Golf in the Geezerdom
I still love the game, even after the triple bypass, the ulcer, the angioplasties, the cataracts, the gallbladder thing, the hearing aids ...
When I was a lad in my 20s, as carefree and debonair as any other underpaid newspaperman, I happened to be a golfer who could flirt with par fairly often, and I was adventurous enough in those days to play any known or unknown thief who showed up at Goat Hills for whatever amount he fancied. Then I'd break the shaft on at least two clubs in my bag if I didn't shoot close to 70 and swoop all the cheese. But now, 50 years later, I don't even want to hit a green -- it'll mean bending over to mark the ball.
I can live with the quick hook, the one that dives into the Rough of No Return. I can live with the diseased slice that soars into Sherwood Forest, where Friar Tuck can have it with my compliments. I haven't looked for a golf ball since mulligans were free, which was a law I passed in 1995.
But this stooping-over-to-mark-the-ball thing. Every time I'm forced to do it today, I tend to stagger a few steps and mumble, "Paging Mister Ritis ... Mister Arth Ritis."
Mr. Arth Ritis is the title of one of the medical books I'm working on. Some of the others are titled: Gall Your Own Bladder, Something's Leaking Behind the Retina, Get High with Your Blood Sugar, The Ulcer That Couldn't Bleed Straight, The Hearing Aid That Didn't Speak English, Whose Cataract Is It, Anyway?, The Hip and I, and Bypass Bubba and the Chest of Doom.
Let me make something clear before I go on. I do love the game, but I've never played golf for the joy of it. I've always played it to compete -- and bet. But now that I can't compete as I once did, thanks basically to age and the fact that today's modern, magical, nuclear-advanced equipment seems to laugh at me more than it helps me, I play golf only at gunpoint.
This means I no longer play gambling golf, client golf, charity golf, pro-am golf, friendship golf or family golf, and it goes without saying that I don't play geezer golf. It means I play golf only if it's not too hot or too cold outside, if there's absolutely no hint of wind, and if some pal or relative comes to town with a lifelong ambition to play Colonial -- OK, fine, I take him out to Colonial.
But I start hating myself for agreeing to it the minute I'm struggling to put on the golf shoes. Putting on the golf shoes has become almost as pathetically exhausting as marking the ball.
Of course, after the shoe ordeal, when I'm out on the course, I'm in my pocket half the time. Even from the whites. Plus I'm instantly paranoid about whether the cart has enough juice to get me all the way to 18 and back indoors where I belong.
Really a fun time. But I don't know that it was ever fun, even in my youth. It was a competition, a challenge, a test. But fun? Fun was a car date with a cheerleader.
Nowadays, I run into these golf lovers in my age group everywhere I go. Fellows who have come late to the game -- the worst kind of sicko golf nut, in my opinion. They play twice a week without fail, and some play seven days a week -- particularly if there's the barest threat at home of having to go to the mall or Costco with the missus. And invariably these people want to tell you about the 96 they shot the other day, their personal best, and how it should have been an 87.
They hit dribblers and pop-ups with equal regularity. They hit blazing, half-topped line drives that have been careening off bulkheads, rock walls and condo patio furniture for years.
They achieve great distance on their short putts but very poor distance on their long putts. This is true even though they study them from all four sides and plumb-bob the line into a two-lane farm road and methodically take 14 practice strokes before they pull the trigger. You might know similar people. They play in the same group every day, have the same tee time every day, and they've never lost a ball. "Naw, it's here somewhere. I saw it skip across the water, hit that tree trunk over there and bounce off the fence post. I think it rolled into this ditch. Help me move these rocks, Floyd."
Worse, they play by the rules. They find improving your lie in the fairway comparable to armed robbery. Tee it up slightly ahead of the markers, they'll call a priest for you. Boundary stakes and ground under repair are their favorite vacation spots. They also have a tendency to squat in a sharp-eyed position, poised to pounce on anyone who plays a shot out of turn.
One of these golf-nut friends was my houseguest not long ago. An old pal from Houston. He plays only five days a week with his wife, then two days a week with somebody who can break 124. If that doesn't qualify him to be buried someday in a suit of Tiff 328, consider that he knows all about equipment, river sand, lateral hazards, Arron Oberholser, and he even watches the senior slugs on TV.
The first morning after his arrival, over coffee and the papers, and after knowing I'd set him up to go hit balls somewhere, he said, "You sure you don't want to play today? It's beautiful outside."
"I've never been more certain of anything in my life," I said.
"What will you do today?"
"You mean aside from sitting around?"
He said, "You really don't like to stop and smell the flowers, do you?"
I said, "If I wanted to smell the flowers, I'd buy myself a corsage."