elitism. It walks hand in hand with America’s uneasiness with class. American political figures sublimate their blue blood and ivory tower schooling to avoid looking “out of touch.” George H.W. Bush looked titanically out of touch when he marvelled at grocery store bar code scanners -this was likely a generation gap issue, but out of touch with the common man (and woman) he looked. George W. Bush, despite the ichor and Yale/Harvard background, talks like an assistant manager at the Wal Mart in Plano and got a second term where his father failed. Both, by the way, are golfers. I don’t know if they are golfists.
Golf is in siege mode because it is viewed as the sport of the elite, particularly when it applies to politics. In some corners, it fits the same bill as polo, fox hunting, and oil drilling. The fact remains, it is costly to maintain 18 verdant holes, to buy good equipment, and to get lessons during childhood (to get that good swing). The time it takes to play a round on a busy East Coast public course runs up to 5 hours, taking up a whole day.
Golf is like whiskey -you mostly drink it in private, you don’t talk about it, and your moderate your consumption. The good stuff is basically out of reach of the average bloke, but there is plenty of cheap stuff to make it attainable. Bottom line though, it is a luxury, and fie on the fellow who imbibes daily. As a luxury, it is morally suspect to enjoy it too much.
Golfism changes that. Read the USGA rules of golf and you see the New England Primer, the U.S. Constitution, and the Rule of St. Benedict: words that bring structure and order to a stochastic universe. Playing golf, then, is a celebration of a way of life. How can you live without it. If you can’t live without it, how can it be a luxury? Any way you look at it, a year of golf is cheaper than a year of Prozac and counseling, and better for you. How is that a luxury? Playing golf means you aren’t flirting with women who aren’t your wife, it means taking the time to think about the meaning of your life and your place in the world, and being a better person.
On the course, you are a better man than you are off of it. You let people through. You report your sins and assign your own punishment. You keep a respectful silence as other people go about their business. You offer to share your cigars. If all of the world adhered to golf ettiquette, we would have none of the current mess we are in.
addendum: 12-25-2008 -reading through my blog this past year, I realize that when the playing season effectively ended with the first frosts, my blog has been mostly about the grievances of a middle-aged man. No apologies here. Swinging the golf club serves the same function as the whirling dances of the dervish, the inhalation of the mind altering vapors of the oracle, and the rhythmic drum beating of the shaman. Without it, without the connection to the spiritual plane, all we have is our myopic vision on the middle world and our daily struggles to survive. May your ball find the hole efficiently.