Sunday, September 30, 2007

I Love Golf

I love the game of golf.

I love to play golf.

I love to watch golf.

I love to read about the history of golf.

I took up golf in 1983 in Baton Rouge at my brother Paul’s prodding. He had just started playing as well, and in usual fashion he acquired the skills quite quickly.

I borrowed my dad’s old clubs, and immediately found that you do not just walk out and play golf. That day we played the course on the campus of LSU. I believe I walked off that day in disgust – before even reaching the turn.

Why I tried again after that experience I don’t remember.

When Paul and I were boys in Georgia, our Dad would often ask us if we would like to play golf with him. And we always declined.

Golf is a silly game of chasing a little white ball only played by boring old men who wear funny clothes. Or so we thought. And I know Dad was disappointed by our ignorance.

Paul bought me my first set of clubs. I do not remember if I ever paid him back or not. If not, I hope he doesn’t read this or he may charge me interest.

As I remember, he paid $58.00 for a used set of Lynx Masters. Fancy for their day, with the face of a Lynx cast on the back of each club. USA Masters engraved on the heel.

They were laden with lead tape, heavily coated on the bottom of each by a senior who obviously wanted to increase the distance. It took most of a day on the patio peeling that tape off.

I remember those irons so well. I should. I still play them. They are the only irons I have ever owned. And I can hit each one pure and crisp.

At the same time, our parents had just moved from Baton Rouge to Pensacola, Florida. They took an apartment with a pretty back yard, and behind their yard lay the 12th green of a long dog leg right par 5.

So it seemed to be destined that golf would become a family endorsed component of our life. That year for Christmas, my parents gave me a Sam Snead Blue Ridge driver. And I learned to pummel that thing 300 yards plus.

My brother and I would wake up on Christmas morning, sneak out on the 13th tee beside their apartment building, and play all the way around back to the 12th green. The course was closed for Christmas day, so we would carry our bags discretely and shoot greens with no flags in the holes.

Those were probably the best Christmas mornings I knew until my daughters were born.

At that time I worked a job at night, and got off work at 7:00 am. I would leave work and go right to the municipal course of my choosing. Baton Rouge had a bunch. Some were great, some were flat fields with cement water drains in place of real creeks.

I would arrive and usually play before the club-house was open, navigating the sprinklers, and explaining to the grounds crew that I would pay when I reached the club house. I don’t remember ever being refused.

After a couple years of playing every day all year around, I was pretty good. I could shoot in the 70’s consistently, and sometimes even go below par. My forearms and hands were very strong and tan, with the left hand giving me away as a constant player because the glove I wore resulted in a pale white skin tone.

I could hit a long tee shot consistently with my Blue Ridge driver, and my approach shots with my Lynx Masters irons would usually leave me with an opportunity for birdie.

And Paul could always beat me. I can’t remember one time I ever beat him.

For a brief period before I moved to Canada, Paul and I were room mates. The best ‘roomie’ I ever had. And weekly we would play one specific round together. It was called “The Cascade Classic”. The loser of this round would be responsible for doing the dishes for the next week, until the next Cascade Classic could be played.

I don’t remember Paul ever washing a single dish in that apartment.

When I moved to Canada the week between Christmas and New Years of 1985, I packed my car with all my belongings. My golf clubs among them. We went to my Mom and Dad’s apartment in Pensacola and played our customary rounds on the course behind their yard.

And then I moved to Canada. I moved to Canada in late December. I don’t recommend this feat to anyone.

I did not pick up my clubs again until the final round of the Masters was being played. This is the infamous Sunday when Jack Nicklaus won his final green jacket.

But on the farm, we still had two feet of snow on the ground. Winter was not leaving easily. And I took a shovel, cleared a five foot patch, and hit nine irons across the yard to snow bank in the corner. When the snow finally melted in May, I recovered those balls and returned them to my bag.

So my life changed from playing daily to starting all over again in April or May, working on my game through the summer, and then abandoning it again come October.

At Christmas, I would usually return to Pensacola spending Christmases with my parents, or just my Mum after dad passed away in 1990. And golf was a central focus of my holiday.

As the years have progressed, my ability to travel to Pensacola at Christmas has evaporated. We have our own family Christmas traditions in Windsor. There is no Golf yet in these traditions.

In a common summer, I may get to play golf once every two weeks or so. This year I only had four opportunities to play.

Yesterday was one of those opportunities. It was our Company Golf Tournament. And it is a highlight of every fall for me and Darlene. This year Darlene could not play because the implant she has in her back was still healing. As I left in the morning I could see she was sad she could not play.

Instead she spent the day with her brother closing our pool.

We played a best ball scramble format. My partners were Erwin, Tim, and his wife Diane. Both Erwin and Tim hold significant rankings in our company. And both are excellent people to spend time with. Tim’s better half, Dianne, was equally enjoyable, and a good golfer as well.

I will admit that we started the morning with hopes of possibly winning the event. And we started well by reaching a par five in two and achieving our first birdie – beginning the day at one under par.

I would say that of the four of us, we all contributed to the cause equally. And our outcome was most definitely the result of our combined effort.

And it was a lot of fun.

Tim and Erwin both equally ensured we were in good shape in the fairway. My strength has always been the approach to the green. Between the four of us we most always hit the green with the opportunity for birdie or eagle.

But putting was a skill not held by any of us yesterday. So no eagles were accomplished and only three birdies realized.

We finished at two over par.

When we reached the par 3 where the men’s closest to the pin was contested, I liked my chances. I have won this contest before. The shot was a 145 yards and the tee elevated over bush and wasteland leading up to the green.

I put the tee in the ground and sized up the conditions. The wind slightly in my face. The green sloped back to font.

I lined up my nine iron, the same nine iron with the Lynx face cast in the back and “USA Master” engraved on the bottom. My mind held this thought:

Remember the 17th hole at Mums? It is the same shot. Just picture that hole in your memory as you swing through the ball. It’s the same hole. It’s the same swing.

I took the club back to full-square. As I brought the club down through the ball with my left forearm, I was clearly seeing the 17th hole at Carriage Hills.

As I followed through, my ball flight was high, right on line, and looking perfect. The ball hit 12 inches straight in front of the hole. It bit and spun back another 12 inches. It stopped two feet dead straight uphill in front of the hole.

The best part of it was not hitting the shot or watching it. The best part was hearing my partners in our foursome cheering the ball in flight – in that moment that seems like five minutes, as you watch the ball drop from clouds and land beside the pin. The high fives, and the excitement as we drove down to the hole to find it is indeed as close as we thought.

I tried to calmly stroke it in for a natural birdie but missed. Tim stepped up and rapped it in for the official birdie we needed to stay in the hunt. Then he signed my name on the board and moved it to where my ball landed.

I do love golf.

I love everything about golf

But I am awfully glad that I don’t have to play golf to earn my living.

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