a cruel and incontinent punishment
If I did not know it for the broken crock of shit it almost certainly is, I might hazard that my game is cursed. For some time now, my son has been fond of golf.
What began simply enough as idle simulation on a games console quickly gravitated to genuine curiosity on the green. Junior clubs were procured and for several months now he has been honing his skills on municipal courses. Now. Golf is all very well – even old stooges have a weakness for it, I realize – and while its modern form may have originated here in Scotland, I for one have never truly graduated beyond a passing fancy for park life pitch and putt. Shepherds knocking stones down rabbit holes on the site of the old course at Saint Andrews ? Sounds suspiciously like fallacy through the wrong end of the looking glass. Anyway. Having previously demonstrated no fear on both the front nine and a driving range, last Sunday I ferried my son by bus to break his 18 hole cherry. Since kids get in for free I could hardly argue. And since adults similarly enjoy a waiving of fees, providing they are merely there to escort a minor round said sprawl of urban wilderness, I settled on merely caddying. Besides, years of bad posture have taken their toll. My back is not up to swinging a shortened stick. As a family, I feel I must add, we also possess a forty year old set picked up in a thrift store, but these are \”Ladies Clubs\” – each one has this failing branded into the iron like a caution, even the woods – and while I concede there is no real justification for me to turn up my nose, one has to draw a line in the sand somewhere. I would sooner desist from doing so with a ladies\’ wedge. Well. The boy done good. He hit some more than decent balls. He did not tire, or peak too soon, he did not whinge. Nor did I cajole. So. A good neighbour of ours caught us slouching home, weary but jubilant, and promptly made a gift of a set of full-size clubs. It was an offer I could not refuse, or accept on loan, he knocked on my door and insisted I take them. For all my reservations, I was delighted. If nothing else, I could do with the excuse to get out there and burn off the bloat, as much as the shriveler\’s block. He is a good egg, this neighbour. Almost but not quite a novice then, I struck out alone to get in some practice. On the first tee, I sliced my drive into the rough. I recovered with a shot straight into the bunker guarding the green. There ensued several woeful attempts to clear the ball. More buckloads of sand than Dylan on the beach. When I did at last make good contact, the ball sailed respectably aloft and onto the front of the green. My putting was adequate. Close to exceeding my stroke limit, I did not bother writing up the scorecard. The next two or three holes went by void of drama. And no spectators to witness me make amends. On the sixth, a steep incline on a fairly short par three, the wind picked up. Once again I was fighting from the rough. I made the shot. My bag toppled over on the fairway behind me, spilling clubs like Pick Up Sticks. I righted it and immediately saw that the vintage putter – a Fred Letters\’ Silver Swan, no less – had sheared clean through at the foot of the shaft. I have no idea why this might have occurred, unless there were some inherent weakness to it when it was cast. Still. It had clearly lasted decades without incident. I soldiered on. Somewhere between the seventh and the ninth I lost the vinyl cover to the No. 10 Driver. I retraced my steps half-heartedly but there was no sign of it in all that sea of green. I was glad my neighbour seemed entirely plausible in his largesse. I had no stomach to dwell on, less report, this second loss. With every subsequent drive, my game deteriorated rapidly. I made it to the 12th playing the same ball that I began with. At least there was that. Some teenagers appeared over the brow of a hill. Making off with the flag. Whooping drunkly like a tribe of native americans sold down the river for beads. The green was pocked with litter and plastic bottles. I still made the putt in two. There I stood on the 13th. \”The Wave\”. A small pond choked with weeds. Farther on, an undulating sculpted feature right across the fairway. I pressed in the tee and balanced the dimpled ball on it. My arms and shoulders were aching now, my face and neck awash with sweat. On the 17th, to my left, a father and his two young sons were busy making inroads with a couple of well judged pitches. A pin-seeking chip. The youngest son cavorted cheerfully on the lip of the green while his dad remonstrated without much feeling. I lit a cigarette and smoked it down to the butt before settling into the drive. Two afternoons previousy, my own boy had struggled with this one. It was a psychological thing. He fluffed two or three attempts before I stepped up to the plate and smacked it high up in the air, a good ten yards or so beyond the undulating horizon. It felt good. Showing him how to rein in that fluttering dread. I drew back on the stick and let fly with it. Ping! It smacked down in the water with an almighty splash. The six-year-old on the 17th stopped cavorting and silently watched me fish a second ball out of my trouser pocket. No matter. I was justifiably piqued, seeing as I had made it this far with the ball I started out with, but it was a minor gripe. Sploosh! The second ball fell dead in the water in the exact same spot. This time I could feel the second kid watching me. His father too. I fidgeted my shoulders and lined up a third ball. Not counting that first ball, I had another five in the zippered pocket of my golfing trolley. What the fuck. I could make it on home with enough balls to spare. Plop! went the third. The fourth. Now I was seriously pissed and sweating worse than before. The father and his sons drifted away to tee off on the 18th – \”Past Caring\” – a little too hesitantly for my liking. I dug out the fifth ball and noticed there was no sixth. Between that distant first fairway and this one, I must have lost one somewhere in the deep grass. I did not remember, but I knew I set out with six. That Sunday drive could not have been a fluke.
I wandered down to the edge of the pond and spotted a fat white globe caught in the reeds. I plucked it out of the water and dried it off on the sleeve of my shirt. Well, all right. Now I had a backup. I squinted at the three of them disappearing over the hill towards the clubhouse and teed up the fifth. An affluent looking bastard in khaki had by now taken their place on the 17th green. I hadn\’t seen him coming. The fifth and sixth balls went the same way as the rest. I was out of balls. Humiliated. Emasculated.
I was relieved, then, my son was not beside me to share in any of it.
I stashed the clubs away and heaved the bag up on my back. It felt heavy as lead. Heavier than an unsorted sack full of mail. I have worked for the Post Office, too, you know. I have tossed crates around for the odd paycheck between meals; here and there, this way or that, but never once freshly slaughtered slabs of meat. Well. I lumbered off that golf course under my cross and carted those clubs the extra half mile or so to catch a bus. On the way through the gates I stooped to pick up a single ball lost between the vege and chain link fence. I could not leave there empty-handed. More circumspect men than me might have gone to pieces. As it was, I arrived home to a conveniently empty house and hooked up the hog to get it all down. For posterity. Austerity. An absence of silverware, winning smirks. There is no home run, I find, in the long run home.