Saturday, August 1, 2009

A Golf Lesson

My continuing education hit a nasty "S" in the learning curve last week. Now that I am unemployed, my son (who will, hereafter, be referred to as "The Boy") has taken a more than casual interest in golf. For those of you who are unaware, golf can be an expensive hobby, like photography with Haaselblad cameras, or collecting Fabergé eggs.

Then there is my approach to the game. I bought a used set of clubs in 1988. For the clubs and bag, I paid $100. The woods were actual persimmon, and had been lovingly used for a number of years by the former football coach at Loudon High, the late Henry Blackburn. Around 2003, a co-worker ran into a deal on some new Northwestern clubs in Etowah, TN. So I bought that set for $100, and I'm still using Henry's old bag. The course I normally play costs $30 for eighteen holes (that's cheap for golf), which I never play. I am a "nine and done" golfer, especially in the heat.

I also have a sort of Zen method of playing golf. For years, at my former place of employment, every time a golf tournament came up, someone would ask me if I planned to play. My reply was always: "Nobody wants to play tournament golf with me." The inquirer would then make an assumption, and ask: "Are you that good?"

Whereupon I would reply, "No, I simply don't care who wins; and people who play tournaments are competitive, whereas I am not."

The rules I follow while playing are fairly simple:

  1. While it is okay to celebrate a good shot, never bother being upset over a bad one. These come much more frequently, and are to be accepted.
  2. I am not now, nor will I ever be a professional golfer. Therefore I don't have to follow PGA rules. If my ball is lying in rocks, I can damn well kick it into the grass if I please. I am also one of those guys who will dig my ball out of the deep rough and "tee it up" on a patch of sturdy Johnson grass.
  3. Never keep score.
  4. I paid the greens fee, I will watch the ball go into the cup.
  5. If I am alone, and the course is not mobbed, I walk.
Yeah, and walking and my ego are what recently got me into that learning curve problem.

There is an annual amateur golf tournament called the Women's Trans National Golf Championship that recently celebrated its 79th anniversary right here in East Tennessee. The 2009 WTNGC was played at the Tennessee National Golf Club in Loudon, TN on a course designed by none other than Greg Norman, my favorite player from my generation of professional golfers.

I used to watch in agony every year as The Great White Shark would make his charge on Friday or Saturday at August National, only to melt down in some new and creative way -- annually -- on Sunday afternoon at The Masters Championship. He never won The Masters, and, as a fan, it is one of my greatest regrets.

So on Friday, July 24th, The Boy and I wandered through the mostly empty Tennessee National residential area, where it is approximately $100,000 just to acquire a section of grass on which one can put a caddyshack of minimal proportions ("which I am certain is regulated by a board of directors," he observed haughtily). We stopped at the guardhouse at the golf course area, announced our intentions to watch the ladies play, and were given directions to the clubhouse -- very courteously, I might add.

First, let me say that the golf course itself is a work of art. The layout is well done, the fairways pristine, and the bunkers are a mix of your standard American monsters, with a few decidedly European-looking beachheads having a good deal of depth to them. The Boy couldn't stop talking about how pretty the course is, and the way Watts Bar Lake and its inlets are worked into and out of the rolling landscape. As a confirmed cheapskate golfer, I'm not even used to having bunkers with sand in them, much less ones that are perfectly laid, manicured, and maintained.

The tournament is match-play, such that every day players went head to head and were eliminated according to who won the round. By the time we arrived on Friday afternoon, only four players were left. We followed the pairing of Stacey Keating -- a young Australian who is at least 5'10" based on the fact that she was looking down at me when we shook hands -- and a teenager who just finished her freshman year at Wake Forest who goes by the name Cheyenne Woods (she has a famous golf-playing uncle of whom you may have heard).

Watching those girls play was truly a revelation. I watch a lot of golf on television, but being able to see their steady, even swings and watching the balls fly straight, true, and land nearly every time in the fairways and on the greens was awe-inspiring. I believe Ms. Keating missed one fairway in eighteen holes, and Ms. Woods missed three. And we're talking about missing by a couple of feet, not digging through poison-ivy, missed-the-fairway efforts such as yours truly consistently concocts.

By the way, for you guys who are wondering, they weren't hard to look at, either. Both were very attractive young ladies who conducted themselves admirably all day.

Now, let's get to the part where I feel superior -- as we unemployed, blue-collar types are wont to do. When The Boy and I first began our tour of the grounds, there were eight people in four carts following the action, and the two of us were walking. After a while, there were another couple of folks who were also walking and a few more carts. By the time the match finished, there were at least ten carts of people following the action.

The Boy and I walked the whole way, and I -- as mentioned above -- felt entirely above all the people in their electric transports. Taking into account that I had minor surgery on my left foot only a couple of months ago, I felt justified in my aforementioned haughtiness.


Later in the evening, hours after returning home, I started to get out of my recliner. That was when the feeling of superiority was replaced by a burning pain in my feet. Eighteen holes is a lot of golf course to walk, even if you aren't swinging a club, and my lazy, unemployed extremities were now paying the price for my earlier determination and over-aggressive ego.

But you know what? It was totally worth the discomfort. The Boy got to watch some superior golf; we both congratulated the young players (Ms. Keating won the match 2-up), and it was a day spent outdoors without either of us doing a lick of actual work.

Everyone at the clubhouse was courteous and helpful, all of our questions were answered and when we bought a couple of Cokes at the bar after the match, they cost $2 -- total. This, of course, appealed to the cheapskate in me.

On the way home, I asked The Boy if he had noticed young Ms. Woods' diamond nose-stud, and his reply was, "Huh? No, I was looking at her eyes. They were really pretty."


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