June 5, 2009

Beware The Clubslinger and The Volcano

Like an errant helicopter blade, I watched a nine-iron whoosh-whoosh-whooshing towards the creek the fronts the 17th green on my home course last night. It was chased by a string of four-letter expletives I will spare you, and both of these things went a lot further than the fellows's golf ball. It lay safely for all time in the marshes of the creek, probably never to be seen again.

This is a scene that repeats itself endlessly on the fringes of my backyard, there and on courses everywhere every day. An amateur golfer hits a bad shot and his or her temper explodes like Mount Vesuvius, covering anyone nearby with the lava of their obscenities -- and if the spectator is truly unlucky, a golf club besides.

I often wonder why? I realize well that golf can bring the best and the worst out in people, but I also realize that most of us work a full time job far away from the golf course, and that we have other duties like family and home to take care besides. Golf is supposed to be a respite from those things, a game we play ostensibly for fun and relaxation. Having a meltdown that resembles a three-year old's temper tantrum can't be relaxing or fun, can it?

We amateurs don't have the luxury of hitting hundreds of golf balls every day under the watchful eyes of top pros, all the while using the best equipment customized just for us. We probably don't have specialized workouts and diets to keep our bodies in top condition. Most importantly, we probably don't have ten percent of the talent that your average touring pro has. If we're lucky we might get in one or two full rounds a week, compared to a pro's typical regimen of five or more. Yet our expectations are to hit every shot "like Tiger." Rarely if ever is that going to happen.

It's one thing to utter a curse word or two after hitting an out-of-of character bad shot. Golf is a four-letter word, after all, but that's a lot different than yelling and screaming or tossing clubs like an Apache warrior would throw a tomahawk. I've never played golf with a saint, and goodness knows I'm no saint either. But I did learn a valuable lesson a long time ago that helped me curb my temper on the golf course, and one I am glad to have never needed to repeat.

When I was twelve or thirteen years old, I was afforded a rare opportunity to play with the adults, and I was determined to show my skills and prove my manhood to them all. I was going to drive the ball further, hit the ball closer and sink every putt, leaving them all with gaping mouths at this young phenomenon sure to break every record on the books.

Things didn't work out that way, of course. I played okay, but couldn't hit it as far as my Dad and his friends. When their balls found the short grass of the greens, mine would land astray in bunkers or in the woods. Each time that happened, I got more and more angry, and finally on the seventh hole, my anger erupted.

After an indifferent drive of maybe 160 yards, I tried to hit a three wood from the edge of the fairway. I needed the ball to go a long way to at least catch up, but I didn't want that. I wanted it to go further and onto the green. After all, my future as a PGA pro was on the line! I took a mighty backswing, ripped the club down, and.....dug a trench six inches long behind the ball. The divot flew further than anything and as I watched in horror, I was somehow possessed by the devil and flew into a rage.

The first thing I did was snap the shaft of the three wood over my knee. The second thing I did was start yelling GD's and F-bombs at the top of my lungs, words that were 100% verboten in front of my parents. Finally, I slung the remnants of the club - a Christmas present from the previous year - into the woods. Man, did I feel better.

Then I saw the look my Dad was giving me.

Ruh-roh, Relroy.

I looked into his eyes and saw a contempt that only a father can give a son. It's the look that says simultaneously that not only was I in deep doo-doo, there was also no escaping it. Dead man walking, they say, and that man was me.

"First of all, you will apologize to these men. Now," he said. "Then you will take your clubs and wait beside the car for me. We're going to have a little talk later. Do you understand me, mister?" he asked in an even voice.

Flushed with embarrassment and shame, I could only stammer an answer. "Y-y-yes sir."

"Apologize. Now." he said, still not raising his voice.

"I-I-I'm sorry." I said in a meek voice. I got no reply, just blank stares from everyone.

"Now MOVE!" Dad said, and after I lifted my clubs, off he went without a word.

That was an incredibly long walk, perhaps one of the worst ones I have ever had. I think only the one into my mother's funeral years later could come even close to comparing. There I felt sorrow and loss. Walking to the parking lot from the golf course, I felt tears and shame. Deep shame.

When my Dad came back, he still showed no anger. But he showed no mercy. No golf for six months, he said. Grounded for one month. And if I ever pulled a stunt like that again -- and he left it at that, figuring my imagination would devise a punishment far worse than any he could describe.

The next day he gave me a little talk about golf. No one likes playing with a jerk, he said, and I was a bona fide Class A a** the day before. Then he added that no one really cares about anything but their own ball and the company that they are with. Golf might make you angry, he finished, but at the end of the day the only thing that really matters was getting to play at all.

Good advice, and I have never forgotten it. These days, rarely if ever does my temper flare on a golf course, other than perhaps swiping a tee or a whispered epithet after a horrible shot. Nothing that would embarrass me anyway.

And that's a lesson a lot of Sunday amateurs everywhere could learn.

1 comment:

  1. We generally have a 'no club throwers' policy at NiceBallz.

    With a rare exception I've scarcely met a C.T. I end up liking, let alone would play golf with.

    It's reprehensible behavior really.

    Though, I still have a hard time containing a "F" word when I slice. I think it's just ingrained by now.

    I also am reminded of what Payne Stewart said: "You aren't good enough to get mad." :)

    Your Dad raised ya good.


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