It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing

I have put my 6 year old into golf camp. Not because I want him to play on the tour, which would be nice, but rather to get that good swing going at a young age. A sweet, fully rotated, classic golf swing is a beautiful thing to watch. I just finished watching Tiger, Phil, and Adam Scott finish their round, but the players I enjoy watching are the ball strikers. The sound golf swing is an efficient mechanism for launching the golf ball, and Trevor Immelman (youtube video) is one of the best. As a kid, I read Sam Snead’s golf primer which reduced the swing to very simple, basic elements, and I copied Fred Couple’s swing. What appealed to me was the appearance of minimal effort for maximal energy. After high school, I stopped playing and I took up the game again only three years ago after a nearly 20 year layoff. The swing was still there -unfortunately the pitching and putting wasn’t and I’ve been working on that.

Golfism dictates that the golfist bring new players to the game, and the most important thing to learn first is a sound, good looking swing, and this is easiest when you learn it as a kid.

Virtual fairways in the R.O.K.

In South Korea, there are too many golfers and not enough golf courses. A NY Times article (link here) shows the lengths that people are taking to get swing time. The vitual reality simulators are reportedly in high definition, which is generations beyond what I have seen in my town. Their surfaces tilt to the terrain of the course. There are birds and blades of grass. I saw a simulator at a PGA store in the Detroit airport, and the graphics were primitive compared to playing Tiger Woods 2008 on my Mac. 

I think what the article missed is how Koreans get into fads and how they love all things high tech. They have professional video game leagues which are televised and the top pro’s have rock star status. A top Warcraft pro makes 6 to 7 figures. 
Also, they are fanatical about golf. Most of them will take lessons and practice at a range (usually a lot with a high net visible for blocks around) until their form is perfect. I saw a fellow hitting perfect three irons off the range and when I chatted, he told me he had yet to play “on the field.” The usual reason is limited access to golf courses and unusually high costs. 
A golf outing in Korea involves someone who knows someone who can get a tee time at one of the publicly accessible courses. You have to show up with a foursome. There are no carts -they have crews of uniformed female caddies who size you up from the first tee and basically find the ball nearly all the time, and hand you the right club -no discussion. Rounds take about 5 hours and you end up at the clubhouse where you then take a schvitz in the sauna, hot tub, get a spa rub down, and then go and have a heavy meal with drinks. This all costs around 300 to 1000 per person. 
Here in the US, I can get on a course without calling ahead and basically have the course to myself, I am happy but also a bit distressed in that golf courses should be a little more crowded, and the players a bit younger. 

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.

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. 

Obama plays golf today

Obama played golf today while Hilary suspended her campaign. Immediately it is being judged as something wrong. Again, if he had gone running, no one would raise an eyebrow, but golf is something that is viewed as “elite,” time wasting, and selfish. Check it out. I think that it is telling that the one thing politicians don’t want to be associated with are prostitutes, bribes, and golf club memberships. 


As a middle aged man, there are very few things that we can learn to do well, aside from degenerating in the usual ways. Golf offers the potential of perfectibility. I can’t walk onto Yankee stadium and expect to hit a home run, but put me on a par three at Pebble Beach or Pinehurst #2, both of which I can get on way easier than Yankee stadium, and there is a calculable probability of an ace, a birdie, a par. The more I play, the more perfect I can become, like this sunset in Puerto Vallarta.

The green grass grows all around

Green grass off into the horizon clicks a genetic switch in our brain -it is the peace of the African savanna ape seeing the lush green after the rainy season. Time of prosperity and fecundity. The sap rises from the roots, and it is the spring of our days. 

Hunting and gathering is in our bones and sinews, and this is replicated by the tracking and seeking of the white ball. Smell the grass. Root along the leaf litter for the prized nut. Club that small prey animal with your 3 iron. Signal to your fellow ape with your call “Fore!!!”