I play a game, a hateful and cruel game that treats me like a friend and then dumps me into a bottomless pit to scratch and claw my way out for what seems like an eternity.
Why do they say we “play” golf? It’s not fun. It’s hard. A person can play golf for years and not get much better. Improvement comes only with a lot of practice – going to the driving range and hitting over and over trying to figure out not only how to make the ball go straight, which it never wants to do, but also go the correct distance. The ball will just about always refuse to do one or the other. Oh, it may get the distance right, but if it does, it won’t go straight.
Say you’re hitting the first ball on any of the 18 fairways in a golf course, and you want the ball to go 150 yards. It will go 150 yards, but it will go to the left or right, not straight. Just about every golf ball I’ve ever played behaves like this. I’ll end up in someone else’s fairway. I have to go into their territory where they’re hitting their balls at 10,000 miles per hour straight at me. When they see me, all four of them stand there, arms crossed, toes tapping, waiting for me to get out of their way. I’m embarrassed and “off my game,” and the ball decides to indulge in some shenanigans. I have to hit between two gnarly oak trees to get back to my fairway, an easy shot, I can do it with my eyes closed. This ball, however, loves smacking into trees so it richochets off one and line-drives the squatty player with a stogie hanging out the side of his mouth, dripping sweat in the hot sun. Fortunately he ducks in time and the ball, laughing, lands behind him. This is the game of golf as I play it.
No one would ever play this game if there weren’t handicaps. It’s like when we were kids and the really fast kid always came up to you and said, “Let’s race.” We all said, “No, you’ll win.” So he says, “I’ll let you start in front of Miss Smith’s house.” Hmmm, you look down the street and the Smith house looks pretty far away. So you say, “Okay,” thinking you might have a chance to actually beat him. Somewhere near the finish line you trip and get a bloody scrape on your knee while you watch the fast kid zoom by.
A handicap gives a stinking player such as myself a chance to win. If it takes a good player 72 hits to finish all 18 holes in a round of golf, he has a 0 handicap. If it takes you, the hacker, 104 hits on a good day to finish 18 holes, then you take your 104 and minus 72, and that gives you a handicap of 32. So your gross score (well named) is 104, but your net score is 72. That way you can compete against any golfer and have a chance to win in the net division.
This is how they get bad players to keep playing golf – it’s the hope that you’ll do enough things right, that you’re be blessed that day, that you don’t get stuck in the sand, that your ball won’t hit every tree along the fairway, that the fast kid falls instead of you – this is what keeps suckers like me playing golf.
It’s also what entices bad golfers to enter competitions, and sometimes we actually win. Last week I played in a two-day tournament and I played great the first day – oh man was I having my best game in a long time. When I putted, the ball dropped into the cup instead of defying gravity and rolling over it. The ball flew out of the sand traps in one hit and stayed mostly in the fairway. Everything went right. People said, “Wow, you were on fire out there today.”
I knew this was the gong of doom. Because the second you do something right in golf, the ball, even if it’s brand new and knows nothing about you or your game, it will sabotage your success. This is a given in my case, and it happened again on the second day of the tournament.
The ball leaped into a sand trap and wouldn’t get out. I hit and hit and hit and hit and it got to the top of the lip and rolled back down. Instead of getting a 4 on the hole like I did the day before, I got an 11. (To explain, 4 is good; 11 is very very bad.)
Have you ever watched a basketball game where the underdogs are so lively at first, their fans cheering; the score’s even. Then the other team steals the ball and makes a dunk. And they do it again. The fans quit cheering. The bad team gets a hang-dog look about them and start acting tuck-tailed. They miss passes, miss shots – everything blows up.
That was me after getting the 11. From then on, the ball zigzagged down the fairway, avoiding the middle, coming up short when I putted, doing everything it could to make me miserable.
Afterwards I had to sit in a room of women golfers as they called out the winners. I didn’t even bother looking at the scoreboard, I just hoped I wouldn’t be last. But here’s the beauty of golf, the reason all us idiots keep coming back. When the head pro came in to announce the winners, he called my name first. WHAT??? Turns out, because I played so well the first day, and with my high handicap, I got 2ndNet in my Flight. Oh, I forgot to mention that in big tournaments they will group the best golfers in Flight #1, the next best in Flight #2, and so on. In this tournament there were three flights, and I was, of course in Flight #3 – the worst golfers. And we were bad. Balls going everywhere, in ponds and rivers and ditches and roads, sand traps, other people’s fairways, bouncing off trees, rolling under bushes. But none of that mattered, because I was 2ndplace Net in a Flight of 13 women. I won $30! You’ve never seen a happier person.
Even now, three days later, I’m still aglow. 2ndbest of the worst! Does life get any better than this? I just can’t wait to play again. What a sucker.