I think it was the sixteenth hole on the local dirt track that masquerades as a golf course in my little neck of the woods when my addiction took hold…
It was one of those fine Midwestern mornings when the temperature was hovering somewhere in the mid 70’s and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. We had an early morning tee time and the morning dew glittered on the grass like someone had sprinkled diamonds up and down the course. Normally that sounds like a pretty idyllic scene but when the grass is wet it makes it a bitch to find your ball if it doesn’t find the fairway.
For the first bunch of holes, mine didn’t and much of my time was spent parading around back and forth looking in vain for a Top Flight 2000 that had seemed to go underground. The first couple of par 3’s on the front side didn’t do much to help the situation. For the most part, they play from an elevated tee to an elevated green with nothing but trouble in the valley if you happen to land short. If you happen to be long, well, that means you’re fishing around in the woods that protect the back of the green and the other golfers on the next tee box. I was doing a lot of fishing…
After we made the turn, things seemed to get a bit better. The dew was gone and my drives straightened out a bit and I think I managed to string together a couple of pars in row. My friends kinda laughed at me because they knew it was just a matter of time before I threw up all over myself ( a golfers term that indicates that you’re not playing very well). Sure as shit, when we hit the fifteenth I carded the dreaded snowman and was silently cursing myself for even thinking I could play this game at all. What the hell was I thinking?
The sixteenth is about a 140 to 150 yard par 3 depending on where the tee is set up and where the hole is placed. Unlike the pros who would probably be hitting a light nine iron or a wedge, yours truly whipped out his trusty seven iron. Yeah, that’s a lot of club for such a short distance but it’s the club I trusted most (at least for that day, clubs have a sinister way of betraying you from time to time, it helps keep you honest).
Anyway, it was my turn to hit and I was still a little pissed at myself for butchering the last hole. Anybody who plays will tell you it’s not a good idea to be thinking about the last hole when you’ve got another one in front of you. With that in mind, I tried to clear my head and focus on the task at hand. I buried my tee in the ground, set the ball on it, backed off and took a couple of practice swings and then lined myself up for my shot.
The golf swing is a funny thing and there are more gadgets and gizmos on the market that purport to give one “the perfect swing” than you can shake a stick at. Any golfer will tell you that it’s repetition that does it though. You see, there are so many things that can wrong and even if you’re off a fraction of an inch in the millisecond when the face of the club makes contact with the ball, most of the time you’re screwed. Most folks who play with any degree of frequency can tell you right away whether they sliced it, hooked it, duffed it, topped it, bladed it, hit it fat, hit it thin or God forbid, whiffed it.
This time I pured it.
The ball took off on a majestic arc and looked like it was never going to come down. To use a football reference, the hang time was something to be proud of and it was headed straight for the pin. In those few seconds, the feeling of hope one gets is almost indescribable. Your playing partners follow the flight of the ball and you hear mutterings of “Nice shot” or “Good ball” or “Looks good” but you're only half listening. Your eyes have lasered on to the ball and you’re afraid to blink. You think to yourself “Could this be the one?”
The ball landed a bit short of the pin and rolled to about two feet away. When I got up to the green, I fixed my ball mark and noticed that ball was pin high and the only thing that kept it from dropping was the slope of the green. I tapped in for birdie and proceeded to butcher the closing holes.
Later on, I got to thinking about that shot. It happened years ago but the memory of it is still burned into my head. In the ensuing years, I haven’t come that close to an ace but I’m still out there trying. I think the feeling of hope that I felt in those seven to ten seconds sparked an addiction.
An addiction not to golf, but to the feeling of hope itself.