My Thrilling Golf Career – a Heartbreaking Tale of Utter Frustration

St-Andrews-18th-teeTHE OTHER DAY I watched Tiger Woods blow his comeback in the Masters on the final back nine. I don’t normally watch golf, but I try to catch the finale of the Masters because of moments like this.

My own fling with golf was brief, if intense, and pretty much ended with high school. I played a lot but never reached that point where you can depend on your game.

I could hit approach shots, but my putting was totally erratic. On the tee, I had good power, but could rarely put it straight down the fairway. For a while, I had a slice problem, then graduated to a hook. I say “graduated” because for some reason a hook felt better than a slice. Which is like saying it feels better to be punched in the face than in the gut.

Then there were the par-3 water holes. We will not talk about those.

I did once play the club course at St. Andrews, Scotland. My uncle arranged it. He was a man who always wanted The Best. The best liquor, the best car, the finest name clothes, and to socialize with the best sort of people.

Conscientious consumers of The Best don’t like to admit they’re not just doing what comes naturally. How my uncle calculated his discriminations, I’m not sure. Had I asked him, he would have said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

But if we were in New York, we’d dine casually at the Four Seasons. We were in Scotland, so naturally we dropped in to play a round at St. Andrews. I don’t remember much about it, except that it was a beautiful sunny day, rare for Scotland, and that my uncle didn’t seem to be enjoying the round because I was beating my cousin. My uncle ragged my cousin all the way into the clubhouse, and didn’t stop until a Scotsman with a bright red face approached him and said, in a booming voice, “You’re frae Boston, aren’t you.” My uncle (who was indeed from Boston) was so flattered by this unexpected bonhommie that he left off ragging Allistaire and we all enjoyed a drink on the florid Scotsman. (My cousin and I were too young to drink, but it didn’t seem to matter.)

These days “St. Andrews” sounds like Such a Big Deal, but back then anyone could walk in, fork over their “two and six” and play 18 holes with little or no wait. To me it was just another course–I was unaware of its history, and remained so, even though my uncle went on and on about it. I tuned him out. The “history” aspect, the cachet that meant so much to my uncle, was lost on me.

“Some of the greatest men in history have teed up here.” I tuned him out.

I have an old high school buddy, an avid golfer. I beg him to get on Facebook so we can keep tabs on each other casually, without needing to cook up an occasion. He won’t, but he begs me to take up golf again for the same reason. I won’t. My last fling with it was about 10 years ago when I replaced a guy in a foursome of dads who played on Sundays. It didn’t take me long to suss out that these guys were less about golf than getting away from their wives and kids, and drinking about a gallon of Bloody Marys.

My heavy drinking days were long over, by then. Silly me, I had joined up for the golf. One day two of the other three guys had to puke their guts out in the rough along the par-5 third hole–the third hole, for God’s sake. I sliced it into the water on the par-3 fourth, took an endless series of Mulligans–which I also sliced into the water–and in a moment of rage, slung my 7 iron into the water and hiked back to the clubhouse.

I was through. I haven’t played golf since. I don’t think I’ll take it up again–I have too many other things to do that won’t make me feel like an existential punching bag.

The other day I flinched, watching Tiger one-arm it on one of his drives in the stretch. He staggered, cursed, yelled “Tig-errrr!” Then, “Jesus Christ!” and stalked off the tee.

That’s what golf can do to you, no matter how good you are. And I realized that had been me, not just on rare occasions, as for Tiger, but nearly all the time.

That was me on my last hole ever, and had been me during all the years of my flirtation with a game that never respected me, never loved me–never even liked me.

I surfed away from the Masters and picked up where I had left off watching “Mulholland Drive,” a movie that seems like a visual transcription of David Lynch’s extended bad dream. As creepy and weird as it might get, I feel better lost in the narrative goo of Mulholland Drive than I did facing that last water hole.

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