The last page of the December Golf Digest is a little essay on the horrors of whiffing. I can’t say that remembering the whiffs of my life is pleasant, but the article recalled an experience from my early golfing career that is burned deep into my brain cells.
I was 14 or 15 years old, living in Houston and playing much of my golf at the Memorial Park golf course. Memorial was the first full size course I ever played, probably when I was 13 (I shot a 124 my first time), but by the time of the round I recall I was usually shooting in the low 90’s, and had managed to break 90 a few times.
(Memorial Park is also the home of the hot dog that still serves as my model of excellence. On the few occasions I make hot dogs, I try to recreate the dog from the Memorial Park grill, circa mid 1960’s. Just the right amount of mustard, relish, and great chili. Heaven on a bun.)
But back to golf. I was at the height of my geeky gangliness, a little over 6 feet tall and weighing about 115 soaking wet. I could eat those hot dogs all day and not gain a pound. I always swung too hard (young male, and all that) and in order to keep my balance I’d spread my legs much wider than my shoulders and swing very flat. I used a five wood off the tee, because I couldn’t control anything longer.
Our group got on the first tee after a long wait, and there was a large crowd standing around waiting for a tee time. There was no starter or reserved tee times – you put a ball in one end of the tube and waited until yours made it down to the other end. We’d waited 45 minutes or so, as was usual at that time of year.
I took my strange stance, swung, nearly fell over, and looked down at the ball still waiting on the tee. I tried to ignore the chuckling in the crowd, and swung again. Another whiff. I started flailing on the third try, and finally managed to advance the ball into the right rough. I think it was on my fourth swing, but it could have been later. I was just trying to escape the tee and get out of range.
The amazing thing is that experiences like that never dampened my enthusiasm for the game. If I’d done something like that in the course of any other activity, I’d never want to get anywhere near it again. But I’m still playing golf.