So it begins. We are facing a very serious trimester. A season of bifurcation. Crunch time for USA. 18th hole of the Open, down a shot, facing a monster par 5 that has become reachable because of swirling winds that move predominantly forward -the gusts threaten to knock you down on your face as you size up your drive. Water on the right, waste on the left, bunkers guarding the periphery and any approaches -bunkers to make grown men cry. The whole fairway drains into the water on the right, and green is elevated, a lofty goal. Black hole rough and ashen waste protect you from out of bounds on the left. A single tree sits in front of the tee box requiring the player to go right or left, but the shot has to be cut or drawn back to the center. Whatever happens, like any golf shot, we’ll get the lie that we deserve.
How true is the adage “Golf is a metaphor for life?” The reference to Doral here reminds me it’s true. In fact, golf IS life, no? Whenever I’ve had a chance to play one of the world’s great championship courses, I’ve always been the type who prefers to play from the championship tees rather than from the so-called members’ tees. After all, I don’t feed my family on scoring low on a golf course. What in hell’s in a score? In 1993, the year after the Ryder Cup was played on the Ocean Course at Kiawa Island, South Carolina, I played the course from the championship tees, lost probably a dozen balls, came in with a 112 (I was a 7-handicap at the time) and had the time of my life. Truly mystical. The same year, I played Baltusrol in New Jersey two weeks after the U.S. Open was contested there. I played from the back tees, of course, came home with a 103, and was still mesmerized by the place a week later. A few years later, I went to a business offsite at Doral with my closest work colleagues, and we took an afternoon off to play the championship course, the famed “Blue Monster.” My three playing companions refused to play the back tees and, having forced me into a two-on-two match, I succumbed and played the members’ tees with the rest of them. Except for #18. Although fifty bucks was at stake as walked off the 17 green, I refused to tee off anyplace but the championship tee, despite my partner’s protestations. He was actually pissed. The others teed off safely from the members’ tee, and I—well I was drove into the water left. Long story short: My partner and I lost the match by losing the hole, and my partner—always the gentleman off the course—actually asked me to pay his share of the damages. Come to think of it now, he was always a sort of Chicken Little at work, never much willing to take a good risk. To him, a par is a par and a birdie is a birdie and a bogey is a bogey—in golf as in life—no matter what the challenge. Haven’t talked to him since I moved out of the area in 2003. I don’t know what he’s doing now, except I know it can’t be too thrilling, and certainly not fulfilling.
I took my son and my father to Wakonda for fishing today, and invited my good friend MW and his daughter N. We all got into some fish, but mostly it was about companionship, greenery, and perfect weather. G caught his first fish on a lure today after casting it completely by himself. Fishing has much of the same qualities of mystery for me, particularly fly fishing. The rhythmic movement of the fore and back cast and whipping the line out at will have the same hypnotic effect -it leaves me hyper aware and in the moment, very much alive. All the fish were tossed back, memories kept.
For people who are house bound during the winter or stuck in an office, you can try putting on the carpet or read about golf, or watch it on television. I prefer to play golf on the computer. My video game of choice is Tiger Woods (review later), but when I am traveling and have internet access, I enjoy World Golf Tour. It has been in permanent beta for over a year, but the quality of its demo, its playability and portability makeit a quick golf fix on the run bar none. Instead of creating a virtual 3D world, they simplify the golf experience by scanning the course into a series of files and flying the golf ball via Flash animation. The game in demo is all about timing and correcting for wind and roll. There was rumbling that it was going to go to a full golf simulation with a “green fee” model, and I would gladly pay, as it really is better than Tiger Woods golf in many ways. Check it out, link below:
I took my father to our club which is undergoing renovations. Its practice facilities are still open as are its ponds. My father was taking care of my mother who had a lung transplant this past January when he had to undergo emergency heart surgery. They have both been convalescing through the summer with us. He has had a slow recovery as had my mother. Growing up, Dad and I played golf and fished together, and it has been a long time we did something like this. We chipped and pitched, then we went and hit balls on the range. We then took our cart down to the ponds around 16 and 17. He caught two -a large and medium sized bluegill. He wanted to go, but I hadn’t caught any yet, so we stayed until I pulled out a crappie and a bluegill. We threw them back, and we drove to a Vietnamese noodle place for lunch. We drove back home. There was a lot I wanted to say, but the time passed so pleasantly. It was like 30 years was a dream.
Karolinska Institute found in a study based on 300,000 golfing Swedes, that golfers had a 40% lower mortality than non-golfers of similar age. The advantage improves with handicap! Another reason to swing the club.
John Montague was for a time the most talked about golfer in America, despite never having competed outside of his club championship. He was a member of a club in L.A. during the Great Depression where he hobnobbed with the likes of Howard Hughes, Oliver Hardy, and Bing Crosby. It was said he rarely shot above 70, and drove the ball over 300 yards using the equipment of his time. He could lift Oliver Hardy over the club’s bar with one hand, and he defeated Bing Crosby who was scratch using a baseball bat, a shovel, and a garden rake. The first hole at Lakeside was a par four which Bing reached in two and two putted using golf clubs. Montague tossed the ball and batted it over 340 yards to the greenside bunker, shoveled on, and using the garden rake as a pool cue, curled in a 12 footer for birdie, whereupon Bing cried uncle. Turns out, Montague was hiding a secret past that erupted when a member at his club, a prominent sports writer, broke the news of this phenom that avoided publicity, who on the verge of breaking the course record at Pebble Beach, picked up the ball to avoid the ensuing publicity. You can read about him in the book The Mysterious Montague by Leigh Montville (Random House).
The overwhelming conclusion that I reach from reading the book is that Montague was a golfist who reveled in the pure joy of being on the links, of the fellowship it afforded him, and the ecstasy of tracing that perfectly hit ball.
I took a lesson with Mr. William Rose, emeritus golf professional of Wakonda Club. He is a walking treasury of golf. He once spent two hours at Bobby Jones’ residence where they had a fascinating conversation about everything but golf. Mr. Rose has that knack for distilling golf knowledge into the simple facts. Thirty minutes on the range with him resulted in untwisting of that nasty duck hook and introduction to a controlled power fade, which I always thought was the better shot to have if you plan on trying to pinpoint your shots. With a slight adjustment, I still had my draw which I hammered out against the far fence on Fleur Drive. What I enjoyed immensely was the time spent with Mr. Rose who is a one degree separation from the deep roots of golf. Through him, I am only two degrees of separation from Harry Vardon, Francis Ouimet, and Gene Sarazen (through Bobby Jones). He personally trained club pros that went on to staff many of the elite clubs throughout the nation. And above all, he is a great human being.
My first dream in the Voice cycle occurred over 23 years ago. I cannot publish the particulars of that dream in this blog, and I find it painful and frightening to remember, but the declaration of the voice was “We are the society of Darwin, and we will get you.” Needless to say, the world at large is this society, our society, that bustles about with no knowledge of the truths in golf. It is industrialized grazing and predation, where the machines take over the role of natural forces and cycles. It bloats people and finds many ways to keep them away from golf. There is no more nature unbound and we must now find it within whether on a private fairway or in a virtual golf pavilion. The paths I carve, on the fair ways I tread, I see a perfect circle, and nothing do I dread.