Golf In The Kingdom

March 23rd, 2010

golf.jpgSay what you will about what Justin Timberlake’s done for the sport, golf still isn’t very rock ‘n roll.

I play once a year nonetheless, always with my father. Perhaps its the long walk, or the inherent futility of knocking that tiny ball all that way into that tiny hole, but the sport is rife with philosophizing.

It’s that kind of sport, really, one streaked with the patina of fathers and sons and the wisdom — half-baked, penny-ante and bona fide — that passes between them.

Those lessons are captured in books with titles like “Golf in The Kingdom,” “Dewsweepers” and “Breaking The Slump.” My dad and I have traded dozens over the years, and I’ve read every one, scraping the pages for every ounce of wisdom I can glean. I can’t recount any of those specific lessons at the moment, but I know they have something to do with existential balance, abandonment, and comeuppance. It’s about things as spiritual as they are physical.

Still, for all that reading, and all those hours of pensive walking, I pretty much suck. Used to be my dad would say, “Pick up the god damned ball!” Nowadays, though (assuming the course ranger is nowhere in sight), he says, “We’re in no hurry.”

Still, as much as I’d like to tell you I don’t care that I suck, I do; I don’t like sucking.

With Abbi in Florida with the girls celebrated her sister’s forthcoming nuptials, then, my dad and I headed to South Carolina to make good on my birthday offer of “one round anywhere in the world.” (We considered Pebble Beach and St. Andrew’s, but decided that was downright irresponsible given my level of play. Someday.)

I had precisely one bucket on the driving range to warm up, so it didn’t start pretty. I reviewed my mental notes (knees bent, head down, follow through) but sent more than one of my MTV-branded Titleist 7s just past the women’s tee at best, and deep into the ruff at worst.

Fortunately, our third was no Jack Nicholas himself. Rocco Gabriella grew up on the mean streets of South Philly before becoming a jockey at Philadelphia Park (location of my first racing bet back in the mid-80s). He stood about 5’ 2″, and drove a solid 200 yards, but was quick with a story, and plenty patient with my amateur play.

More fortunate still, we’d picked a stunning day to walk the links. The sky was crystal-clear, deep-blue, and filled with sunshine. A light breeze whispered sweet and warm through the pine needles. It was a great day for a long walk, even if it was punctuated by wormburners, shanks and slices.

Every so often, though, I found my swing. I took a deep breath, cleared my head, steadied the arc of my swing, kept my head down and followed through. I couldn’t always make it happen, but I knew it when I felt it. So while I couldn’t repeat the stroke every time, soon enough, I found something approximating a rhythm. And then it dawned on me: Try less, be more. It was a little bit Yoda, and a little bit Buddha. The more I surrendered, the better I played.

I won’t be winning a pro-am anytime soon, or even a company best-ball tourny. Odds are, I won’t play again for another year or so. Still, I’ll carry that one with me: Try less, be more. That tiny little insight made all the miles, all the frustration, all the lost and waterlogged balls, the sledge-hammered tees, sky-born turf and full-on whiffs worth it.

Try less, be more; it makes all the difference.

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