I once hit a 215 yard drive.
Big fuckin’ deal,” you say.
And I finish by saying, “…with an antique putter.”
And you say, “Oh!”
It’s the truth. When I was a teenager, probably about 17 years old, I was out playing golf with my dad and my brother, Dave, at our home course, Shamrock Golf Course, in Burlington, NC.
I was not having a good round, either. I was in every pond, hit every fuckin’ tree on the course, and missed every putt. Not really, but that’s the way it feels when you’re on a golf course, things aren’t going your way, and you’ve been sucked into a whirlpool of piss. Remember those? Yeah, I was swimming in whirlpools at 17. Nothing like learning your trade early.
So the game wasn’t going very well, to put it mildly.
I had just triple or quadruple bogeyed hole 14 or so, and the ole blender was spinning on liquefy, without a top to keep in all the dog shit n crackers, so it was slinging all over the course, hitting people in the face and generally stinking up the place, when I came to a brilliant conclusion.
My Antique Putter
I say brilliant with a large dose of sarcasm, mind ya. Because nothing truly brilliant slings out of a Waring Blender that’s full of canine excrement and feline pee.
I came to the conclusion, after much logical deliberation, and inward contemplation, probably some un-bendy meditation, that I could do no worse on the last 4 holes, if I just played every single, fucking shot, with my putter.
I stated such to my father and brother, who laughed, cautiously mind you, because I was not in a good mood, so they were afraid to push the button on the blender too much, but couldn’t hold their mirth inward completely. I don’t think they actually believed I would do it, or at least for a second they didn’t–though they should have known better, and probably did. When I make up my mind to do something, especially enough to state it out loud, emphatically, just get the hell out of the way.
It’s best. Trust me.
My dad, the saint that he is, tried one last ditch effort to pull the plug on the blender, “Son, it’s just a game. Just try to have fun with it.”
“If it’s just a game, then it doesn’t matter what club I use, does it?” I shot back with daggers: at least four or five very sharp ones.
The next hole was a par 3.
“Easy peasy,” you say.
Yeah, not this par 3. It was one of those uphill par 3s, steeply uphill, so much so, that if you didn’t manage to get the ball to the green, or over it on the backside, or lodged in the green-side bunker, then your ball was gonna roll all the fuckin’ way back down the hill, almost to the tee.
I hated that fuckin’ hole.
But I was determined at this point, to play it out, with my putter.
Now, luckily, my putter was an old antique one, more like an old fashioned 1 iron, than a modern putter. It actually had grooves across the face, and just the slightest hint of loft to it. Not enough to see, really, but it was there.
I teed up my ball, swung, made contact, and the ball rolled up hill, almost to the top.
There it sat, four or five feet from the edge of the green, for several seconds, or an eon, until it quivered, every so slightly. I’m not sure if it was the wind, or if Satan himself was lying on the dancefloor of the 15th green, gently blowing sulfurous breath across my ball, but the ball began to move, and not toward the green, either, but every so slowly backward, like the trickle of a raindrop forming on a cold window, gaining more and more condensation, and weight, until it can no longer hold surface tension, and breaks free, like a tiny stream, then a creek, then a mighty flowing river, like the Mississippi, roaring to the sea. Yeah, that’s what it was like.
My ball began to roll, faster and faster, back down the hill, straight to the bottom.
I’m pretty sure that my father, and more than sure that my brother, both gained some sense of satisfaction from this. Hell, I would have. There’s nothing quite as ego-boosting, as being right, after all.
But I was undeterred. My blender was on gasify at this point, if there is such a thing. The dog shit n crackers had certainly passed by liquid stage a couple of holes back, and was now wafting around the course like a cloud of green, methane. I’m sure that someone should have called in a toxic waste disposal team, but no one did.
Instead, I just stomped up to my ball, putter in hand, set my feet, and swung away!
Up the hill it went, like Jack and his girlfriend, and down it came it again, crown broken, and tumbling pail, sans water.
I repeated this two or three times, I think. I don’t really remember now, but it was comical in the extreme, if you weren’t me, that is.
But I didn’t start this story to talk about the Jack n Jill par 3. I came to talk about The Drive.
We finally arrived at the final tee: hole 18, which was a par 4, dog-leg right.
When I say dog-leg, I mean it took almost a 90 degree turn to the right, about 180 yards out from the tee.
In the middle of that bend, to the right, and guarding against any attempt to take a short cut to the green, was a very large forest of Southern White Pine trees. To the right of those, behind them, was the end of the driving range, which was enclosed in a large net in an attempt to stop balls from escaping the range and rolling into the trees.
It did neither.
The entire forest area was littered with hundreds, if not thousands, of golf balls with the red stripe painted around them to distinguish them from all the hundreds of golfer’s balls that had managed to find their way into the forest, only to be eaten by wolves, witches, lions, tigers, and bears.
Not a few of my balls had come to rest in that dark forest in the past. It was like a magnet, that silvan hell. I had a tendency to slice my drives, and the forest had a tendency to suck them in, and swallow them whole.
It wasn’t that the trees were difficult to walk through, so in theory at least, you could go look for your ball, and find it, but thanks to all the range balls, and other hapless spheres that other luckless golfers had added to them, searching for one particular ball, was in fact like digging for the proverbial needle in a stack of needles. Best to just lay a ball out in the rough, take your penalty, and move on.
So, I stood there, putter in hand, ready to smack the shit out of my ball and drive it into oblivion, when my father, kindly saint that he is, decided to try one more time to extricate his prodigal son from the whirlpool.
“Son, why don’t you try the driver?”
This only got him the stare.
Now, I realize that most of you haven’t seen the stare. Count yourself lucky.
I inherited the stare from my mother, and it basically means, “STAND BACK! DO NOT SPEAK! DO NOT ATTEMPT TO INTERVENE! THIS IS VERY DANGEROUS TERRITORY!”
I say I got it from my mom, but actually, my father is pretty good at the stare, too. In fact, he might be better at it, but it takes a lot of doin’ to get my dad to exhibit the stare. If you can get him to that place, it ain’t good. You’ve really screwed up at that point, and it’s best just to run like hell in the other direction. Not that he was violent or anything, but the punishment comin’ to you wasn’t something you wanted, especially if he decided to give you a talkin’ to. Those were the worst.
But I digress.
I gave my father the stare, he quickly zipped lip, stepped back, got the hell out of the way, and I yanked the putter into the back-swing, whipped it down at the ball, made perfect contact, and the little white sphere launched upward, and outward: not for the fairway–a place with which I had only the vaguest acquaintance–but for the forest, my second home.
At this point, I was beyond pissed off. You know that point when you have decided that your whirlpool of piss is starting to taste and smell normal?
I just grunted, walked back to my bag, and rammed the putter back into it, and waited for my dad and brother to drive. Dave ended up in the woods, as well. So we both headed that way to look for our balls. Dave didn’t find his, quickly gave up the search, left me standing outside a sinister gingerbread house, and went up around the bend of the dog-leg to drop a new ball.
I was determined to find my ball, so I could smack it out of the woods, pinball style no doubt, with my trusty putter. But I couldn’t find it among all the bloody, red striped range balls.
I was just giving up hope for finding it and resigning myself to a life of gingerbread and witches brews, when Dave yelled down to me from the fairway, around the bend of the forest:
“THERE’S A BALL UP HERE!”
“What is it?” I yelled back.
“A LADY TITLEIST!”
“No way!” I told him. I thought he was just fuckin’ with me at this point. He knew I had been playing that ball, and yeah, I know, it was a lady’s ball.
“I’LL EAT MY HAT IF IT ISN’T!” Dave yelled back at me.
And I’ll be damned if it wasn’t.
There, in the middle of the fairway, 40 yards from the hole, was my Lady Titleist. How it threaded that entire patch of Southern White Pines, I’ll never know. It was an impossible feat, but there it was, right where it should never have been: couldn’t have been.
We subtracted the 40 yards from the total length of the hole, and I took credit for a 215 yard drive, with a antique putter.
And the Moral of the Story Is…
I’m not exactly sure what the lesson is in this story, but I’m gonna try to extract one, so hang on to your pails of water.
If you focus too much on the goal of the game, whether that be golf or life, or whatever game you want to play, then you lose sight of what really matters: the game itself, the shot before you, the moment and place where you are: the NOW.
Somewhere in that game, that day so long ago, I found the shot, even in the midst of my frustration and anger, and I’m not sure how that happened. I think that at some point, determination, however it is fueled–and in my case it was fueled by rage and fury–can inadvertently pull us into the present moment. The emotion of anger, in that fraction of time, focused my attention on the ball, on driving it to its destination, on the other side of that forest of pines. I simply willed it through.
The fact that I was able to do it, broke my anger and frustration and replaced them with astonishment and humor. As I stared down at my Lady Titleist, all I could do was laugh, and my father and brother joined me.
After a minute or two of full-on guffawing. I pulled out my putter and approached the Lady.
My father, once more, tried to dissuade me, figuring that if I had finally managed to hit a good shot, even a great one, that I shouldn’t ruin it by messing up the rest of the hole.
I gave him a stare, but one with a smile, and said,
“This putter got me here, and this putter’s gonna take me home!”
I think I bogeyed that hole, but it was the best bogey I ever scored.
Sometimes, I think, if you’re in a whirlpool that’s particularly strong, and you can’t seem to stop it, just give into it. Ride it like some tornadic, tidal wave, all the way to the beach. Drive that thing right through the forest, past the witches, the lions, the tigers, the bears, Jack n Jill, and Hansel n Gretel, until you come out the other side. Don’t pass Go and don’t stop for gingerbread.
I think it’s the resistance to our bad days, our whirlpools, that makes them stronger. Maybe if we just acknowledge them, and sometimes even give into them, we can find our way out?
On days like that, just grip your putter and swing away my friend.