A golfer believes that golf is a metaphor for life. A golfist believes that life is a metaphor for golf.
A conversation overheard before a goatherd’s wedding night on the steppes of Kazakhstan.
My son, unlike the Americans, you won’t see your wife until the wedding night. Romantic love is viewed with suspicion because it cannot be given an economic value, while fifty goats can. So on your wedding night, you are seated next to some woman covered in wool and silk, draped in coins, and all you can see are her eyes which occasionally dart over to yours. They might be pretty. Its hard to tell, but then again, all of your cousins have pretty eyes, so its a safe assumption that she too would have those dark eyes. There is much feasting -too much, because there can only be too much. Not enough would be an insult, a cause for feuding. The laughing and shouting of the the men is broken up by the occasional report of automatic gunfire -your brothers are celebrating by emptying their AK47’s up into the stars -a glorious night! As the party goes on, you and your bride are escorted to your wedding tent. It’s hot inside. You ask her name, but she doesn’t speak. Both of you are terrified. Your mother is waiting outside. Your new wife lies back as she has been instructed to by her mother, and you do your duty. You’ve had practice -so much practice, that it doesn’t take very long. You reach under your bride and pull out the white sheet stained with her hymenal blood and hand it over to your mother. She ululates her joy and holds up the flag of Japan to all the waiting wedding guests. More gunshots and a return to feasting. The years pass, and you have many children. You have many opportunities to marry again, as you are a wealthy man, but curiously, you pass. You are content, after all. Then your eldest son is ready to marry and as his wedding day approached, he asks you about the truths about marriage and why you have stayed with one wife. You now lean back and stroke your beard and give your son this wisdom.
Rule #1: Over the course of any relationship, you can only have about a hundred meaningful conversations before something truly awful happens.
In fact, you tell your son, you rarely have more than 10 with anyone, and this conversation is number 3 between you two. The first one was about him practicing too much and too loudly. The second was about the superiority of boxer shorts. The more you talk, the less you have to say. You are on conversation number 6 with your wife, and that’s only because several years back she found some magazines under the rug. The important thing is listening, you tell your boy. Women will talk incessantly if given the opportunity, but the trick is to divine their meaning. This takes practice. You tell your son you can buy time by scrunching up the eyebrows and making a constipated noise, but to keep the peace, you have to dig through the words and understand. It can be like predicting the weather, you warn him. Women want to be understood, but not by words do you divine their thoughts. And that is the key. Divination. The better you get at divination, the less the need for those conversations which suck the life force out of you. Telepathy is what they call it in the decadent west.
And keep track of those meaningful conversations, because when you pass one hundred, something bad happens. Usually you die. You can ward off that evil day by much furrowing of the eyebrows -but avoid using that too much because eventually you will be cornered into a meaningful conversation.
Rule #2 -Human interest and passion in any subject or person lasts about two years. Human life lasts about 50. Do the math.
You remind your son the time he decided to dabble in homing pigeons. Everything was pigeon this and pigeon that. Silly messages about runaway goats sent in from over the hills, for a year this went on. Then one day, the pigeons were, in his words, too boring. Then it was roast pigeon for a month. It takes two years for your passion fades into routine. In the west, they call it the sophomore slump. Never let something take away your reason. You can get to the next watering hole by keeping a steady pace, but if you rush, you will lose goats. Passion is like small bag of salt you carry out to pasture the goats for a month. You only need a pinch of salt to make a roasted goat tasty, but use all the salt in one day, and the rest of the month is tasteless and bland. Remember too that your woman is subject to this two year rule. Renew her interest in keeping you comfortable and sated by keeping yourself unpredictable. Like anything else, inscrutability takes practice. Be aware of your routines and mix things up. Keep a mental chart of your routine and change some aspect of it every year. For example, if you change your underwear once a week, after a year, make it once every two weeks! That will keep her off balance. Never let things go for two years. If you feel yourself reaching that two year point, you may have to have a meaningful conversation, but remember rule number 1! Having children is also a good distraction. Remodeling the yurt is another.
Rule #3 -In all that you do, reduce it to simple, silent acts of nature.
Man is cursed by thought. A chicken without its head will run well. When you learn something, learn it with your heart and your bones. Don’t let thinking get in the way. This is the best way to manage rules #1 and #2.
I have talked too much and used up one of my meaningful conversations.
The HAC is my neighborhood society of gentlemen devoted to golf mostly for the opportunity to get together and:
1. avoid wives, children, and lawncare duties
2. drink beer and consume artery-clogging foods that accompany beer and fellowship
3. connive, lie, steal, revel in a fellow’s misfortune, and cheat
Yes, cheat, because within the heart of all golfers beats a small fifth chamber that pumps black bile, that motivates sin, and drives competition. No way around it, golf competition is a zero sum game of winners, cheaters, losers, and those who failed to cheat effectively.
Golfism seeks to cleanse the black heart of golf. It should be played from the tips with no handicap. You get what you get and you can’t throw a fit, to paraphrase my 6 year old.
Golfists are keenly aware of the mystery of the numbers that form the tapestry of a round of golf. 434454453 is instantly recognizable to the golfists at my club as the par sequence of the front nine -each number brings the image and the feel of walking up to each tee. 444535434 is the back nine. Each golfist can recite their courses numerical map by visualizing each hole from memory. These numbers add up to 36 a side, 72 for the whole. My course from childhood (Baymeadows, Jacksonville, FL): 543443454 435344544. The first number, the 5, brings to mind my first tee off on a Saturday morning at 12 years of age -a train of carts full of old impatient men looking up at me. The inability to swallow my spit, the terrible awareness of about thiry eyes, and the need for me to get out of the way.
I top my drive, refuse a mulligan (always thought mulligans were the worst kind of lie -the lie you tell to yourself), walk the twenty feet to the ball which happily is perched on the rough, and I smash a 4 wood (remember those) 200 yards to applause. That first par five is burned into my memory. These numbers are pregnant with as much meaning as cosmological constants.
The golfist is a follower of golfism. A golfer will play occasionally for company, to avoid yard work, and to hide from the wife. A golfer plays for money, for competition, and for status.
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.”
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.