Exclusives: The Varsity Typewriter
PAW web exclusive column by Patrick Sullivan '02 (email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
A walk in the Woods way
Golf always the same, but never the same
By Patrick Sullivan '02
Mark Twain once said that "golf is a good walk spoiled."
While I am in no position to argue with the great American bard,
I would humbly counter that golf is a good walk made better.
Its a game of inches, of concentration, and of frustration.
No matter the how physically talented any athlete is, all first-time
players are equalized by this incredible game. There is no such
thing as a "typical" golfer. Short (Cory Pavin), tall
(Tiger Woods and Greg Norman), fat and drunk (John Daly)
golfers come in all shapes and sizes. Golf requires internal finesse
chess with a stick on a 1000-acre board where so much can
go wrong. You dont need large forearms or strong legs to be
good. Rather, concentration, focus, and precision are your tools
of choice. A good driver might also come in handy.
In writing this column, I hope only to illustrate my love of a game
that people often liken to a nicotine addiction. Once youre
hooked, you cannot stop playing. Golf like nicotine
will beat you before you conquer it. As many people as there are
that love golf, there are probably equally as many who detest it
as much as second-hand smoke in a restaurant. Theres no middle
ground in the debate, either: Who isnt a smoker but "doesnt
mind" second-hand smoke?
I grew up around the game of golf. Not as a silver-spooned country
club member, but as a slave . . . er . . . caddie at an exclusive
golf club in my town. At the age of 13, I began schlepping bags
for cigar-smoking, old-money bankers. Not yet through the growing
pains of puberty, Id stagger around the beautifully manicured
course, a sticky faux-leather bag strapped to my back. "Heres
your nine-iron, sir" and "would you like me to tend the
pin?" A championship golf course is typically more than a five-mile
walk, and much more if youre following a golfer who plays
"army golf" (left, right, left). Needless to say, my first
"job" was a literal backbreaker. Id come home at
night, convinced that my foot arches had collapsed from all that
Maybe Twain was on to something here . . .
I initially hated the game, a natural reaction to my sore back and
tired legs, combined with the measly $18 payment per caddied round.
A dollar per hole of agony hardly seemed worth the trouble. But
gradually as I, and my wages, grew my loathing turned
to respect, my respect to enjoyment, and my enjoyment to thorough
addiction. After nine years as a caddie, I have learned to love
and respect a game that simply cannot be mastered. Ive carried
thousands of golf bags, observed hundreds of golfers, seen just
about every shot imaginable, and yet I still obsess about the game.
Why, after all this time around the game of golf, would I possibly
still love it so much?
Simply, every round is a new experience. Football fields dont
change sizes. Basketball rims are always 10 feet tall. Golf is different.
Every swing results in a unique outcome, a new lie on the fairway
(or in my case, the rough), a different wind direction. Should I
play it safe or shoot directly for the pin? Will the wind affect
my ball flight? If I dont remember to turn my hips, Ill
slice, so I need to watch that. Keep your head down. If the ball
is above your feet, youre prone to hooking. Dont bend
your wrists at the top of the back swing
You get the idea. Try remembering 40 things you need to do
correctly in hopes of hitting the desired shot. Now make it difficult:
you have to remember them all in order in the time
it takes to swing. Good luck!
Golf will humble the best player, reward the worst, and torture
the majority of willing masochists. All it takes is one good shot
per round to keep somebody coming back. A purely struck six-iron
on the 14th hole feels incredible. You make solid connection, take
a small divot, stop at the top of your back swing, pose, and watch
intently as the white sphere hurtles 170 yards forward, landing
softly on the green, 10 feet from the pin. Even if you take four
putts to hole out, the proverbial "golf gods" have injected
their potion into your veins: Youll come back the next time,
perfectly willing to subject yourself to 90 some swings if only
to make that one gratifying shot.
I often wish I were good enough to be a professional golfer. Consider
the 18th hole of the Masters Tournament, two weeks ago. Tiger Woods
stood over a 12-foot birdie putt, already assured of capturing the
coveted Green Jacket. The crowd sat motionless and silent as he
prepared to play. As soon as the club touched the ball, ten thousand
people erupted euphorically, standing and shouting, willing his
golf ball into the cup. Even from my 13-inch television in my dorm
room, I felt the chills of that moment. To be that good to
be that adept at the single hardest, most mentally frustrating game
of our time seems a rare, almost superhuman skill. Mastering
(no pun intended) golf takes more concentration and persistence
than almost any other sport in the world. Only the most select group
of golfers can achieve such confidence in this mind-game.
Yet at the same time, I enjoy the smaller aspects of a round of
golf, pleasantries that Tiger or David Duvall often miss in their
high-pressure tournaments. Lately Ive been playing a lot with
my friends. We all bought student memberships to Springdale Golf
Club. Whereas in March, the afternoons found us cramped in our musky
Firestone carrels, we now subject ourselves to a different variety
of torture: the afternoon nine-hole round.
My daily foursome defines the word "hacker." All of us
have, at one point or another, hit that perfect shot that
one swing per round that feels effortless. More frequently, our
group has been known to throw clubs (accidentally and deliberately),
hit other golfers, bounce shots off buildings, miss one-foot putts,
and even on only one occasion fall over after a swing.
We dont exactly play pretty golf. But when was the last time
you saw Davis Love III laugh at his playing partner for knocking
himself over after a particularly vicious swing? For as painfully
frustrating as golf can be, equally hilarious moments often befall
the average afternoon hacker.
But amidst coping with our less than professional golf skills, we
still manage to enjoy golf for its simpler and less frustrating
aspects. Four friends can spend an afternoon outside, catching up,
swapping stories, and talking about plans for next year. Take away
the golf, and in my opinion that still seems like a good walk. Then
add a mentally challenging game of risk, reward, and frustration,
the camaraderie of three friends and the elusive hopes of someday
breaking 80 for 18 holes, and that walk becomes even better.
Like Tiger, when I stand over a shot and execute it well, I too
hear the approval of the gallery. Its not 10,000 screaming fans
but three good friends and a simple "nice shot." That
is all the nicotine I need to fuel my addiction: My idea of a good
walk is to stroll down a fairway, putter in hand, after a well-played
can reach Patrick at email@example.com.