"Golf is of games the most mystical,
the least earthbound,
the one wherein
the walls between us and the supernatural
are rubbed thinnest."
- John Updike
Two friends and I played the first nine holes at a public course in Minneapolis and were grouped with a fourth at the turn. Ernie was about 80 years old and he told us that he could golf his age with regularity. He never hit the ball more than 175 yards but it went straight toward the target with most every shot. Us young bucks would smash the ball as hard as we could off of the tee, often doubling Ernie's distance but by hook or by crook the wise old guy would end up penciling in a lower number.
Ernie was a great influence and we commented throughout the round on what a positive effect his serenity and steadiness were having on our own games. By the end of the round we had all learned to mimic his humble address and slow, thoughtful swing.
In talking to Ernie we learned that he was a retired songwriter and that he had earned his living writing jingles for advertisers. We prodded him further to see if he had written anything we may have heard and he owned up to one very famous beer commercial. My buddies and I were all raised in the happy land of Minnesota and were pummeled in our youth with the Hamm's Beer jingle.
"...from the land of sky blue waters,
from the land of pines...
comes the beer refreshing....
Hamm's the beer refreshing."
The word "Minnesota" derives from a Dakota Sioux phrase meaning "Land of sky-tinted waters" so the jingle became our unofficial state anthem. If you grew up in the 50's or 60's in the upper Midwestern United States you cannot read the above lyric without generating a mental image of the Hamm's bear. The commercials were delightfully infectious cartoons starring a black bear that played the tune on a tom-tom with his tail. Ernie wrote it! We were impressed.
We thanked Ernie exuberantly for being a charming part of our childhood but more importantly for fixing our suspect golf swings. My friends and I all bettered our handicap that day at Meadowbrook, a feat that we never accomplished before and haven't repeated since.
There is a wonderful book that speaks to the spirituality of golf called "Golf in the Kingdom." It's a novel that explores the metaphysical side of the grand game. Great truths are revealed in the story through the teachings of a mystical golf professional named Shivas Irons. I recommended the book to my wife to provide her with insight into my passion for the game.
When I returned home from golf I told Mary all about my brush with greatness. The Hamm's Beer bear was as much a fixture of her youth as mine and she was duly impressed. She grinned hard and rushed into the other room to retrieve the book she was reading that day. She shoved it into my hands and told me to read the four or five pages that preceded her bookmark.
Just behind the dog-eared page I found the passage in which the sage Shivas explains the great wisdom of advertisers. Shivas points out to his golf pupil the simple truth that wisdom is merely remembering. The job of the advertisers is to make us remember so they are among the great masters of the Universe. The author makes particular reference to the Hamm's Beer jingle as an example of their power to plant imagery in the mind.
If I could bottle a substance that produced the tingling in my spine I felt at that moment, I would be a popular bartender indeed.