‘They call it golf because all the other four letter words were taken’ – Ray Floyd
Of late I have taken to playing golf with other people.
I used to play on my own, hiding away my embarrassing attempts at creating fleeting unions between ball and stick, much like the petrol siphoner, constantly snatching furtive glances over his shoulder, afraid that another living creature may wander into his vicinity and see his shameful actions and disrobe him to all the world as the fraud he truly is.
It was a simpler time. A time when the only form of judgment to a shank came from the disapproving shake of the head from the poor caddy, who had just come to understanding that he may never see the end of these 18 holes as he may forever be condemned to finding lost balls in bushes over and over and over ad infinitum.
Some of my caddies were even known to send text messages to loved ones bidding them farewell and leaving instructions for the care of their children.
Playing with other players is daunting. These other people fall into two basic categories: ‘friends’ and ‘strangers’, both coming with their own unique set of problems to the novice golfer.
You would assume that playing with friends would be easy (for ease of reference I have included relatives in this category, though I’m pretty sure some would not consider their relatives to be friends, but hey ho…). Comfortable even. What could be better than spending a few hours with people you have known most of your life and care about deeply? These are people who you would lend money to and name your progeny for…people who would consider it a mere nuisance to stand between you and a bullet…stalwart companions who have walked the long road of life itself with you…all the way until they have walked the golf course with you. Then it all changes.
Assuming these friends are of a similar beginning level as you, all may still be well. You will all blunder about in the roughs, most probably constantly sharing disparaging remarks about each other’s lack of control over sticks and balls (har har). You may even find yourself on sentry duty as your friend braves the wild to look for a sliced drive deep, deep into the right side forest.
If your friends are better at you at the hallowed game…well then it may be just about time to cut your losses and find new friends. And that’s the painless way too. Should you persist in playing with them, you will be subjected to various emotions as of yet alien to your lifetime of friendship: anger…pity…wrath…envy…basically all the bad parts of the Bible rolled up into one afternoon’s worth of golf. You will walk away with a sense of inadequacy compounded by the true knowledge that, despite what your respective bank balances and societal stature may point to, you are NOT equals, much less friends.
Still…it could be worse. You could be playing with strangers.
The first time I lined up to tee off in a four ball with three other individuals I had first met 20 mins prior was, needless to say, fairly momentous. This was the culmination of weeks, nay, months of agonizing internal debate about whether I was ready to reveal my naked golfing self to prying eyes. To allow other eyes to judge my painful attempts at a golf swing. This was difficult. It seemed eerily similar to sitting a final exam, where the test was your tee-off and the examiners were your playing mates.
It all depended on my tee-off: tee off well enough and the statement would be made that you were indeed capable of a passing resemblance to a golfer. Tee-off badly though and the first impression that would constantly linger would be that of a lead weight tied around their ankles as they tried to swim to the surface of the river.
Perhaps I was giving the moment undue importance.
I resolved that I would not overplay the moment. For the entire week building up to the day when I would play I spent my mental faculties on trivialities: work…state of the nation…that kind of stuff.
Then the day dawned. I made my way to the Windsor Golf and Country Club in the early morning. It had dawned fine: blue skies with just the gentle whisper of a breeze. The fairways looked lush (not that that would affect my game as I hardly ever venture there) and the dew caressed the tops of the blades of grass as gently as a mother holds her newborn.
I was introduced to the three others I would be playing with.
The inevitable question asked off each other: ‘What handicap do you play off?’
‘9’ responded one…
‘14’ said the other…
’13…but it really should be 20 considering how badly I play har har har’ said the third.
3 pairs of eyes then swiveled in my direction. I swallowed hard and whispered: ‘28’.
‘Sorry? Didn’t quite catch that…must have misheard you…sounded like you said 28 har har har’ said number 2.
‘I did’. Said I.
‘Oh’ said all three. Of course what they meant to say was ‘da*n…we’re stuck with the blunderer. What did we do in a past life that has caused this pestilence upon us?’
That one syllable, coupled with the look in their eyes said it all. It brought back all the worries and the doubts. All of a sudden the first tee box seemed like a mountain.
As is the wont of this game, the tee-offs commenced with the lower handicaps first progressing to the highest. The first tee shot from the 9 handicap player went off stunningly: a short sharp swing and the ball exploded off the club straight as an arrow bang in the middle of the fairway, in the next county.
The next two were fairly decent as well, though Number 3 sliced his tee shot ever so slightly (accompanied by a very polished ‘Darn it!’ emitted by said Number 3).
Then it was my turn.
I made the mountain climb onto the tee-box. As I stooped to place my tee and ball I was acutely aware that not only were the eyes of all my playing partners on me, but also the eyes of the 12 or so others who were waiting their turn at the tee, not to mention the eyes of the 6 or so ducks waddling away in the water pond directly off the tee box, slightly to the right.
21 pairs of eyes. All on me.
The pressure was palpable. I took my practice swing, remembering all the 50 odd things that I tried to keep in mind about my swing. It went smooth. Just the right amount of pace and focus. It was a good practice swing.
I shuffled forwards 6 inches to line up my club with the ball. A cold bead of sweat began to gather its followers at my brow.
An expectant hush enveloped the area like a blanket of fog. All I could hear was the sound of my heart beating incessantly to the sound of what seemed like a marching band. And the gentle quack of the ducks in the duck pond not 10 yards away from where I stood.
This was it. Do or Die. The moment of truth.
I swung back…and at the apex of my backswing I felt it: the safe knowledge that I had this! The swing was comfortable and familiar, the weight of the club perfectly in place. Hips in position and head down, eyes focused intently on the ball. I swore I would not look away from that spot till well after the swing had been completed.
I could see the shot in my mind before the club even came down: This was to be a perfect tee shot: not too far but decent distance with just the hint of a slice. All would be well. The semblance of a grin tickled my upper lip as I finally swung down towards the ball. I HAD THIS!
Followed by a ferocious ‘Quack’ from one of the ducks in the duck pond as my ball landed just inches away into the duck pond with a ‘Plop’ that was made even more audible by the afore-mentioned expectant hush.
‘Ah cr*p’ Said I.