Thursday, June 2, 2011

Golf Is Flog Spelled Backwards

Golf is a good walk spoiled. — Mark Twain

Samuel Clemens must have never broken 80. That would have changed his outlook. I have shot in the 70s just five times. You remember such momentous events, though the last time I did so was more than 10 years ago. I lost my obsession with this game when I concluded:

• I will never be more than a mediocre golfer, able to shoot in the low 90s most days but perfectly capable of blowing up and busting the century mark.

• The game takes too much time. I should be more productive in my leisure hours.

• A sport where drinking is not only allowed but actually encouraged is not conducive to good health.

Golf has become a semi-annual event at most for me, usually in scrambles held for charity affairs. A scramble, for you non-golfers, is a tourney usually four people play as a team, using the best shot of the quartet. A scamble takes the pressure off hackers like me. Beer drinking is required, which improves neither my game nor my intelligence. Fortunately, it has the same effect on my teammates, so we enjoy ourselves. A nap invariably follows.

A buddy and I indulged in an inaugural 2011 round the other day, nine holes at Austin’s Hancock golf course, which is the original Austin Country Club founded in 1899. The back nine lies below the shopping center across the street. The remaining nine holes consist of hardpan fairways and sketchy greens. But it is cheap to play there, seldom crowded, and is one of the first courses I played after taking up the game 20 years ago.

We rented pull carts and began an unspoiled walk on a windy spring day. My first golf swing in nearly a year results in a soaring, string-straight tee shot that sailed over the par-three green. Five strokes later, the ball rolled into the cup. My short game is shot. Not to worry. I fully intended to enjoy this morning and not obsess over the score. Nothing was going to spoil this walk — even a three-putt from 12 feet away that any fool should make who is worth a flip at this infernal game that ought to be banned before it turns middle-aged guys like me into quivering mounds of anger. Sorry. Had a moment.

Golf courses have their share of characters, folks who play every day wearing attire one doesn’t expect to see on a golf course. Never bet with a golfer wearing overalls; they’ll take your money every time. Avoid toothless guys as well. There was a fellow nicknamed Chicken at the course I played in East Texas. He wasn’t entirely toothless but working on it. Chicken chain-smoked Camels, drank beer nonstop and bestowed free mini-golf lessons on hackers like me, whether you wanted them or not. Chicken would reward a topped tee shot that dribbled down the fairway, barely clearing the women’s tees with the comment, “That was hell for straight.”

I once played on the base course down in Corpus Christi with an older gentleman who early on said he was blind in one eye. He pointed to a tank parked rather incongruously near the teebox on which we stood. “That (expletive-deleted) tank is how I lost my eye.” I thought he meant in combat, but it was an errant tee shot that hit the tank, ricocheted back and hit him square in the eyeball. The fact that he still played golf on the same course where he lost half his vision is testimony to the game’s addictive power. I’m glad I was able to kick the habit before a similar mishap occurred.

I knew another fellow who was bitten by a copperhead while looking for his ball in the woods. He was out of commission a few months while his leg healed. This prompted establishment of the FYOB rule at this course, meaning, “find your own ball.” That rule was invoked by a golfing partner when I hit an approach shot on a par five that landed just short of the green. I was razzing him about the lovely shot, which outdistanced his by a good bit, when a fox came out of the woods, picked up my ball and trotted into the woods on the other side of the fairway. I guess the fox thought it was an egg.

“You know the rules,” he said. “You have to play it where it lies.”

Tough game. Tough crowd.

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