mental gameMarch 7, 2015

Rory's club toss was a classic "We've been there" moment. Here are our versions

After seeing the world's No. 1 player chuck his 3-iron into the water at Doral, we got to trading stories at the Golf Digest offices. It seems a lot of us have tales of exasperated golfers -- usually ourselves -- who, in a moment of rage, hurled a club at full steam. Sometimes it was funny, sometimes scary, often both. Below are a few examples:*

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I grew up caddieing and playing at a great old club in northern New Jersey. We had 36 holes, so the club was good about letting juniors go out, but my father made sure I knew not to take it for granted. I think I tried to be thankful, but hey, I was a kid. And man, could I whine about my crappy little game.

Late one afternoon, during the summer I passed the junior etiquette test, I was out by myself, in an imaginary match between me and my junior-golf nemesis, Alex Liebman. I got to 15, a short par 4, uphill and with a big bunker on the right, and pulled out my blade-y 2-iron. I loved that club, because somehow I could hit it straight -- and long enough for a seventh-grader who was all ribs and limbs. Full disclosure: I did have a tendency to whip that 2-iron left in a roundhouse hook that would end up unfindable or un-want-to-findable.

Probably two down in my mental match with Alex, I let loose one of those sideways hooks. I remember watching that thing skip along the hardpan between the trees a few times, then dive into the weeds. Gone. Three down with three to go. So I did what any self-respecting brat would do: I reared back, right arm only, and flung that 2-iron as hard as I could. I'm sure it felt good leaving my hand, but then things got scary.

About 75 yards in front of the 15th tee is a cart path that cuts straight across the hole before the fairway. It comes out of the woods, out of nowhere, and carts would routinely tear across that path with no notice. As I followed my club streaking through the air, a cart came barreling onto the path. My eyes did a quick calculation: Cart and club were on a collision course. I watched in horror, not knowing whether to scream or try to get away with it. I did the weak thing, and just waited, my golf career (and my father) flashing before my eyes.

The cart beat out my 2-iron by a few yards, the club clanging down in the rough just over the path. The driver never heard it, never stopped, never knew some snotty 12-year-old almost took him out. Shaken, I lost the last three to Liebman, and never again have thrown a club like that. And now, if he reads this, my father knows. Good thing he can't take away my clubs anymore. -- Peter Morrice

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At this point, it's hard to decide whether it was a lesson in humility or ingenuity. I'd like to say the latter, but the reason this event sticks in my mind is probably because it's the former. Playing the now-defunct Spring Hill (Fla.) Golf & Country Club, circa 1992, I let my temper get the best of me after a particularly crappy tee shot and helicoptered my driver. It was an impressive toss, and my entire foursome watched in silence as the club hung in the air for several seconds -- like and NFL punt -- before slamming into a nearby oak tree. Here comes the humility part -- the club didn't drop out of the tree. Instead, it got hung up in the branches some 30 or so feet above the ground. Now what?

My ego told me to abandon the club. After all, every one was watching and the last thing I wanted was for the guys I was playing with to have any more reason to laugh at me post round. Can you imagine explaining to an EMT that the reason you need medical assistance is because you fell out of a tree trying to retrieve your driver? So I kept playing the final few holes without it. But when we got back to the clubhouse, my conscience got the best of me. Not only did I not want to be known as "that jerk who throws clubs," I also didn't want to shell out another $200 for a new driver. So here comes the ingenuity part. I figured out that the only way to resolve the crisis was to get a basketball out of the trunk of my car, walk back to hole, and toss it up at the tree until it dislodged my driver. And that's exactly what I did.

Toss after toss after toss. It was a busy day at the course and several golfers gotto watch -- and laugh -- as it took me nearly 45 minutes to get the job done. Once my driver fell to the ground, I picked it up with one hand, grabbed the basketball with the other, and marched back to my car with my head down the entire way. Eye contact with others is never good in a situation like this.  -- *Ron *Kaspriske

-- Club-throwing can be funny and not so funny. Unfunny first:

I was a regular caddie for the nicest guy in the club, but one week he was out of town, and I drew a guy I didn't know. He was a lousy golfer, and he was surly. As far as I could tell, club-throwing was the only thing he did with any pretense of accomplishment. I endured the bad shots and retrieved the offending clubs until we came to a short par 3 on the back nine, where Mr. Bad Guy fatted a shot into the pond. As he berated himself and I walked ahead to the drop area, I heard a whizzing sound: He'd thrown his club, and it was helicoptering over my head. I had only one thought: Get in the water. It did. Dead-center in the pond, unretrievable. So it's true: Every shot in golf makes someone happy.

Now for the funny. Years ago, I was part of a regular Friday-morning group. As part of the betting, two guys always had an individual game. Bounces are supposed to even out over time, but Friend 1 always seemed to get more than his share of the lucky ones, and that was the case again on this day. Friend 2 was beyond aggravated, and it got even more grim when Friend 1 thinned a shot that skipped across a pond and nestled within 10 feet of the flag. Friend 2, of course, plopped his shot into the middle of the hazard, to uncomfortable silence. The next hole required another carry over water, and after Friend 2 rinsed another shot, he sent his club flying after it. Splash. We walked on, only to hear another splash: another club in the water. Another splash: another club, wet. Another splash: 14 clubs had become 10.

At this point, the friends of Friend 2 are risking hernias while attempting to suppress their laughter. The round ends, and we head to the clubhouse to settle the bets. "I'd like a Budweiser, please," Friend 2 says to the waitress. It arrives, and he takes a long slug before saying, "I'd like to apologize to you guys. I lost my mind out there."

Tension broken, we laugh, long and hard. We've all been there.  -- Mike O'Malley*

**-- **

*Club throws. I've seen some bad ones, and done some bad ones. Actually, there are no good ones.

It took me a while to learn that. As a teenager, part of me excused club throwing as more validating than embarrassing. It's what I had seen some of the better players at the muni where I played do when they got extra mad, which was often. It seemed like a macho thing to do.

I learned, much too late, that actually, throwing a club exposes you as mentally weak. These days, through sports psychology, or just paying attention, almost all high level players know that truth better than ever. I'm always so impressed when watching good junior players by their level of self -control. They know that getting outwardly angry, and especially throwing a club, hurts more than it will ever help.

All that said, vintage club-throwing as a release for the poor soul who just can't take it  anymore can be very funny. Craig Stadler violently recoiling his follow through to bury the head of an offending iron deep into the turf, then walking away with the club still  trembling in a perfect  "tuning fork" was pure physical comedy.

When I was around 15, I was playing in a group with our assistant pro, a really physically gifted player who was known as the longest hitter in the area. He was also known for an explosive temper that regularly undermined otherwise good rounds. On a par 3 of slightly over 100 yards, he fatted his tee shot into the creek. Scarily furious, he whirled like an Olympic hammer thrower and flung his wedge with all his adrenalized power, the club whirring and soaring over the creek before landing on the front of the green, where it left a visible gash.  The feat was awe-inspiring, shameful, and lip-bitingly hilarious.

Finally, an irreverent guy named Tex broke the silence. "Sorry, Jesse," he deadpanned. "No mulligans." -- Jaime Diaz

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