Golf is so seductive. It promises so much. Yet, even if you play a good round, you feel used somehow.
Just like the Greek hero, Odysseus, who sailed past the Siren sisters’ alluring songs by having himself tied securely to the main mast of his ship, while also stopping the ears of his men so they could row safely past. Otherwise, they would meet the fate of so many other sailing ships that ran up on the rocks and shoals of the island where the Siren sisters lived. Golf is like that.
It all began when I was about ten years old. Ben Hogan was then at the top of his game. My step father loved golf, so he thought I should learn how to play the game. His own infatuation with the game began to develop about the time Bobby Jones won the Grand Slam in 1930. My brother, John, is an avid golfer. I’ve even heard him refer to himself as a “golf junkie.” That’s the effect this game has on you.
Though introduced to golf at a young age, I never figured to play, if for no other reason than golfers are the worst dressed people on the planet. Plaid trousers! Are you serious? Golfers wear clothes on a golf course they wouldn’t be caught dead wearing anywhere else. But once you try this game, your fate is sealed. You’re doomed.
A couple of years ago I had my game working pretty well. That spring I was beginning to feel like it was all coming together. However, I made one fatal error. I began to think (O, the shame of it all!) that this game was pretty easy. You are lulled into this manner of thinking simply because you have enjoyed the recent experience of a couple of good rounds. You allow yourself to believe that you can actually play like this all the time. You then start to think you could play even better than that if you got out to play more often. Who knows, if I could get my scores down low enough I might establish a handicap that would give me a shot at playing on the Seniors Tour! The Siren song began.
It’s about this time when the bottom drops out. Each year for the last number of summers, my wife and I have joined other family members for vacation in Maine. At these times John and I are on a mission to play as much golf as possible. Pat, a golfing buddy of John’s, vacations in Belgrade Lakes, Maine each summer. So the Roots brothers join Pat for a couple of rounds at the Belgrade Lakes Golf Course, one of the most spectacularly beautiful golf courses in the world. Only this time I was ready to play “lights out” golf! “Bring it on!” I said.
It’s important to remember that wisdom and golf are not normally used in the same sentence. Whatever game I thought I had working for me, up and left me. When swinging my club, I looked more like a Neanderthal beating his dinner to death, instead of the graceful, fluid, finely-honed sweep of a precisioned golf swing. It was painful for my brother and Pat to watch me. It was even more painful for me to watch me. As fellow sufferers, they patiently waited for me while I hacked my way around the golf course. I, in turn, had the look of the proverbial “deer in the headlights.” Then the self-talk began. “What happened to your game, Chuck? You’ve been playing so well! You’re embarrassing yourself out here! You look like a person who has never even played the game before!” My score was worse than a disaster. Shooting par for the round is 72. I normally shoot in the low 90s. On this day I shot a 133. John and Pat tried cheering me up. “You’ll be back on your game tomorrow,” they said. “You’ve got this bad round out of your system.” I desperately wanted to believe them. I almost convinced myself that I would have a much better outing the next day. Right! The next day I played even worse. I shot a 134!
Now, the Holy Grail of golf is to achieve a hole-in-one. This near perfect shot is typically performed while playing on a par 3. I have been close so many times that I’ve lost count. What’s worse is that John has made a hole-in-one. He never says anything to me about that – but then again, he doesn’t have to. He knows that I know that he has made one and I haven’t. In fact, he made his hole-in-one playing in Alaska. I was stationed in Rota, Spain at the time. I walked into the office one morning with a phone message from my brother. It said, “Have you ever had a hole-in-one?” This is coded speech for, “I got a hole-in-one! I got a hole-in-one! I got a hole-in-one! Nyaah, nyaah, nyaah, nyaah nyaah, nyaah!”
It has always been my wish to make my first hole-in-one while playing with John. Last year I was visiting him at his home in Virginia. We went out to play at the nearby country club where he is a member. The third hole is a par 3. I hit a beautiful fade to the green. The wind was blowing ever so slightly left-to-right. As I watched the ball descend ever closer to the flag stick, I thought, “Yes! This is it! John’s here to witness my first hole in one! And it’s on his course!” Alas! It was not to be. The ball hit four inches from the cup and rolled about one foot past. So close!
Recently my game has been improving. I’ve been shooting some decent rounds. I’m back in the groove. My handicap is coming down. I am also having a strong sense of foreboding. What’s that song I hear?
As a minister I guess I can best relate to comic Jim Murray’s evaluation of the game of golf. "Golf is not a game; it's bondage. It was obviously devised by a man torn with guilt, eager to atone for his sins."
Woe is me!