Monday, May 18, 2009

Go On, Look Foolish

Let me tell you why I hate golf. Actually it all probably boils down to one simple reason—I’m not good at it.

Activities I consider “fun” are the ones I try and experience at least minimal success the first go-round. These include telling jokes, playing ping-pong, and being handsome. Sometimes you can just do stuff well, and as a result things are fun. This is why people like food. Anybody can eat good foods. I, for example, am naturally very good at eating, and as a result I find the process enjoyable.

But you don’t just have to be good at something right away to enjoy it. I’ll be the first to admit that it took me a long time to learn how to sing well and play the game of basketball properly (my first three years of YMCA ball I took only two shots and made only zero of them). But the thing about these was that they felt realistic somehow—like if I practiced enough it would eventually all come together, and then it would be fun.

Singing is now something I really like to do, especially when in my car and people can laugh at me as they pass by on the interstate. And basketball has become fun, too. I like doing stupid between-the-legs dribbles and shooting stupid threes. When one of those two things actually works, it’s positively euphoric.

Golf, however, isn’t like that. No matter how much you practice, you simply can’t master the game. I know this because I’ve watched Tiger Woods—one of the most amazing athletes alive—screw up royally on a number of golf courses a number of times. And he gets pissed off and throws his club around and curses out his caddy.

He’s the best in the world and he does this.

I am not the best in the world at anything, and I’m guessing I’m somewhere in the bottom 3% of the world’s golfers. This includes the elderly and toddlers of third-world countries who wouldn’t know a golf ball from a coconut. Athletic ability isn’t absent from my being, but I swing a golf club with about the same amount of confidence I’d have if I were disarming a nuclear warhead.

My golfing friends tell me things like, “Keep your head down. Square your shoulders. Eye on the ball. Bend your knees. Open the head of the club. Lock your thumbs. It’s all in the wrist. Follow through. Wash with delicates. Tumble dry low. Do not bleach.” But I’m unable to do all of those things at once. Two, maybe three of the times on that checklist I can focus on at once. But every time I bend my knees, I forget to square my shoulders. Every time I keep my eye on the ball, I straighten my legs and whiff at the ball. It’s frustrating as hell.

And it’s not like swinging a baseball bat. If you miss the ball the first time you still get two more chances. Even if you sort of hit the ball but you hit it wrong, they give you more chances. In golf, you get one shot, and that’s it. So you’re sitting there staring at the ball, feeling the sort of nerves you get before having to give a big speech in front of people, after having taken three perfect practice swings, you for some reason do things absolutely incorrectly when the pressure’s on, and your ball is either heading into an entirely different zip code or it’s rolling seven feet in front of you.

It’s frustrating as hell.

It’s also expensive as hell. If there were 18-hole golf courses just laying around where you could just hang out for a day and practice with your buddies (the same you would for literally every other sport that exists on the planet), maybe I’d have more fun with it. But knowing you just dropped $25 bucks ($40 if you’re getting a cart) makes it feel like you have to siphon every last drop of “fun” you can out of a day’s golfing excursion. And when you try to siphon drops of fun out of something it usually means that something won’t be very fun.

Think of all the things you could spend $40 on instead of a day doing something you suck at and don’t particularly enjoy—a really nice shirt (or two if you’re shopping at Old Navy), dinner at Chili’s with the Wife (plus dessert), see a quadruple-feature at the movie theater (plus popcorn and soda), or forty packages of those really good generic sour cherry candies in the snacks isle at the grocery store. Skip golfing twice and you could buy a new pair of shoes, a jacket, a Derrick Rose jersey, or an octuple-feature at the movie theater (plus popcorn and soda).

Skip three days of golf and you could afford the engagement ring I bought for my wife. Wait, that makes me sound cheap. Make that seven golfs. Yeah, seven.

And that doesn’t even include the cost of clubs (which I’ve never purchased because, as I’ve mentioned, I’ve got better things to do with my money), funny plaid pants, and a those grip gloves everybody seems to own except me. If all you had to do was buy a pair a golfing shorts and maybe one club to get through a round, I’d be a little less pessimistic, but that’s just not the case. Golfing, according to a survey that probably exists, is the most expensive sport. Too rich for my blood.

So if golf makes me so unhappy, how is that I still occasionally play? For one, the playing field, or “course” as it’s known in the business, is probably the most gorgeous playing field of any sport I’ve ever played. Few things are more beautiful than a well-groomed baseball diamond, but a well-groomed golf course is one of them. I worked at a golf course one semester in college, trimming sandtraps, changing garbage cans, refilling water coolers, etc., and when I would work at like 5:00am on Saturday mornings, before the sun even came up, I was always amazed by the pearly film of due on the short fairway grass, the steam rising up from the ponds, the ominous trees shadowing the greens. If you’re going to spend a beautiful day outside doing something active, golf isn’t the worst choice. If you like golf, of course.

The other reason is that so many of my friends and family really like golfing, and when given the choice of golfing with them or staying at home to watch TV or fiddle around on the internet, I’m going to hang out with the fellahs, even if it means paying all that money to play a game I hate, only to perform horribly and embarrass myself thoroughly. I love my friends and family, and I enjoy the quality time. If that means golf, that means golf. I’ll smile and drink the beers they snuck in for us to share, but I won’t enjoy the game. Don’t get me wrong; I’ll try. I’m too competitive not too. And once in a while I’ll hit a good shot and think, maybe I’m better at this than I thought. Maybe golf can be fun.

But then I screw up royally on the next hole, which results in me throwing one of my brother’s clubs farther than my ball even went. I think to myself, “What am I doing here?” and the rest of my day is spent hitting borrowed balls into tall, grassy swamps or bodies of water fifteen years behind the tee.

If I had a caddy, I’d curse him out. But that’s as close as I’ll ever be to Tiger Woods.

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