Why do they call it golf?
Because all the other four-letter words were taken.
Targhee Village (aka Spudgusta; bordering Idaho potato country). Men’s informal Thursday. Random foursomes, two dollars each in the pot.
First up, hole #1.
I reach for my driver. Well, it’s not actually my driver, as I broke mine over a tree three days ago. Fucking thing misbehaved. Markida reluctantly handed me a loaner.
The three other guys drive it out there pretty good. One guy clears Ditch Creek by twenty yards. I get my stance, few Sergio wiggles, head down, eyes on the dimple at the back of the ball, easy back swing, balanced athletic position, coming down … wrists releasing …
… then comes that 3/100ths of a second where I semi-consciously decide to change it all … I break one of those 87 different commandments … I start to look up … and it’s a top-spinning worm-burner skimming along earth-bound for all of 57 yards …
I approach that foul egg of a demon dragon, a Top Flite 3 … as if … select my Rescue 3. This club performed very nicely when I first got her. A hybrid between a wood and an iron, designed to get me out of the rough. But over this summer she’s performed sporadically. I had to slam her head into the ground a couple of times. Fickle bitch.
This ball I hit more squarely, it lasers out of there, not more than two feet above the fairway where it hits … rolls … oh no … don’t start off like … into the ditch.
The other guys hit good shots. I’m lying “two in three out” as I pluck my wet ball from the one-foot-wide ditch and drop it two feet farther from the flag.
Okay, nine iron. This is an easy club for most golfers to hit. Just one or two things to remember here … and I flash back to my first lesson, the pro demonstrating in slow motion …
“ … the grip, so the Vs are pointing to your arm pits, the ball a ball-width or two behind in my stance, athletic position, I bring the club back slowly, left arm straight, left knee bending slightly, weight shifting back, the turn … slightest pause at the back swing, then open up with my hips, hands and elbows still close, weight shifting forward, releasing my wrists, club face square, the club striking down on the back of the ball before it hits the ground, through my divot, follow through with my belt buckle facing my target. This is a club that most recreational players will hit between 100 and 120 yards from the flag. Now I’ll hit it at a regular tempo.”
That’s how fuckin’ nutz this sport is. Golf’s an all-too-true metaphor for life. Undulating terrain … unbalanced swings … traps … hazards … penalties … bad shots good lies … good shots unlucky bounces … finesse and etiquette in and around the populated greens … all that concentrated effort only to finally end up in a hole in the ground. I try so hard to stay on par, but the truth is I’ve carded a lot of bogeys, double bogeys and two days ago an 8 on the par 3 sixth hole.
Those standard and upright citizens (shirts with collars are expected for men) who can synthesize the most components and compete evenly among others in a socially accepted behavior prevail. We rogue-ish mountain types flail.
I take a deep breath, draw the 9-iron back, just think of one thing that one dimple and I hit it with that perfect click … club center, and toward the flag … bouncing one foot from the flag … and carrying recklessly onward … and beyond the green, into the steep rough.
By now, my mind and body tense up, breathing short, gritting my teeth … just the opposite of what you hear: “Loosey goosey,” “easy when it’s breezy, easy all the time,” “slow it all down.” “Relax.” Relax hell, I want to beat something, someone, anyone. So if all else fails, “Grip it and rip it!”
Okay, here comes the 60-degree. A lob wedge. Designed to lift the ball out of the rough … delicately … just keep my head and upper body still and legs planted … practice swing … now hit it just like that pop out she comes and it looks good for the first bounce, but Miss Dimples defies all laws of nature as she gains speed running past the hole six feet … I can sense my three playing partners’ disgust and pity.
Now, the putter. The other three have holed out so I step up, a few practice sings, yes, just there … plink … and it takes an impossible right turn before she stops two feet from the hole.
My putter was forged two levels beneath Hell’s Deepest Cellars …
Even top pros miss the easy two- and three-footers. You anticipate the “yips.” That means right at the last instant you question your performance: Did you grasp your shaft too tightly and how hard do you strike the ball and there is two or maybe three inches of break? And the “miss it” part of “don’t miss it” echoes in your brain and you twitch right at the crucial moment …
Golf is a game of confidence, a good player once told me.
I think it’s because I have the protester gene welded into my DNA from the ’60s with Nam and Nixon and all the nuts stuff oozing out directly opposite the explosion of artistic and musical and so many other enhancements so we’d all vacillate, shape-shifting our consciousness back and forth between paranoia and Peak Experience. Three-one-hundredths of a second and you think of too many things or the wrong thing and you doubt your swing your life your very reason for existence and it’s manifested in a “yip” and you miss the two-foot putt. Your cerebral cortex didn’t want to. Something misfired in your reptilian complex.
Hell, dude, professional baseball players are hitting a 5-ounce baseball being thrown directly at them at speeds upwards of 100 mph, spinning, curving, and any decent batter can take a 30-ounce round stick of wood and hit that 5-ounce spinning sphere squarely in 38/100ths of a second and you can’t hit this bright white 1.62-ounce dimpled ball perched up on a tee lying dormant right beneath you? And help yourself to a couple of practice swings …
I line up for the two-footer and the other three guys are standing oh so silently around me, one has picked up the flag. One good player told me Tiger Woods says grip it as lightly as possible. Just because it reflects my weird-ass life, I hit the ball right handed, but putt lefty. Don’t ask. I read a two-inch break here. I strike the ball and it breaks … toward the edge … catching the edge … spinning around the cup 270 degrees … and in! Kerplinkadink. The drug is in the kerplinkadink. The scores reported: 4, 4, 5 … and my 7.
Okay, next hole. Par 4.
This time I don’t hit the worst drive, but it hooks left and brings the water hazard into play. Golf doesn’t seem to attract the scientist types, but it should, as the cosmologists would find there’s a black hole right here at Spudgusta. It has swallowed up entire solar systems and even galaxies and at least two hundred of my golf balls. But it brings out the club I am most adept with, my ball retriever, a recent birthday present; replete with telescopic extenders and a ball-size day-glo basket.
Now the four-iron. This club brings instant anxiety. The hardest clubs to hit are the lower irons, as six-time-major winner Lee Trevino, the “Merry Mex,” said, “If it starts lightning hold up your 1-iron. God can’t even hit a 1-iron.”
At this point you’re asking, “Why do you keep playing?”
It’s because I have logged lots of miles running in them thar hills in and around Yellowstone and Jackson Hole. In fact, as of this writing 38,189. Add a hundred-thousand moguls + or – and a few thousand miles of schussing and crashing on light cross-country ski gear. All that mountain biking. Motorcycle accidents. Sixty planet revolutions. Arrggghh. The left knee is gone. In fact, when Obama Care slides through, I’m going in for an entire skeleton replacement.
So I was looking for another way/reason to stay outside. Golf! You’re outside, beautiful places. Make some new friends. Satisfy the old competitive urges. So I just took it up. Nine years ago.
My best score here at Spudgusta is a 41 for our nine-hole course. Five over par. The record round, from the best golfer in these parts is Chris Inglis. He’s one-quarter Nez Perce Native American. He’s carded a 28!
My four iron from about 150. Of course it splashes into the water. What else did you expect? But one of the other guys lands his ball in the thicket, one other hits into the tall grass, so I don’t feel that bad. They shall share my suffering.
I pull out my 56-degree for my penalty shot, 40-yard shot to the hole. With a miracle, I can make par. And don’t watch, you’re making me nervous …
You gotta hit under the ball, practice swings skim the grass just like that step up, pause, how long to pause? Shite, I didn’t check my impact point keep going they’re waiting … hit it squarely just that hard club back now forward aim there which dimple … and I skull it. Hit it one-quarter inch too high … but it bounces out of the duff and onto the green stopping five feet away from the hole.”
“Good shot, Cal.”
I miss the five-footer by a foot, then almost missed the tap in, so it’s a 6.
Now, let’s move onto the epicenter of horror and mayhem, hole #6. Par three. Over a dank brown lagoon. Draining it in the fall reveals a golf ball graveyard.
One local guy I played with a couple of years ago boiled the whole game down this way:
“There are just three things to remember in golf. One, keep your head down. Two, keep your fucking head down and three, keep your goddamned fucking head down.”
I’m having problems with that one lately. I keep looking up and seeing scary shit going on all around me. The planet and its citizens veering into deep rough. Into the thick stuff, and we’re gonna have to pull out that rescue hybrid and get back on the fairway.
My heart’s in the mountains. Escapism. These thirty years of running over these wonderful mountain trails, uphill forever, to 10,000 feet! The Top of the World! Grinding above all that complicated humanism. And also shuffling across the volcanic caldera that is Yellowstone Park. My heart and mind soar freely out there, past sour pyschodramas, beyond cities, living in that exact moment.
No score, no parameters, no penalty shots, no bad swings.
But as I’m running low on miles, I try to spread out what’s left. Some days, some rounds, better than others, yes? On sore knee days, there’s the bike or easy ski touring. On good days, do I have one more Pikes Peak Ascent left in me?
Only one of the other three guys lands his ball on the green, one goes over, the other guy flirts with disaster as his ball stops on the edge of the slope above the lagoon. I step up, tee my Callaway (yeah, I drowned the Top Flite on hole #5). A practice swing, then I remember tip #79, about the torso and I turn my shoulders … slight pause … balanced there open up the hips swinging through and CLICK! That beautiful sound when you hit it right “on the screws” … the whistle of the ball through the air when it’s hit perfectly. The ball flies up … arching toward the flag … down from its pinnacle … toward the flag … “Go!” … it lands with a heavy thud four feet from the flag … takes two short bounces and stops three feet from the hole.
“Good shot, Cal.”
“There ya go.”
Okay, FYI, I compensated for the two inches of break … and made the putt. A birdie! Won points for the team. It would be the only hole to which I contributed, but the other guys played well and our team won. I begrudgingly accepted my eight dollars.
Golf backwards is Flog. So you now have MJF’s, MG’s and my permission to flog any friend, relative or spouse even hinting at taking up this *%#&! sport. Remember, for every 400 yards of fairway, there are 800 yards of rough. But for every 400 yards of mountain trail there are 400 yards of birdies, eagles … you tell me …
So golf and life: The meta-four-iron. It’s that comeback shot. Not the 150-yard 9-irons the pros hit that land on the green and roll back to within inches of the hole. No, the 7-iron I hit on #6; it makes me want to come back and play one more time. One more perfect mountain trail, evoking exuberance. One more perfect swing.
Long-time contributor Cal Glover, a tour guide in the Greater Yellowstone area, passed away last December. This story was submitted several months before his death.