Fore!

Upon retirement some twenty years ago, I moved with my wife to Florida for six months of the year.  Where once we had been intrepid winter-sportspeople, participating avidly in (and watching) hockey, curling, and skiing, we forsook them all for the warmer climes of the sunny south—and for year-round golf.

Nestled into a cozy villa in a golfing community, we took to the links as many as four or five times a week—foursomes with friends, club leagues, and even occasional tournaments.

My regular men’s foursome was with three friends, and playing with me was pretty much an act of charity on their parts.  Naturally enough, our conversations generally revolved around the state of our respective games.

foursome

These fellows had, for years, recorded better scores than I had.  I was never sure from week to week which single digit represented their handicaps, but I knew what my handicap was—a pronounced lack of ability to hit the ball where I wanted it to go.  Because of this, I had to put up with their wisecracks, clumsily disguised as advice.

“Y’know, you’re usually standing too close to the ball,” Charlie would chortle.  “After you’ve hit it!”

“Maybe it’s how you’re gripping the club,” John would join in.  “Have you tried playing left-handed?”

“Actually,” Bob would blurt, unable to contain himself, “you’re not really playing golf.  The game you’re playing should be called, If Only…!

Mind you, the ball always went where I hit it—although rarely where I intended to hit it.

To tell the truth, I knew my friends were a lot better than I at the game.  But the gap seemed to be widening with each passing year, and I finally had to acknowledge I was the guy who always had the highest scores.

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What really bothered me were their claims that they played golf to relax, to shake off the everyday cares that accompany getting older.  When we’d finish a round, they’d be happy, serene, and ready for a self-satisfied nap.

Not so with me!  I generally came in after eighteen holes feeling frustrated with my score, angry about the balls I had lost in several of the ponds, and despondent over my lack of improvement.  My friends would laughingly console me by saying, “Relax already.  You’re not good enough to get mad!”

So, in desperation, I decided to take a lesson from the local pro at our club, who watched me hit a few balls on the practice range.

“Hmmm,” she offered, after witnessing my futile flaying of the club, “I think you need to take a couple of weeks off, get away from it for awhile.”

“Really?” I replied.  “That’s it?”

“Yup.  Then, you should consider giving up the game!”

Undeterred by her flippant attitude (and figuring she’d probably been put up to it by my friends), I decided to persevere—but, I have to say, only after making several minor modifications to the rules.

rules

On one day, for example, I would decide on the score I wanted to shoot before I began each round.  When I reached that number, regardless of which hole I was on, I would simply stop counting my strokes.  And guess what?  I began to feel quite pleased with myself—although, I was a tad concerned about how my friends seemed to feel.

“Seventy-five?” they’d chorus disbelievingly.  “Really?”

On a different day, I’d resort to another of my modifications, this one having to do with visualization.  Because I knew what constituted a good golf shot, even if I had trouble executing it, I’d conjure a mental image of what I wanted each shot to look like.  Then, Zen-like, I’d slash at the ball.  If I liked the result, if it matched my visual image, I’d count the stroke; if not, I didn’t.  And just like magic, my scores improved.

As did my mood.

A third minor change, one I particularly liked, allowed me to stick almost exactly to the rules.  I would play every stroke by the book, not trying to finagle the score on any hole—I’d tee off, hit crisply from the fairway, putt every stroke (no gimmies), and I’d count every penalty stroke (if there were any).  The only deviation from the rules of golf was that I used an imaginary ball, rather than a real one.

For a long time, I really believed this new game of ‘air-golf’ could catch on, and I wouldn’t have to bend over on every hole to retrieve a ball from the cup.

Looking back, there were a host of changes I made to my rules—

  • there was no such thing as a lost ball because the missing ball was on or near the course and would eventually be found and claimed by someone else, thereby making it a stolen ball;
  • when my ball was sliced or hooked into the rough, it could be lifted and placed on the fairway at a point equal to the distance it had carried or rolled into the rough with no penalty, because I should not be penalized for tall grass which grounds-keepers had failed to mow;
  • if my putt passed over a hole without dropping, it would be deemed to have dropped because the Law of Gravity should always supersede the Rules of Golf; and
  • if any of my putts stopped close enough to the cup that they could be blown in, I could blow them in without penalty; this would not apply to balls more than three inches from the hole, however, because I didn’t want to make a mockery of the game.

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With these changes in place, my scores began to match those of my friends in short order.  And I can’t say they were pleased about it.  In fact, so petulant did they become that, after only a week, I had to abandon these rule modifications altogether.

It was either that, or I’d have found myself playing alone!

Mind you—not that I want to lose my friends—I do shoot my best scores when I’m playing alone.

Just sayin’!

 

The Better I Was

At threescore-and-ten years of age, plus a few, I am no longer cavorting on ice-rinks and athletic fields-of-play with the same wild abandon that characterized my youth.  Not even close.

My ice-hockey skates have lain, undisturbed for lo, these many years, in a box in my storage locker.  My inline skates were recently given to my grandson, whose feet, amazingly, have grown to my size.  And my baseball gloves (the ‘relic’—floppy, scuffed, and worn; and the ‘newbie’—still-shiny, with a lovely, leathery smell) lie beside each other on a shelf I never look at.

My competitive pursuits these days consist of golf (from the forward tees), tennis (‘doubles’ only), and snooker (on tables with oversized pockets).  My comrades and I—no longer so quick, strong, and skilled as once upon a time—are unhurried, more frail, and prone to error now.  And that’s on our good days!

snooker

I’m sure the same refrain runs through their minds, as through mine: O, how the mighty have fallen!

Not that I was ever that mighty, mind you.  The visions of grace and glory ever running through my youthful head were more likely delusions of grandeur.  And the triumphs I always looked forward to were more often trials and errors.

It might have been said about me at various times over the years (snidely, of course, by persons with varying degrees of sensitivity) —

  • He’s a legend…..in his own mind.
  • He’s not as good as he once was; but he might be as good once as he ever was.
  • He’s not a has-been; he’s a never-was!

However, the one I deem most accurate, given my propensity for self-aggrandizement, is probably—

  • The older he gets, the better he was!

That one comes closest to the truth.  When I absolutely ‘crush’ a drive off the tee now (which is rare, and which means about 150 yards), I bemoan the fact that I used to regularly hit it almost twice as far.  Not true.

golf

When I double-fault into the net at a crucial point in the match (which is not-so-rare), I protest that I used to reliably smash aces past my opponents.  Also not true.

And when the cue ball ricochets off the ball I intended to sink, and itself literally leaps into the pocket (which is often), I smack my forehead and exclaim, “What a fluke!  I used to make those shots all the time!”  But I didn’t.

It strikes me that the phrase ‘I used to…’ is a prominent part of my conversation these days.

I suppose it’s a form of self-defence to claim a level of excellence that never truly existed, an attempt to ward off the all-too-obvious failings of the flesh brought on by rapidly-advancing years.  Even more fragile than my aging body, after all, is my vaunted male ego.  Yet sadly, the first gives out before the second.

I recall a computer-translation into Russian of the old saying, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  When a Russian-speaking person was asked to re-translate it to English, it came out as, “The wine is good, but the meat is rotten.”

Exactly how I feel!

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Still, I continue to declaim the glories of my yesteryears to all who will listen (the number of whom is fewer and fewer all the time, I am noticing).  I am out there whenever I can be—on the golf course, at the tennis court, around the snooker table—rarely winning at the games, but always seeking the former stardom I pretend to remember.

“The important thing is not who wins,” I try to tell myself.  “It’s who shows up to play.”

And strangely, the showing up is somehow made easier by a still-burning desire to do better next time, to improve, to regain the degree of mastery (illusory, I know) once taken for granted.

After all, the older I get, the better I…..well, you know.

Is It Still?

Even at this late stage in my life, there are still so many questions and so few answers.

For example, is golf still golf if one doesn’t walk the course?  Since retiring, I have devoted countless hours to flailing away at a little white ball, following it down fairways that are too narrow, poking and prodding it close enough to the hole that I can pick it up—a gimme in golf parlance.

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But I almost never walk the course.  Instead, I ride a golf cart along paved pathways, across swaths of mowed grass, stopping too often by bunkers full of granulated sand.  The only exception is when I fail to hit a rider—more golf parlance for a shot that doesn’t travel far enough to warrant climbing back aboard the cart to ride to the next shot.

Golf is a game invented to test one’s physical, mental, and psycho-emotional endurance, and it has forever involved walking.  If one drives the course, is it still golf?

Another question concerns an issue that plagues me in moments of idleness, of which there are many.  Is it still okay for a gentleman to hold a door open for a lady?  And if one does, should one expect a ‘thank-you’ as the lady sweeps through?

More often than not, I rush ahead when in the company of ladies to man the door.  Being not the most graceful of people at my advancing age, I frequently bang into someone in my haste.  Or regrettably, I approach the door from the wrong side, making it necessary to push in front of my companions to open it.  Once in a while, I’ve even been known to let go of the door too soon (usually because the strength in my arm gives out), which provides a none-too-gentle bump on the derriere of the unfortunate lady caught on the threshold.  I rarely hear a smiling Thank you!

A third example has recently become a concern.  Is it still acceptable for one such as I to look at pretty young women?  During a lifetime of doing so, I’ve gone from being considered precocious in my pre-teens, to flirtatious in high school; from admiring in my early working years, to bold in middle-age; from cute in my early senior years, to…what?  Lecherous?

Now, when so many pretty girls are the age of my granddaughters, is it still okay to appreciate their youth and beauty?

Despite the fact I’m a grandfather, I continue to be plagued by these questions.  For instance, there’s the matter of leaving one’s bed unmade after getting up in the morning.  You know, as long as no one is expected to drop by.  Or is one supposed to honour the teachings of one’s mother even now, so many years later?

Though she’s been gone many a year, I still imagine her tread on the stairs, coming to inspect my bedroom before breakfast.  The stripes on the bedspread had to be straight, from the pillow to the footboard; the hem had to be off the floor, and uniformly so, along the length of the bed; and, although I never had to bounce a dime off it in military fashion, the top had better be smooth, with no wrinkles showing through.

Is it still necessary to make one’s bed every morning?

There are so many questions!  If it doesn’t have a hole in the middle, is it still a doughnut?  Is it still correct to say one dials a number, now that there’s no longer a dial on the phone?  Is it still de rigueur to doff one’s hat in an elevator, when so many around us eat in restaurants with their hats on?  Is it still the Olympics with no truly amateur athletes extant?

I know there are folks who could not care less about such questions.  Political correctness has mandated the answers in many cases, anyway, and general indifference often covers the rest.  But how else might I occupy my time, except by considering such weighty matters?

Is it still Sunday if not everyone goes to church?  Is it still winter if there’s no snow?  Is it still cream if it’s made from petroleum products?  Is it still my car if I’m only leasing it?  Is it still democracy if hardly anybody votes?

I don’t remember having the inclination in years gone by to ponder these questions.  Or perhaps I thought I had all the answers back then.  Regardless, I now regale friends—those who hang around long enough—with rhetorical queries and enquiries, in hopes they’ll engage with me in the pursuit of answers.  I’ve chosen to interpret their glazed eyes and pained expressions as a devoted effort to help.

The greatest barrier to learning, I read a long time ago, is the failure to ask.  And so I do.  Endlessly. Repetitively.  Annoyingly, even.

Is it still okay?