This picture was posted on Facebook the day before yesterday, April 21, 2014. Prior to it appearing in my News Feed on Facebook, I received the following text at exactly 12:12 pm “Golfin” 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 There are two things I want to point out about this picture. First, it made me immediately homesick. I’m pretty sure this was taken on the Kendrick Municipal Golf Course. I’m not sure which hole it is, but the Big Horn Mountains in the background give it away, and I know the course pretty well having hacked around it a time or two. The other thing I want to point out is, based on how bent the arm is in the backswing, there is going to be only one possible result. That little white ball is going to slice like a mother.
The first time I played golf on this course it was with my Dad. There was no fairway grass, and the greens were sand permeated with oil. You would smooth out a path from your ball to the hole with a sort of rake that had a 3” steel tube about two feet long welded to the end of a steel handle. I wasn’t there to play as much as I was for the company, and I was an available caddy. I was responsible for smoothing the sand for putting. I was given the opportunity to try a few shots, and I sucked at the game immediately, but I was hooked. There isn’t anything like it. Taking a leisurely stroll on a warm, sunny, summer morning, the smell of freshly mowed grass, taking a club out, whacking at a little white ball every few yards, and swearing like a sailor. I think I’ve learned most of my cussing vocabulary while playing golf.
Nothing throughout my life has aggravated, provoked, exasperated, bothered, peeved or got on my nerves more than trying to master the game of golf. Hell, I never actually expected to master it. I just wanted to be able to play it. I wanted to be pretty good at it. Not great, not Nicklaus like, but pretty good. Golf seemed like a game I could learn and be good at. You didn’t have to be a huge guy. You didn’t have to be brawny. You could be wiry, like I was, and still be good at golf. And you could make a lot of money at it. Not, however, if you have difficulty keeping track of the number of strokes you have taken to put the little white ball in the three inch hole.
When I started trying to play golf “seriously,” in my late teens, I started reading the books. I read Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus religiously. I would copy their stances and grips and swing mechanics. I read over and over how to hit this shot, or master that one. I spent hours at the driving range, hitting buckets of balls, dribbling the majority of them off the tee box, where I could just go pick them up and try again. I would study the pictures, watch the pros on TV, waiting to hear that perfect “thwack” as the sweet spot on the club hit the ball, lift the perfect divot, then watch it sail hundreds of yards, accurately, down the fairway, stopping and back spinning on the green, inches from the hole. I’m pretty sure, after all the golf I’ve played, that my clubs are not equipped with any “sweet spots.”
You have to play the game of golf from right to left. You have to be able to develop a hook swing. The club head has to hit the ball from inside out. You just can’t be any good playing from left to right. I’m not making this up either. Both of those professionals I mentioned preach that in their instructional books, over and over again. In fact, Arnold Palmer wrote, and I’ll never forget it, when you start learning the game and you have a natural “slice” swing, a swing across the ball from the outside, you’re gonna suck forever.
I had such a bad slice swing, that I could aim at a 45 degree angle to the left of where I wanted the ball to go, and swing away. It would arc majestically to the right and I would occasionally land in (or near) the fairway. I looked pretty stupid, but I stayed out of the rough on most of my drives.
I always took another swing after hitting the ball, if that indeed happened. The next swing was always slamming the club into the ground in anger, and I wrapped them around trees and ball washers. I bent a two wood around a ball washer that I carried around for years because the bend in the shaft created a natural correction for my slice. I could hit that two-wood like a pro.
The rough. Let me explain what the rough is on golf courses in the West. At Augusta National, the rough is where the grass is mowed a little higher than the fairway grass. In Wyoming, Arizona, and New Mexico, where I played golf, the rough is the desert, literally. It’s dangerous. There are rattlesnakes and scorpions, ground squirrels, porcupines, skunks, coyotes, road runners, quail and even javelina (a type of very nasty wild pig) out in the rough ready to attack you at any moment. Two magnificent slices can put you so far into the “rough” that you can’t even see the fairway, let alone the green. And you’re going to need at least two clubs, one for protection, and one to try and get your ball back to a grassy surface. The thing is, you’re so far out of eyesight of the members of your foursome that can actually hit a golf ball straight, the best course of action is to throw a ball, any ball, as far as you can in the direction of the fairway and run like hell out of the desert.
When I lived in Laramie, there was a practice fairway complete with green and flag a short drive from our apartment. One evening after work, I went over there to hit a few practice shots before dark. I hit about 10 balls near the green, but one 7 iron shot landed beautifully a few feet from the cup. I walked up the short fairway to putt the ball out. As I approached the green, seven black birds, crows, ravens, big black birds, whatever they were, swooped in from a nearby pine tree and landed on the green . As I continued to walk towards them, they started walking towards me in a very menacing demeanor, flaring up off the ground and flapping their wings at me as I tried to get closer to the ball, the only ball that was on the green. I swung the club around screaming at them but they held their ground and had no intention of letting me putt out for my birdie. As far as I know that ball is still there.
I’ve never gotten a hole in one, but I did get two birdies, once, on one hole. The hole was a par four with a dogleg to the left around a pond. Now, whatever type of ball I buy, it is infused with some sort of water magnetism. If I hit a ball anywhere near water, it goes in, even if it’s a hook shot which I can’t purposely hit even if I try. There are no exceptions, well, except this one particular shot. The ball came off the tee at a screaming trajectory about a foot and a half off the ground. At about 75 yards down the fairway it started to loose altitude and hook towards the water. As it did, it slammed into the head of a duck that had no idea what hit him. It ricocheted off that duck and took out another, who was by this time running like hell towards the water. He didn’t make it. Two birdies on one hole.
There is no feeling in the world like hitting a perfect drive 213 yards straight down the fairway. I’ve done it once I think. The accolades that you get from the other three guys leaning around on their clubs, expecting you to slice it out in the rough, is priceless. Totally worth the price of admission.
My longest drive ever soared over 440 yards, and no, that is not a typo, and no, it did not go straight down the fairway. The hole we were playing was in Green Valley, Arizona. It was a par 4 dogleg to the left, up on a hill running parallel to Interstate 19. I hit it pretty good and the ball started out straight, but then it took a dramatic bend to the right. Aided by a steady crosswind blowing from the West, the ball continued to the right, clearing the fence and heading out towards a congested freeway down below. It bounced on the southbound lane in between two speeding cars at almost the center line. Bounced hundreds of feet in the air and headed towards the northbound lane where it made another safe landing behind a car, and bounced up like a super ball heading high over the embankment coming to rest somewhere on the far side of the freeway. It was impressive, and got a lot of those accolades from the three guys leaning on their clubs. Mostly what they were saying is, “I can’t believe you didn’t hit a car. Amazing.” We estimated the ball traveled over a quarter of a mile, thus the 440 yards.
When I was playing golf in my thirties, and not getting any better, I would always tell people that there was always the Senior Tour. Now, I think that ship has sailed. I have to accept the fact that I’m never going to be any good at this game. I should have figured that out a long time ago, I guess. I mean if you’re playing in a “best ball” tournament, and the foursome doesn’t use your ball even once, that’s a pretty good indication that you really suck at this game. WTF.