He charged the ranks of the goblins of Mount Gram in the Battle of the Green Fields, and knocked their King Golfimbul’s head clean off with a wooden club. It sailed a hundred yards through the air and sent down a rabbit hole and in this way the battle was won and the game of Golf invented at the same moment. – Tolkien
The day was overcast. My grey putter showed marks of wear and tinged against the white ball that scooted across the practice green like an errant snowflake tossed by a breeze. It failed to disappear though, and a few more balls were struck when I heard our name over the loudspeaker. Who’s “Chang?” I asked turning to my comrade. “Guess we’re paired up with someone.” My stomach knotted as I placed my putter in its slot and headed to the tee. I envisioned the worst. Noisy teenagers. Beer. Cursing. Confrontations. Yet better than me. What I saw surprised me. I took out my driver and started loosening my joints. “Looks like we’ve got kids,” I said motioning to a Korean family with two girls, eight and ten. After muffing the first shot, I struck a solid, slicing ball down the right fairway. I felt alright with the shot, and after my comrade outdrove me, we walked a ways and watched the ten-year-old tee up her shot. A picture perfect swing sent the ball straight down the fairway, about a hundred and fifty yards. The two girls cleaned up with pars, I managed something other than par, and we proceeded to the second hole.
On the fairway, once again out-driven by an eight-year-old, I grabbed my three-wood. “I just love this club,” I said. “You might want to wait till they get off the green…” My comrade motioned to the group ahead of us. “Nah, I won’t hit ‘em.” I had a nice swing and good contact. The sound of “good shot” from the eight-year-old. The ball took its typical slicing direction but sailed straight, mainly. So straight, it collided with the cart path and rolled nice and close to a stationary golf cart waiting for its drivers to return from the green. My stomach knotted again, and I foresaw confrontations. Meanwhile, the two girls smacked flawless approach shots and seemed to glide to the green in a single uniform line. After apologies and two or three chip shots, I three-putted and proceeded to the third hole.
Just pretend the water isn’t there, I thought to myself during my third tee shot. I never did see that ball again, as, like my swing, it slowly sank, but my vanity was pleased when the ten-year-old also landed hers in the water. As everyone prepared to leave the tee, I grabbed another ball. “I gotta hit it over,” I said. Tightening my grip and keeping my eyes glued on the ball, I made full contact, so full I sent the ball fifty yards past the green and nearly into the street, to the sound of “nice shot” from the ten-year-old.
“You don’t want to hit over by the ditch,” I reminded my comrade, who did so the last time we played the fourth hole. My tee shot decided not to slice and hooked toward the ditch. Now, finding myself amidst a few trees, I decided I would hit a nice, easy shot back towards the fairway, about a hundred yards or so. Best to play it conservative, I thought. No need to play outside your strengths. You aren’t Phil Mickelson. There are worse things than bogeys. As these thoughts bounced about during my practice swing, I saw the shot in perfect execution. But after my club hit the ball, I watched in abject horror as it careened across the fairway, missing the eight-year-old by mere feet. My second apology of the day was followed by seven or so strokes (seven or so “nice shots!” from the girls) and the long-anticipated sound of ball falling into cup. The day was pleasant, and though my comrade was having his own difficulties, he wasn’t maiming anyone, and the two Korean girls continued in their angelic and nearly automated ascent to golf greatness. Each tee shot was flawless in swing, contact, aim. Bogeys bothered them and pars seemed, as it were, par for the course. But while my errant shots may have been taking out the innocent, and I may not have made a single birdie, it was not I who was ruffling feathers, but the girls.
“What’s this? Who are these guys? Where’d they come from?” My comrade looked with growing disdain at two golf carts that appeared on the left side of the fairway. “They were behind us. They cut in.” This came from Mr. Chang. “What? Without even asking? They can’t do that. What, look, they’re just waiting around anyways. Go ahead, hit.” I fiddled with my club and looked out at the carts. “I mean, you’re right. If they had just asked, we might have let them play through. It’s only etiquette.” “Play through?” my comrade questioned. “I don’t think so. Look, they’d just be waiting around anyways. There’s nowhere to go. We’re all jumbled up here. Go ahead, hit.” I didn’t need to be told twice, and my ball already on the tee, I took a few practice swings. When the two in the carts saw me load my weapon, they backed out of the fairway to the left rough. Little did they know that the fairway was actually the safest spot on the course that day. Little did they know that my golf ball instinctively did the very thing I told it not to. Just hit your usual slice here, and you’re fine, I thought. Don’t start anything. No problem here. Whatever you do, don’t hit them. Seconds later my ball shot off from the tee and like a sniper’s bullet flew at the carts. Luckily for them, it was low, and after three bounces collided with the bottom of the cart, a hollow “dunk” echoing across the course. “Uh-oh. I hope they didn’t think I did that on purpose,” I said, hoping deep down they thought I meant to hit them and carried it out with exact precision.
But any hope they were impressed faded away when, after a brief confrontation with my comrade, they watched me chunk or top my next several shots (to the sound of the girls chanting “nice shot”). On the next tee Mr. Chang explained they knew the family. “We beat his son in a tournament. I think that’s why they’re upset.” Any major drama avoided, we played out the next holes and my game grew worse and worse (and the “nice shots” grew louder and louder). When we shook hands and parted with the girls, we knew that someday we would be watching them beat other males in much larger tournaments.
We played two more. I bogeyed ten, and on eleven hit a slicing, but well-struck drive down the right fairway. Two strokes later, I was kneeling before my ball and eyeing the green-slope. Ten feet from par. My grey putter showed a little more grey from the day’s calamities, yet it tinged as always against a black Nike swoosh logo. And swoosh went the ball. As a dove against the prairie green, so my ball glided, glided, then, with a roar from my comrade, disappeared from sight.
The Jolly Mariner – Rochelle Avenue
Las Vegas, Nevada
March 27, April 1-2, 2017
Painting: “The Little Golf Players”
By Pieter de Hooch
Oil on panel, c. 1660