This column originally ran July 28, 2016
It happened. After two years of resisting my husband’s pleas, I gave in: I started golfing with him.
The things we do for love.
Mark was so delighted by my lukewarm enthusiasm he took me right out to the sporting goods store to buy me a set of clubs. The golf department was enormous. It offered multiple brands of clubs in various lengths, face angles and levels of shaft stiffness, employing space-age materials designed to optimize everything from the distance and accuracy of your drive to the loft of your shot and spin on the ball. Taking in all the smoky graphite and shiny steel around me, I admit I started to get excited about my potential as a golfer. The options seemed endless.
I’m inexperienced, left-handed and female (a “lady,” in golf lingo, though no one would ever call me that if they heard the language I use on the course). This limited my choices to feminine, low-end beginner sets with matching bags, only two of which came left-handed: peach and turquoise.
I asked the expert golf sales assistant which would be better for me. She watched me take a few test shots, checked my height and analyzed my swing, and concluded that the peach was more flattering to my complexion. (Funny. I had been leaning toward the turquoise.)
It’s a good thing the clubs make me look good, because I stink.
Of course I stink. Everyone stinks at golf, except maybe for the people who play every day for years and who insist on telling you about the small but vital adjustment they’ve made in their grip, and that time when they cleared the water hazard on the 14th with a 9 iron off the tee. “A 9 iron. On the 14th,” they repeat, as if this information will make you rethink the very meaning of life.
And even those people mostly stink.
I can’t tell you how reassuring it is that in the three golf outings I’ve had with my pretty pastel clubs, three different golfers have walked onto our fairway to hit a ball, even though they were playing a different hole. (My empathy is outweighed only by my envy; I dream of someday being able to hit a ball far enough to reach the wrong fairway.)
Here’s the thing I’ve learned in just a couple of weeks: It’s almost impossible to play golf well, but once you start, it’s hard to stop.
And I know why. While nearly all of your shots go too short, too long or too far into the woods, once in a while one flies so perfectly you forget all the others. That rare but thrilling payoff stimulates the same receptors in the pleasure center of your brain that light up when you hit the jackpot on a slot machine. Instead of accepting that this is a fluke, your only thought is, “I want more of that.”
Granted, there are a few excellent golfers out there, and they swear it’s easy. Just hit the ball straight. How? Find your stance, grip the club properly, take a good backswing, keep your shoulders square, make contact at the right angle, transfer your weight, keep your head down, concentrate, bend your knees, imagine a straight line from the top of your head to somewhere, keep your eye on the ball, pat your head and rub your tummy, don’t take any wooden nickels, and follow through.
If all that results in a good shot, just do it the exact same way next time — but whatever you do, don’t overthink it because that will ruin everything. If, on the other hand, that doesn’t result in a good shot, change one or more of those variables until you get it right.
It’s that simple.
It must be nice to feel like you have some control. But for me, whether the ball is on the fairway or, more likely, in some tall grass three feet behind a pine tree, hitting it feels less like an intentional act and more like playing the lottery. While I dream of a good outcome, I know I have a better chance of getting struck by lightning.
Of course, it’s not all about luck. I’ve noticed that the better golfers on the course tend to carry nicer clubs. And I can’t help thinking that maybe my value-priced peach-accented clubs might be why I don’t hit better.
I should have gone with the turquoise.