Sunday, December 12, 2010

Losing your (golf) balls

What is it about this game that turns normal people into raving lunatics, reasonable athletes into bumbling idiots, and the average crowd into dazed sheep? I’m talking, of course, about golf. Perhaps the greatest enigma confounding humankind today. And, stupidly, probably the greatest enigma facing humankind tomorrow.

I recently started playing this endlessly frustrating sport, quite badly I must say, and have already fallen irrevocably into this mysterious tailspin of lost causes. I will probably never be any good at golf and yet, absurdly, I continue to curse and cuss like a trooper every time I shoot a double par or miss a forty-foot shot. Duh…

Realising the futility of my anguish, I decided to survey some of my previous golfing partners in the hope of obtaining some kind of understanding of the average golfer’s behavior. Unfortunately, these people are no longer taking my calls. I asked my husband (who has to take my calls) to explain the mystery, but found him to be just as confused. He, quite bravely, has taken upon himself the unenviable task of teaching me how not to make a fool of myself on the course, or at least to avoid it for as long as possible. He’s taking it nine holes at a time. I’m usually pretty good until the second one.

Much to my surprise, Frank, a dedicated if erratic lover of this sport, is equally amazed at people’s slavish respect for golf. He frequently watches televised tournaments only to repeatedly shriek and chortle at the crowd’s blatant stupidity. “Oh my God!” he exclaims, “The ball has gone into the crowd at the same spot three times and THEY’RE STILL STANDING THERE!” Another shriek of laughter, “That guy just got hit by the ball and HE’S STILL STANDING THERE!” And so on.

And yet, religiously, he stands by the TV, emulating the current leader’s stroke in the hope that some of the magic touches his custom-made clubs. After a bad round, my usually sportsmanlike husband announces, “It must be my clubs.” I smile at him hopefully and ask if perhaps I have the same problem. He doesn't blink or miss a beat. “No. It’s definitely your swing.”

I remember my father, a better than average sportsman in most fields, being totally confounded by the game. “Think of it logically, Nic. It’s a simple concept involving a ball and a club. Your arms follow a straight line driving the club into the ball - the ball should follow the same projectory. Right? Wrong. No matter what I do, the ball never goes where it’s supposed to.” A firm believer in education as the key to success in, well, everything, he would read books, try training aids, take long walks around the golf course in the hope of picking up something from other players…anything to improve his game. It didn't work. He got to a point and never got any better. I’ve heard similar stories from other equally intelligent and able people. Still they persist.

Golfing actually seems to defy the laws of gravity, physics and reason. Shouldn’t the ball go where you aim it? If you hit the ball harder, shouldn’t it go further? And, if you practice really, really hard, shouldn’t you get better? Apparently not. Or not in golf, and not in your lifetime (well, certainly not mine).

And I know why, too.

Golf was sent down from a higher being, obviously a better golfer, to remind humans of their very tiny position on the earth and of their very human limitations. Even professional golfers have the occasional nightmare shot; we are, after all, mere beginners in the sand-trap of life, and even those paid huge amounts of money can fall victim to overshooting a one-foot putt.

And as I take aim this weekend, as that tiny, dimpled ball smirks up at me, glinting in the beautiful Australian sun, smug in its knowledge that I will never get the better of him (for it must be a man), the immortal words of a New York copywriter come to mind: Just fucking do it.

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