When I Stopped Throwing Clubs

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
Tales From Dirt Mountain, Part 4. If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…

Submitted: February 09, 2015

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Submitted: February 09, 2015

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Golf is an unpredictable, unforgiving and difficult game.  Balls bounce the wrong direction.  The wind shifts in the middle of your backswing.  Sometimes, you just hit bad shots.  Every golfer hits shots that end up somewhere they don’t want to be, where they don’t deserve to be.  Every golfer handles that differently.

Take my pal Earl.  When he hits a bad shot, he frowns, and looks down at his feet for a second.  One more second, he’s over it, and ready for the next shot.  The famous Earl Saunders smile never disappears for very long.  Not me.  I’m the brooding type.  Golfers like me are notorious for getting mad at themselves.  Golfers like me are notorious for being their own worst enemy.

Back then I kept score with fate.  If I got a bad break on the third hole, I was expecting a good break on number 4.  For every putt that lipped out, one should catch the edge and fall in.  No need to explain how that worked out for me.

The Angry Golfer has a wide range of options to express his displeasure.  Cursing, kicking the tee, kicking the bag, making loud moaning sounds, I did it all.  Pulling off the glove, throwing it on the ground, throwing the hat, check.  Those reactions are all appropriate for the Angry Golfer under ordinary circumstances.  A lipped out putt. An approach shot that misses the green by inches and ends up in a sand trap.

But what about those extraordinary times, when you are way out on the edge of the Bell Curve, when fate or Mother Nature or your own lack of talent kicks you extra hard in that place that really hurts?  The Angry Golfer has only one acceptable option at that point.  Grasp the club in your dominant hand.  Rotate your hips and back as far as comfort allows.  Then throw that fucking club as hard as you can.

When it comes to scoring, golf is a very concrete game.  You hit the ball, you add one to your score.  The score stops going up after you’ve put the ball in the hole 18 times. 

Par is the magic number in golf.  Each hole has a par.  That is the score you are “supposed” to shoot, if you play the hole properly.  There are three kinds of holes, depending on length.  The shortest holes are par-3s, meaning you are supposed to be able to get the ball in the hole on your third shot.  The other kinds of holes are par-4s and par-5s.

When you add up all the par scores for each of the 18 holes, you get the par for the course.  Dirkin Mountain Golf Course has a par of 72.  Good golfers shoot under, at, or a little over par.  Bad golfers shoot way over par. 

Me being a 5 handicap meant I would shoot around 77 on a good day.  Much better than any ordinary hacker but not quite good enough to get a college scholarship.

The best round I had ever shot at Dirt Mountain was 73, one over par.  At that point, I had never shot under par for a round on any golf course.  Which brings us up to the time of the story. 

I started the round off with three pars.  A good start, the first two holes were long and frequent sources of poor scores.  A nice putt on the short 4th hole got me a birdie, and to that magical place, one under par.  Despite the inevitable nerves, I managed to par the next thirteen holes.  No cussing, no throwing clubs, just a lot of good shots.

Standing on the 18th tee, all I needed was a par to shoot a one under round of 71.  My first chance at the Holy Grail.  The drive went down the middle of the fairway.  Nothing to complain about there.

The approach to the 18th green was the most difficult shot on the course.  George Saunders believed in finishing with a flourish.  That is obvious in the way he designed the last hole.  In front of the green was a pond, a place where my stray shots had often ended.  Behind the green, the terrain sloped away dramatically, downhill about 30 feet, into thick rough.  A shot over the green was as penal as one in the pond. 

But I had put myself in the ideal situation.  Middle of the fairway, level lie, solid eight iron to the middle of the green.  Nothing fancy, just hit the green, two putts for par, walk away with my first subpar round ever.  When the ball left the club, I knew it was a good shot.  You can tell about the line of a shot right away.  This one was heading straight for the flag.  It’s harder to judge the distance. 

Earl had better depth perception than I did, so he had learned that I wanted immediate feedback when I hit a shot to the green.  Earl would say long, or short, or pretty close.  If Earl said, “Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy” repeatedly, that meant the shot was dead on target, or heading out of bounds. 

Even with my astigmatism, I knew it was a good shot.  When I heard Earl uttering his oh boys, I was thinking birdie or even eagle.  An eagle is two shots under par.  An eagle would have given me a score of 69.  Not just an under par round.  A sub 70 round. Two Holy Grails in one day.

Golf holes aren’t just holes in the ground.  There is a metal sleeve that fits inside the hole.  The bottom of the sleeve has a hole in the center where the flagpole fits, and more holes that allow rainwater to soak into the ground.  The top edge of the sleeve is about an inch below the edge of the putting surface.  In 99.999% of all golf shots that enter the hole, the presence of the sleeve does not interfere with the shot. 

But when you hit an eight iron from 150 yards and it is on a perfect line toward the flag, and enters the cup on the fly…

Deflation is a good word to use when you see one of the best shots you’ll ever hit, in a position to close out the best round of your life, bounce off of the back of the hole.  And proceed in line drive fashion into the nearest pond.  But that’s not when I threw the club.

I was too busy going into shock to do anything that active.  Earl said my face was beet red.  I don’t doubt it.  I didn’t say a word.  I walked up to the edge of the pond, dropped a ball, and calmly hit a chip shot that rolled to a stop just three feet from the hole. 

Three shots plus a penalty shot for going in the water meant I had a chance to bogey 18, and shoot an even par round of 72.  That would still be the best round of my career.  All I needed was a three foot putt.

Earl finished out his putt, so it was all up to me.  I had played Dirt Mountain a lot by then.  I’d putted every green, from every hole location, from every angle, multiple times.  That was how much golf Earl and I had played in the past few years. So I knew that three foot putt was going to break about one inch to the left.  All I had to do was line up the putt with the right edge of the cup, and the bogey save would be mine.

Putting is an art and a science.  You have to combine a proper reading of the putt with the proper stroke.  Hit the ball on the right line, at the right speed, and it will fall into the middle of the hole.  Too far left or right, too hard or soft, and you’re not finished putting yet.  And there’s a tiny middle ground, where your putt may hit the edge of the hole, and roll in, or, you get the dreaded lip out. 

Years later, Earl would develop an affinity for the blues.  A local guitarist named Mackenzie Thomas became his favorite and sometimes I would join Earl for beer and music.  Mackenzie’s signature song is about all the backsliding he had done in his life.  The name of the song is Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back.

When I hit that putt, it was going for the right edge of the hole, exactly where I aimed it.  But a funny thing happened on the way to the hole.  The ball kept going straight.  It hit the right edge of the hole, did a 180 degree U-turn, and rolled back two feet toward me.  The ball had traveled five feet, and ended up one foot from where it started.  Three feet forward, two feet back.  My Mackenzie putt.

But that’s not when I threw the club.  I didn’t say a word.  Earl says my face was still red.  I reached out with the putter, gave the ball a one handed slap and it went in the middle of the hole for a double bogey.  And a 73, the third time I’d shot that score at Dirt Mountain.

I have no recollection of what happened next.  There was some pretty good evidence afterward so I took Earl’s word for it.  He says I had the putter by both hands, and I was swinging it around in circles like one of those East German ladies in the Olympics competing in the hammer throw.  Only without all the muscles.

When I let go of the club, it flew in the approximate arc of a five iron over the back of the green.  I let out a primal scream as the club flew out of my hand.  Earl says that moment was the only time in his life he was ever afraid of me.

Behind the green, the land sloped away dramatically, which helped supersize my throw.  About seventy feet beyond the green is the edge of the parking lot, and the corner of the pro shop.  The corner of the pro shop where the outside water outlet was located.  Where Yancey Simmons would wash and wax his beloved 1968 Ford Mustang, on warm days when the sun was out. 

Earl had heard Yancey shriek once before, when Earl had hijacked Yancey’s Mustang and almost driven it into the tractor Yancey was driving.  By the time I came to my senses, Earl had grabbed my shirt with both of his fists and was shaking me.  He said, “Serge, get your act together, I think you killed Yancey!”

I had paid enough attention in biology class to know that if Yancey was able to shriek that loud, he couldn’t be dead.  But it sounded bad enough to make us run down the hill as fast as we could.  By the time we got there, Yancey had stopped shrieking, he was out of breath and was panting with his hands on his knees.  We could tell the injury was not to him, but to the Mustang.  My putter had hit the windshield, and left a nasty crack. 

Karsten Solheim had been a shoemaker and a salesman before he became an engineer.  That turned to be a fateful career change, because his engineering buddies introduced him to golf.  Like many people who don’t take up golf until adulthood, Karsten struggled with his game.  Putting was his weakest link.  So Karsten did what any talented engineer with the yips would do, he invented the perimeter weighted putter.  He didn’t stop there, Karsten Manufacturing offers a full line of golf clubs and equipment.  And he founded the Solheim Cup, the biennial competition between the US and European lady stars.

But nothing Karsten created was more iconic than his putters.  Often imitated but never duplicated, you can go to any golf course on this planet, I guarantee you won’t have to look through many bags before you find a Ping putter or one of the many knockoffs.

When Earl and I made it to the Mustang, I saw the crack in the windshield.  I saw Yancey trying to wheeze in his next breath.  I saw my Ping Anser on the asphalt next to the Mustang. And I knew I was finished throwing clubs.

One of the many disabilities Yancey had was a speech impediment.  Earl and I could usually understand him because we’d been around him so much.  But when he gets excited, no one can understand him.  So when he started saying, “flowers, flowers, flowers”, it took us a while to figure out he was saying “Filers”, as in Filer’s Salvage and Towing.

While fate was never going to balance out my unlucky breaks, it had never been as cruel to me as it had been to Yancey.  He would never go to college, kiss a girl, or experience life outside of his cocoon at Dirt Mountain.  But fate gave Yancey some incredible tools, such as his mechanical ability.  Another of his skills was a form of photographic memory.  He could walk into a room, look around and walk out.  Ask him a year later to describe the room and he could tell you in great detail, as if he were standing in the room while he was talking.

When we figured out that Yancey was saying “Filers”, we put two and two together.  Yancey knew what occupied every square inch of Jonah Filer’s salvage yard.  There must have been a wrecked Mustang there with a windshield Yancey could use for a replacement.

We piled into the pickup truck and got what we needed from Filer’s.  Earl and I helped as Yancey made the repair.  I had to mow Jonah Filer’s yard for two summers to pay for that windshield. 

The same Ping Anser perimeter weighted putter sits in my golf bag today, it never got thrown again.  The only injury from being bounced off that windshield was a small gash in the grip, when it hit the pavement.  The grip has long since been replaced, but for years, that gash served as a reminder of my brief career in the hammer throw.

I finally did break par, it wasn’t at Dirt Mountain.  A few years later when I was at college, a friend and I travelled to his home in Columbus, Georgia.  We played an excellent public course called Bull Run.  That was the second time in my life I had a three foot putt to shoot 71.  As I watched that putt go in the middle of the hole, I could feel the gash in the grip of the putter.  I thought about Earl and Yancey.  And a 1968 Ford Mustang with a replacement windshield. I decided that me and fate were square, even if the ledger wasn’t balanced. 

AUTHOR’S NOTE

Bull Run is a real golf course.  And it is not too far away from Dirt Mountain.  I mentioned that Dirt Mountain is a course I played in college.  In real life, I did not go to Emory University, nor am I an attorney.  My father was not a plumber.  He was an engineer, and his son followed in his footsteps on that, if not much else.  I went to college in a small town.  Sometimes, on weekends, when we had a few bucks, my buddies and I would drive to Atlanta and party it up.  We were less than two hours away from Hotlanta.

 


© Copyright 2017 Serge Wlodarski. All rights reserved.

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