Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Dad, Golf, and The Meaning of 5-Over-Par

(This is a “ballsy” attempt at telling a story about dad and golf. We, my brother, dad and I, cannot be called "good golfers." The magic of this story is that playing the sport with dad is absolutely the most entertaining and fun we have ever had in the male bonding world. We are not a golfing family. As kids, we played little league baseball. Later, we played football. Golfing came as a great surprise to us in our adulthood, and the game has become one of our most wonderful memory-creating moments. I say ballsy because in this story our “dirty rags” are revealed regarding our golfing woes. It makes for a good laugh for years to come.)

The story was wordsmith-ed by my brother originally, and I tweaked it here and there...

If you have ever played golf or even attempted the game, you know it can go downhill very quickly. The darn sport is equally frustrating as it is addicting. You carry so much equipment and paraphernalia. It’s shameful to admit, but in spite thousands of dollars spent on that equipment and paraphernalia, the sport remains as simple as hitting a tiny ball a distance to a tiny hole marked by a flag. That’s it! Because we always look for the magic swing and the long straight drive, the sport becomes exponentially complicated, especially when your concentration is compromised by fun and life-long bonding moments.

Imagine this:

You're excited about another round o' golf, warmed up, and standing at the tee box on hole #1. It is 322 yards to the hole, a par-four. The figurative butterflies have invaded your stomach, and you are concentrating on everything else around you except the little golf ball on the tee. Golfers behind you are watching, and their stares are the straws the broke the camel’s back—regarding your nerves. I think that being held at gunpoint is not as nerve wracking as a golfer’s first swing to begin the 18-hole trek. It’s OK, though, you know you have practiced this shot a million times and there is no way it will fail.

You bring your driver back, swing at the shoulders and hip. WHAM! The golf ball rolls 15 yards slightly to the right. Unfortunately, while you swung that titanium driver your wife gave you for your birthday with all your might, you barely kissed the top, causing the ball to roll straight a miserable and embarrassing 15 yards. The sweat begins to run down in those dark, soft areas of your body.

Shot #1

You walk back to the cart voicing every excuse possible and promising the next shot will be perfect. Of course, you still have 307 yards to go, when you should only have about 180. An ideal situation (a good drive on the fairway) would warrant a 7 or 6-iron to the green, but “your driver is not working as you thought,” and you now have a decision to make to save par, at worst a bogey. “WWTD (What Would Tiger Do)?” you hear your innards say. So, with authority and confidence, you grab your 3-iron and walk up to the ball (though it should be a fairway wood to boost your ego).

You line up, measure the ball perfectly on the back of the club, bring the iron back, and WHAM! Again, you swing and hit that ball as hard as you can. This time, the golf ball rolls about 100 yards at a 45-degree angle from the green. So, not only did it not go straight, but also the ball is standing on some patch of El Paso dirt. You have brush and a very big tree in front of you to contend with. At least, the golfers staring at you are satisfied you absolutely suck and become pre-occupied with their own game. Voicing excuses out loud, in this case, is not yet warranted.

Shot #2

You walk back to the cart and open a brew. Drinking this early in the game is precarious and not recommendable, but you justify it by explaining your need to relax. You find the ball and now have a 207-yard shot to your left that needs to go through the brush and over the tree to get anywhere near the green. You get your 7-iron (a-la-Tin-Cup) because you realize your 3-iron must also be faulty. This is it! You have these visions of the ball elevating and landing softly on that green. Just thinking about it gives you goose bumps and a renewed sense of worth and confidences in your game. WHAM! The ball elevates about 100 ft., misses the tree (which is a good thing) and lands 80 yards right in front of the green. You are finally on the fairway. Oh boy! You want to kiss the 7-iron and praise the hands that designed such a fine instrument of golf.

Shot #3

You direct the cart to the ball and open another brew. Only then do you realize that the first one was consumed in two gulps. Anyhow, you know this is it: pitching wedge (a club my dad calls, “Pinche Way” for those Spanish speakers) to the green, one putt and this will be the perfect bogey. You grab it and take a nice, smooth swing. You hit the ball like you’ve never hit it before! Perfect height, perfect slope, perfect backspin, but unfortunately the darn thing went 130 yards—you only needed 80. This now means you are past the green and into tall grass. There are still hi-fives and congratulatory ovations from your fellow golfers, especially dad. You see, for the inexperienced golfer, a shot like this is always great, whether it was the right one for the occasion or not. The justification is this: next time, you can hit the ball “just like that” in an occasion when you need 130 yards, and not 80. It was a brilliant shot. “This is OK. I finally hit a nice shot like the great shots on television,” you tell yourself. Forget the fact that you may have added one or as many as two more shots to this hole.

Shot #4

You walk to the other side of the green. Without bickering too much your line-up, club selection and such, you hit the ball with a pitching wedge—again. The ball never leaves the ground, rolls fast on the green to the other side, and finally stops inside the bunker. Yeah, all the hoopla and excitement of the previous perfect shot is know a distant past. You have before you one of the most difficult challenges: hitting that f------ ball out of the sand trap.

Shot #5

As a golfer, you never want to be in a situation where you have to use your sand wedge because you never know what the darn thing is going to do. You might hit it so hard the ball flies fifty yards; you might hit it so soft, the ball never leaves the bunker. Knowing fully I don’t have a choice, I take my sand wedge and thrust it angrily out of the bag. I hit the ball just right. Another shot like the pros! The ball rolls onto the green and lands 20 ft. from the hole. I am finally on the green. The ovations come in the form of screams and smiles. Someone even has the courtesy to bring me a cold, open brew.

Shot #6

While this was a great shot, you have this sinking feeling that it’s futile. You’re already two shots over and still have to sink a 20-foot putt. You walk up to the green with a smile on your face, not allowing the other three players to notice your disgust and disappointment. You line up your putter without even measuring slope or speed. The ball stops 10 ft. short of the hole. Dad says, “Ijole, que lastima” (Oh man, that’s a shame).

Shot #7

You tap it again and the ball swirles the hole, and now you're 1 ½ ft. away from the hole.

Shot #8

You bend over, pick up the ball, and stare at it, as if there was something defective and or demonic about this particular ball. All the while you mumble out loud, “Ugly start but it will get better.”


First of all, this is fun and educational, but let’s keep it in perspective, lest we forget that we are only approaching hole #2.

Going back to the title and morale of this story…

What I just described above happened (circa 2006) at the first hole of Ascarate Park Golf Course. As I picked up my ball and walked back to the cart where Dad was waiting for me, comfortably sitting on a par for the first hole of play, he tapped my shoulder and said, “Hijo, muy bien nada mas cuida no tirar muchos tiros.” English translation: “Good job Son, just be careful not to get too many shots.” Very Yogi Berra, dad.

For those of you that know dad, this is typical. Dad has a magical way of making anyone and everybody calm down. I’m sure Jorge, my brother, wanted to clock someone in the face to release his frustrations, but the simplicity and zest with which our father reacts in the face of less-than-favorable moments will always be wonderful. And, that is why we love him. His simple statement to me that day made the whole game worthwhile. So who cares if didn’t break 100. Sharing and laughing with dad is and will always be the best part. He always makes us laugh no matter what.

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