Tag Archives: Golf

The Secret Life of Wal…O.Leonard

Rio OlympicsYeah, a lot of us grow up with childhood dreams of being great athletes.  Professional athletes.  Olympic atheletes.  Some of us actually do… become world-class atheletes, or at least end up being pretty good at some sport or another along the way.  Last night I was watching the Rio Olympics, and I started thinking about all the things I tried in my attempts to become one of those world-class athletes, or just be pretty good at one sport or another.

Bart StarrFor example:  I wanted to be a professional quarterback.  At the time I saw myself as another Bart Star, the Hall of Fame quarterback of the Green Bay Packers.  Also, at the time, I was a sophomore in High School, weighed a massive 118 pounds, was slow as a snail, and could throw a football maybe 20 yards.  I was a quarterback on the Junior Varsity team, third string, and rarely played in games which nobody went to see anyway.  I read every book I could find, studied playbooks, worked out, practiced hard, and hoped that all of the effort would make up for my total lack of natural talent.  It was never going to happen, and of course, it didn’t.  I got discouraged after my junior year, realizing I would never start varsity, never play in college let alone get a scholarship, and gave up football to work at a fast food restaurant

Tom WatsonThen I decided I was going to be a professional golfer.  I hit a few golf balls with my Dad, and decided this could be something I could be good at.  You didn’t have to be big.  You could be thin and wiry, and you could still hit a golf ball a country mile.  My hero at the time was professional golfer, Tom Watson.  I again started reading everything I could find about how to play golf, practiced hard, and hoped my efforts would make up for my lack of natural talent.  I wasn’t any good, never got any good, and still play some to this day, although “play” has a totally different meaning for how I hack  a round of golf.  For a time, in my 40s, I even thought I could be good enough to make the Senior Tour.  Well, no, I finally gave up when I discovered I couldn’t drive a golf ball straight and over 100 yards no matter what I did.  Most of the time my drives end up on the women’s tee box or just past it, if the ball should actually land in the fairway.

Maybe football and golf weren’t my games, so I decided to try track and field.  Remember, I was slow as a snail, so the only events at the high school level that I might be able to compete in were distance races; the mile, or the two-mile.  So I practiced and ran and ran and ran.  Dreaming, of course, to be a State Champion and then get a scholarship to run for USC, then on to the Olympic Trials, and Olympic Gold.  I ran the mile, once in competition and took third at a time of 5:32.  I was third out of a race of four and beat the fourth place finisher by maybe a half second.  I was damn proud at the time though as you can tell by the fact that I still remember the actual time.  I ran the two-mile twice in competition and finished last in both races, way last, and felt like I was going to die.  It only took me one year to realize that State Champion was not ever going to be in my future.

wrestlingI tried wrestling as a freshman.  We practiced in a room that had the temperature turned up to over 100.  You could lose 5 to 10 pounds every practice, and weight was important.  When I wrestled, I needed to get at or below 103 pounds at weigh in. After you weighed in, you ate 20 candy bars, six oranges and drank as much as you could get down.  I wrestled in competition once against a Crow Indian from Hardin, Montana.  I was losing the match by more than 10 points so my only hope was to pin this guy in the last period.  I took the up position, cross-faced the dude so hard that his nose started to gush blood, and I flipped him over and drilled my chin into his chest until I felt like I was going to drive through his ribs.  The referee hit the mat and blew the whistle.  The fans who were there that night said that I jumped up three feet off the mat.  It just so happened that the junior college was playing a game after the meet, so there was a pretty good crowd gathering in the gym.  When I pinned the Indian dude from Montana, the crowd roared.  It was pretty exciting to hear the cheering as the referee raised my hand over my head.  I quit wrestling the next year.  Beating some guy from Montana as a JV wasn’t going to get me into the Olympics, and I really just didn’t like it much.

I gave basketball a try.  I had never played basketball, when I tried out for the team as a sophomore.  I practiced hard but didn’t make it past the first cut.  I had actually scored a basket in the final basketball scrimmage the night of the cut, and I remember distinctly the coach telling the team that I was “the best player he cut this year.”  Three of us got cut that night, and the other two could barely walk and chew gum at the same time as I remember.

bowlingMy last attempt at sports stardom was bowling.  Not many people will admit that bowling is a sport, and frankly, I agree with them.  I bowled in a drinking league that had a bowling problem, and, as expected, I wasn’t very good.  And yes, I read everything I could find, and practiced and tried different equipment, and took lessons, and still sucked.  There were “moments” during the three or four years that I bowled in league though.  I bowled a few games over 200.  I have some patches and pins recognizing my accomplishments, but the biggest win was the $1,500 I won on video poker at the bar before the bowling started one night.

Needless to say, totally without need, in fact, I was never destined to be good at any sport.  I could try archery, or ping-pong, or cycling, or diving, or swimming, or volleyball, or baseball, or marathons, or shooting, or soccer, or it wouldn’t matter.  As much as I want to be good at some sport, something, I have no natural talent.  I don’t care what they say, you will never be a world-class athlete without natural talent.  It’s in the genes, just not in mine.  And I’m comfortable with that fact, now that I’m older.  It wasn’t like I didn’t try.


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IMG_102642489616770This 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.

You think I'm kidding,

You think I’m kidding,

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 think this is the actual hole, but I don't see any ducks.

I think this is the actual hole, but I don’t see any ducks.

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.


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