At my folk’s place, in Florida

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. 

It is an interesting course. The developer declared bankruptcy, but fortunately not before selling enough homes to not leave large sections barren. The course itself has changed owners, and despite the drought, it keeps its character. Enough so that a recent Ladies British Open champion calls it her home course. The usual westerly winds were blowing at around 5-10mph. The course had cooled off from the heat that part of Florida suffers from during the day -my wife likens it to being under a magnifying glass. 
I played alone, as is my preference, and a kind couple (husband was teaching wife) let me pass. The golfist appreciates good golf ettiquette and new golfers. The course was empty for a while. I hit from the tips. I used my dad’s spare set. The driver was a King Cobra Speed Pro D 9 degree.  The wind was at my back. I set up for a draw -there was out of bounds to the left and right. The hole was a 350 yard dogleg right with a drop in elevation from the fairway to the green of about 50 feet. The inner corner is protected by cypress trees. The ball went farther right and started to float back. I lost site of it as it passed over the trees, about 250 yards out. I hit a provisional which was a low roller that ended up 150 yards out, but I saw the first ball in a bunker about 90 yards out from the hole on the lower tier. I took a 9 iron and opened it up and I hit it too hard, it landed on the back of the green and rolled off. I took 4 more strokes to get back in the hole. It illustrates the majority of strokes are greenside-in. 
Number 12 is a 580 yard par five from the tips. My drive ended up in the fairway bunker leaving about 230 yards to the green. The ball was sitting flat on hard sand. I opened up my stance and set up a fade. It cleared the lip and made a beautiful arc. The wind took it and it landed just short of the green and rolled to the fringe! I four putted for a bogey while I planned for first an eagle, then a birdie, then a par. 
My first par came on number 14, a 178 yard par 3 that was playing 189 yards from pin placement. The wind was now in my face. I choose a 3-iron -I usually am dicey with these, but the Ping Eye-2 3 iron always feels just right in my hands. I put the ball further back in my stance and take a full swing. It clicks and takes the correct line. It fades slightly, and at the tail, the wind takes it almost straight up. The green is hidden by a hump on the hill, and I drive up to the green -it had landed and taken backspin and bit leaving an 8 foot putt straight uphill. Birdie time. I push it leaving a 5 incher -no surety with my ham hands on the scruffy Bermuda greens that haven’t been watered all week. Tapped in.
At the final hole, I reached the last group of a clot of late afternoon golfers. More beginners which make me happy as golf needs new converts. I wait, and an older gentleman rolls up and asks if he could hit with me. I said fine. He hits a long gentle draw that rolls to the 150 marker about 270 yards out into a now stiff wind. I am now competing and I smack my ball about the same distance out and also the same distance to the right out of bounds. I had committed the grave sin of pride -of wanting to showup this silver haired man. Sheepishly, I put down my second ball and hit my second drive with no thought or effort this time. It was dead straight and landed next to that man’s. We chat. It turns out he plays on the senior mini-tour and was headed to Canada for a tournament. He complimented me on my swing -which was nice for someone who played with Seve Ballesteros only a few years before in Sao Paolo. Feeling charged, I took out my 3 iron to hit the approach which was to an elevated green into the wind. I wanted to recreate the shot from 14, a high fade with intense back spin. I could see it and felt it in my bones -it was going to happen. I missed the ball completely and dug into the grass behind the ball with a terrible thud. 
Greed and pride, anticipation of future gain, the desire to show off and show up, fear of poor execution, and and fear of failure, these thoughts are ruinous and come up particularly around the green where you have to close the deal. The best shots occurred when I stuck to the process of aiming, gripping, aligning and having faith my swing to do the job. 

Golfism’s numerology

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.

What is Golfism or Why am I a Golfist?

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.