Stupid Little Ball
By Patrick F. Cannon
Although the weather has been a bit nippy of late, there is no doubt that the golf season is nigh in the north of the United States. Just the other day, my golf buddy Skip and I were at the driving range to hit a few and get back in the swing of things; on the way there, I passed a golf course. Despite a temperature in the mid 40s, I spied two hardy fellows on a par 3 I had played many times.
When (or if) the weather warms a bit, we will be booking a tee time and returning to the fray. Until the weather turns cold – usually in October – we will try to play weekly at one of the two courses we favor (with an occasional foray further afield). Our pattern is nine holes followed by lunch. After he returns from Florida in mid-May, we’ll be joined by partner Dick, who will have played all winter, darn him. I will try to beat my low score of last year, 42 for nine holes. It may be a vain hope, as I’ll be a year older.
I took up the game when I was 10 or 11. At the time, we were living in the South Shore neighborhood of Chicago; our building was directly across the street from the Jackson Park golf course. As these were flush times for the family, my brother Pete and I were each given a set of golf clubs, starter sets from Sears consisting of driver, three-wood, putter, and 2,5,7 and 9 irons. With these, we would sneak onto the course when it wasn’t busy and play a few holes. The nearest hole to our building was a par 3 across a lagoon, from which we would retrieve balls hit into it by the local duffers, selling them for 25 cents to passing golfers.
Unbeknownst to us, someone had a contract with the course to drag the lagoon for the lost balls, and this fellow chased us away one day. As it happened, the next hole was lined on the right by trees. At about 200 yards out, the fairway widened to an area not visible from the tee. One day, larceny in our little hearts, we waited for a ball to land there. When one did, one of us ran out to fetch it; alas, a golfer on the parallel hole saw us and starting chasing us. We ran through the woods and across 67th Street and up an alley. A normal fellow would have stopped chasing us, but not a golfer. He persisted until Pete – who was fleet of foot – outdistanced him and I managed to hide under some back stairs.
After we had to move back to the Pittsburgh area, golf was not possible until we began caddying at a local country club. It was hard work, which I escaped by getting a job at the local amusement park. Pete kept at it for quite a while longer. If you went out twice a day, carrying two bags each time, you could make about $10. I made about half that bussing tables, but it was much easier work.
I really didn’t play much golf until I was married and working for a guy who was nuts for golf. He actually conned the company into paying for our permanent tee time; after the company moved to northern Iowa, we got free memberships in the local country club. Looking back, this was my golden age. I was still young and could hit my drives 250 yards and on a good day shoot in the low to mid 80s for 18 holes.
After I lost that job in a failed palace coup, I really didn’t play regularly until I retired, mainly because with two children it wasn’t easy to put aside 5 or 6 hours on a Saturday to hit the links. I did occasionally play at a golf outing, but that was about it until I retired.
Now, many people just don’t understand why anyone would waste their time with what they see as a silly game. After all, why would a grown man or woman spend hours of their precious time chasing around the countryside hitting a little ball? One that defies being hit squarely with an implement at the end of a long shaft? I confess it is a mystery, but one that has engaged seemingly intelligent men and women, including Presidents Taft, Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, both Bushes, Obama and the current occupant. In case you think men are the only fanatics, let me remind you that such notable women as Condoleezza Rice and my sister-in-law Mary Beth are also addicted to the noble game.
The game was invented by the Scots, which explains a lot. Its literature is copious. I recently read a two-volume set of tales by P.G. Wodehouse, another addict. While written in the 1920s, they might well have been written today. While the names of the clubs has changed (we generally use numbers now instead of mashie, niblick, spoon, etc.), its universal truths remain immutable. Like Wodehouse, we all have our favorite golf stories. This is mine:
One fine day, late in the afternoon, a young man was playing alone. He was trying a new grip, and testing out a new set of clubs, his third in as many years. On the 12th hole, he hooked his drive to the left. While it landed in the fairway, its momentum caused it to roll into the trees. Noting the location, he entered the trees and soon found his ball. As luck would have it, its path was blocked by trees; the widest opening was perhaps only a foot. As he contemplated whether to try a shot, or simply take a penalty stroke and drop it outside the trees, a shaft of light suddenly illuminated both him and the ball; then a voice came from above and said (sounding much like James Earl Jones): “How would you like to be a great golfer?”
“I would wish it above all other things!” he replied.
“Would you wish it even if it came at a cost?”
“As your skill improved, your sex drive would decline.”
The young man considered this for only a moment. “It’s a deal! By the way, who are you?”
“I’m the golf God.” Then the bright light disappeared as suddenly as it had come. But true to the golf God’s word, the young man hit his ball through the tiny gap. It landed just short of the green, whereupon he pitched it to within one foot of the hole. He sank the putt for a par. By the end of the year, he had won the club championship. The next year saw him the winner of the state amateur, and the following year he qualified for the ultimate, the United States Amateur Championship.
Before traveling to the storied Oakmont Country Club near Pittsburgh for the tournament, he played one last practice round on his home course. As it happened, he was playing the very hole where he had encountered the golf God, when he again hooked his shot, which dribbled into the same area of the woods. Once again, he found the ball. As before, a shaft of light illuminated the scene. He looked up and said:
“Is it you, golf God?”
“Yes, my son.”
“Why did you cause me to hook my tee shot in the very same place?”
“I wanted to give you a chance to reconsider your decision. Do you still want to be a great golfer at the expense of your sexual drive? Surely, you can’t be having much sex now?”
“No, I’m not, oh great golf God. I’m down to about once a month.”
“But verily, for a young fellow such as yourself that’s not nearly enough?”
“Well, actually, great one, it’s not too bad for a priest.”
Copyright (with apologies) 2018, Patrick F. Cannon