I am taking care of my folks who have both fallen ill. I had to move some of their stuff from the hospital to their home yesterday. They live on a golf development, and I spent the night. That afternoon, I played nine holes.
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.
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.