Now That’s a Local Rule!

A guy I hadn’t seen for years was passing through town yesterday, and I made that pre-dawn drive we all love to get in a round of golf with him. As I drove across town ahead of the morning rush I couldn’t help but notice how different a drive at that hour feels if you’re going to play golf rather than going to work.

Anyway, I arrived in Floresville (a town just south of San Antonio) in time for a quick breakfast taco and a fill up with the diesel fuel that’s cheaper on that side of town, and then headed out to the course. River Bend is a relaxed little course with an interesting layout and I hadn’t played there in quite a while, so I was looking forward to seeing Tom and the course again.

We had a good round and played a semi-decent game, but had a lot of fun catching up. After I got home I glanced at the back of the scorecard and saw this local rule:

“If your ball comes to rest in or near a non-human creature, you are entitled to nearest relief, no nearer the hole.”

Now that is a great local rule! The course runs along the banks of the San Antonio River on a few holes, and it’s pretty wild in there. There’s also undeveloped territory in other spots, and I suspect you could find coyotes, snakes, and other beasties and things that go bump in the night in there, so it’s eminently reasonable. On the other hand, the course is generous enough that you have a good chance of avoiding the most serious trouble, and the serious trouble isn’t on many holes.

But what I love is the thought of my ball in a non-human creature. That’s a shot I certainly wouldn’t want to hit. My free drop might even get nearer the hole, assuming I ever slowed down enough to drop another ball and take a swing.

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Fat Stoney Says…A Penguin?

I’m sure all of you who spend much time watching the Golf Channel have seen those commercials for auto insurance from The General as many times as I have. I have a question for all you discriminating consumers of Madison Avenue’s finest products.

Can anyone tell me what that penguin has to do with anything? Having that kinda-sorta-Patton-looking guy as the kinda-sorta spokesman for the company makes sense, but why is his sidekick a penguin?

Is my feeble brain missing something here?

(Photo by Loretta Prokop)

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Accepting The Shot

I recently finished reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. (I’ve had a little more time for reading with the internet problems I mentioned in my last post. Things seem to be pretty good right now – we’ll see how long it holds.) The book is about a guy on a walking mission in England, nothing about golf, but I was struck by a line near the end.

“If we can’t be open, Maureen thought, if we can’t accept what we don’t know, there really is no hope.” (Maureen is Harold Fry’s wife.) It struck me that Maureen’s attitude applies to many aspects of life, golf included.

I know that my life as it is now has little in common with the life I thought I was preparing myself for in graduate school, or even for most of my career. If I had spent all my time trying to force things into that planned mold, I don’t think I’d be nearly as happy as I am now. I might even be dead. When I gave up and accepted where things were going even though I wasn’t sure where they were going to, things worked better for me.

I certainly don’t know where my next golf shot is going, or how the round is going to turn out. But I do know that fighting where it’s going and moaning about it after it happens only does two things. It makes my swing get stiff and choppy as I try to control an uncontrollable ball and it wrecks my enjoyment of the round. My head starts to jerk, I hang on and don’t release, and awful things happen.

Getting to admitting that I don’t know where that ball will go, feeling OK with that, and committing to hitting it with all my might can be tough.

I wonder if Maureen would like to make a little money as a caddy?

(Photo of Utopia, Texas golf course by Charles Prokop)

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I’m Still Here

I’ve been having internet connectivity problems lately, so posting has been difficult to impossible. I can get a good connection at low traffic times of day, but not at other times. Of course, the times I can get on for more than simple email checking or minimal browsing are when I (a) am asleep, (b) play golf, or (c) otherwise have a life in the nonethereal world. I’m working to get this fixed, and hope to be back, but it may involve switching providers, installing a new satellite dish (I live in the sticks), and/or whatever.

With a little luck, I’ll be back to regular posting in awhile.

I’d post a funny picture, but the last time I tried to upload an image I ran into the woods screaming.

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I Think You Owe Me A Quarter

When I watch the Wyndham Championship I like to compare the course to the one I saw when I went to the Greater Greensboro Open in 1976. That was the last year the tournament was at Sedgefield before moving to Forest Oaks. It returned to Sedgefield in 2008. The course has changed some over the 26 years since I was there, but the holes are still recognizable to me.

My memory of the ’76 tournament was a bit fuzzy, so I looked up the details. I remembered that Al Geiberger won and that Lee Trevino was close down the stretch. It turns out that Trevino came in second. Trevino sticks in my mind because we followed him for a few holes and were entertained by his constant chatter. I don’t recall any ropes in 1976, and I know there weren’t all the grandstands. We could sit almost on the fringe of the green as the players putted, so it was easy to hear and see everything.

Miller Barber came in third, but I don’t recall watching him at Sedgefield. My memories of him are probably contaminated by when I watched him at the Houston Open in the ’60’s. His swing was unforgettable and all my images of him are on the course in Houston.

The most interesting part of looking at the stats from ’76 was the payouts. Geiberger got $46,000 for winning. That’s a little less than 5% of what today’s winner will get. Inflation plays a small part, but I can assure you that the 2 bedroom, 1 bath house I sold in Durham, NC in 1976 is not worth $600,000 now. I’d guess it’s $175,000 max, and likely less. It’s just a lot more lucrative to be a pro golfer these days.

Nicklaus was the leading money winner in ’76, and he won $276,000 that year. I remember Nicklaus winning a seniors skins game competition a few years ago and commenting that the check he got for that silly-season event was the largest check he’d ever received for playing golf. I think he got about the same for that skins game as he got for all of 1976.

It’s too bad the purses in my games haven’t changed like they have for the pros. It was a big day for me if I won or lost $5.00 in ’76, and it isn’t much different now. When we say it’s a 2 buck Nassau, “buck” isn’t slang for something else. They still don’t have ropes lining the fairways while I play, either. Maybe there’s a connection there?


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Putting Into a Black Hole

I’ve been reading Redshirts by John Scalzi lately. I typically don’t read much sci-fi, but I make an exception for Scalzi. Redshirts has nothing to do with golf, but I couldn’t help thinking about my game while reading certain parts.

Without giving away too much to those who might want to read the book, a central feature of the plot is “the Narrative.” Characters are caught up in the Narrative and they suddenly find themselves swept up in an event, behaving in surprising (and damaging) ways, often against their better judgement. Things always end badly, at least for some of them. Discovering the source of the Narrative is a central part of the book.

As I read, I couldn’t help but think about how I sometimes get caught up in a pattern of bad decisions on the course, hitting shots I’m not committed to and that I know aren’t my best choices. I’ll feel compelled to go for the green when I know a lay-up is better, but I feel like I “ought to” go for it. I’ll putt from off the green when I know I can chip better (chipping is one of the best parts of my game), but I can hear the golf gurus saying you should putt whenever you can. I’ll ram a putt at the hole so it won’t be short (never up, never in) when I know that I’m a better die-at-the-hole putter than a run-it-past putter.

It’s like I’m taken over by Scalzi’s Narrative, but there isn’t any outside force driving it. It’s all coming from me. If I can just step away from the running commentary in my head and pay attention to my own game, I play better. Sometimes it takes me a hole or more to figure out I’m getting sucked in, but I’m getting better at catching it early.

I haven’t yet finished Redshirts and don’t know how the plot resolves, but I’m far enough in to see that it involves black holes, time travel, and other things I don’t think apply to my golf game. But the idea of avoiding getting caught up in a story that always ends badly is useful to my game.

Of course, the black hole part of the book might apply. My mood certainly falls into a black hole after a few doubles.

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Requiem For A Calico

My 20-year-old cat died yesterday. She’d been with us since she was a kitten, moved with us many times, lived with us on the road for a few years, and saved our dog’s life when he was mourning the loss of our previous cat. I guess I could feel bad about losing a great cat, but ultimately she was just a cat, right?

I missed a few short putts the last time I played and hit a few crappy shots, but I still shot 78. I’ve been playing the best golf of my life lately, with 9 of my last 10 rounds in the 70s. I guess I could feel good about getting better at this game I’ve played for nearly 50 years, but it’s really no big deal. Ultimately, it’s just a game, right?

But I care. I care a lot. I miss Taylor, and will for a long time. I care about my game, and will care the next time I miss or make a putt. It would be easier not to care, and probably more fashionable. Easier to say it’s just a cat, just a game. But it’s not. And my life is richer because it isn’t.

So rest in peace, Taylor. You’ll be missed.

(Photo by Loretta Prokop)


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Peter Alliss and The Dodgy Oyster

For those of you who missed the Peter Alliss interview on Feherty last night, try to catch it on a rerun. It’s worth your time.

I also really enjoyed the visits Alliss payed to the ESPN booth during the Open Championship. As usual, he said a few things that were both entertaining and perceptive. A few of my favorites:

While discussing his opinion of the folly of golfers predicting what they need to do in a round or how they plan to play: You have no idea how you’ll play. You don’t know what will happen, what the weather will be, how you’ll feel. You may be on top of your game, you might not be. You may not feel good. You may have had a dodgy oyster the night before.

Regarding the golf swing: People make it too complicated. You just need a firm foundation, stay stable and keep your head relatively still, and hit the ball with the club face. (My comment: On the other hand, I think we can all agree that’s hard enough without any additional complication.)

Regarding par: Do away with it. Everyone should just play, and the person with the fewest strokes wins.

And my favorite, regarding the entourage pros have today: Everyone has all these coaches and assistants. They even have diet managers and nutritionists. All I (Alliss) had was a wife, a granny, and a bicycle. (My comment: I guess the bicycle was his exercise equipment?)

Anyway, catch the Feherty interview. It’s worth it just to hear that voice and accent for a full hour.


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The Oriental Rug Of Golf Balls

Top view

As promised in my last post, here is a picture of the hand painted golf ball I was given. The other half of the ball looks just like the half in the photo. As you can see from the side view, the designs are positioned so they fit together nicely, like a good oriental rug.

The ball was given to me by a guy I was paired with on a day that I went out to the course alone. We had recently moved to our present home and I didn’t have any golf buddies here, so on July 5 I went out to the nearby course to see if I could get on. The guy who gave me the ball was visiting some of his in-laws with his wife for the July 4 holiday and was looking for a break.

Side view

We ended up paired with 2 other guys in similar situations. One was a recently retired guy who had just taken up golf, and the other was a guy who had the day off work. He was the only one who had ever played the course before, so he gave us a running commentary on where to hit and not hit the ball.

It was a pleasant round of golf with guys I’ve never seen again. The ball painter and I were about equal in skill level and enjoyed each others company, and he gave me the ball at the end of the round. He creates these in his spare time as he watches TV or is otherwise bored, and was playing with one during our round.

I’ve never played a round with mine, although I’ve pulled it out on a green or two just to see what reactions I get. I save it as a reminder of a nice day on the course with guys that fulfilled Harvey Penick’s comments about always finding friends on a golf course.

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Now That’s A Tee!

I found this tee lying on the tee box during my round last week. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. I don’t know if it’s homemade or commercially manufactured, but either way it’s a lot of effort for a tee.

It’s a long tee, 3 1/4 inches long. The wood is quite good for a tee, with noticeable straight grain running down the length of the shaft. The shaft is nicely pointed, as if in a pencil sharpener, and the shaft is stained. the point was ground after staining – there’s no stain on the end point.

The top was made separately and glued on. If you look closely at the photo, you can see a little wood glue where the top meets the shaft. The top is nicely made, although not stained. If you look closely you can see where the tool chattered a little shaping the top. I know from experience that it can be tough to use a router on such a small piece, and the wood is also relatively soft, so it’s a very good woodworking job, despite the slight chatter marks.

I have trouble imagining that this is a cost-effective commercial product. I can imagine someone who plays golf and likes to play around in the wood shop making this, and I suspect he didn’t intentionally leave it on the the box. I wouldn’t want to lose these if I made them.

Has anyone else seen one of these? Do you think it’s a personal creation of some woodworking golfer?

I don’t plan to use the tee. It’s a little too long for me. I think I’ll save it with the decorated ball a guy gave me when I played with him several years ago. He liked to watch TV and decorate golf balls with elaborate patterns.

I’ll post a picture of that ball after I dig it out from it’s hiding place. It’s pretty impressive work.

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