My Cleveland brass wedges have been wiped clean. The muted brass gives off a dim sheen. Last year’s failed attempts at bunker saves and chips have been removed with a wipe of a warm moist cloth. The short and long irons have been inspected… grips squeezed and twisted to ensure they still provide a firm hold within my hands. Golf bag contents have been emptied and inventoried. Like a soldier preparing for a long patrol, the gear is laid out before me in an orderly manner. Rank by rank, needed and necessary equipment is inspected. Bags of wooden tees are opened and poured into a bag pocket, last year’s chipped and broken tees are discarded just like last year’s slicing and hooking drives are forgotten.
Dirty, scuffed, and discolored balls are wiped and eyed. A hacker can’t afford to trash a less than stellar ball. Used and new balls are the hoarded currency of a hacker. If there is no clear split in the golf ball’s shell, it is rolled from my palm back into the bag. New boxes of balls are opened and follow their older companions into the bag. 2012-2013 USGA rule book is quickly thumbed… rarely checked while on the course. After nearly 20 years of golfing and rare changes to USGA rules, my memory is a better guide than a book. Rule books are guides for challenging when money is on the line. I rarely bet on my golf game, thus I rarely open the book.
New shiny cans of sunscreen and bug spray are placed in the bag. Nature is one of the adversaries on the golf course… the roll of the land, the cut of the rough, the strength of the wind, the slope of the green, the slick of wet rain, the heat and burn of the sun, and the swarm of mosquitos. Golf is not a game played within a climate controlled environment. Golf is played in the elements and golfers like myself have to be armed in a manner that allows us to not worry about a sunburn as we stand on the 11th tee box squinting in the summer sun.
By September my left hand will be a ghostly pale white, it will have been gloved all summer. My right hand will be a bronzed hue. This mismatched hand coloring will identify me to other golfers as a compatriot… we will nod to each other at bars, restaurants, stores, and work hallways when we notice each others’ hands. Golfers have no secret handshake or code word, but we do have a visible identification to mark our presence among our peers.
Finally, the small pieces of my weekly golfing life is softly touched. I go through my ball markers and divet repair tools. Golf gloves and repair tools have markers attached to them… I discard them immediately upon purchase. I mark my ball on the green with coins. American currency is at the bottom of my preferred markers. Pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters are for the occasional golfer. Average pocket change is used when no other marker is available, a real golfer ensures he has his favorite markers prior to teeing off. I don’t use average pocket change, I am always prepared. There is a newly minted dollar coin showing the face of Sacagawea, a 5 Peso, a single Russian Ruble, and a Kazakh Tenge. Globalization meets golf.
The bag, its contents, and my clubs are ready. My Adidas golf shoes are inspected, cleaned. Laces are checked for frays, plastic spikes are tightened… metal spikes being banned about the time I started playing golf. Older golf courses, that can’t afford remodeling, still show metal spike marks on wooden stairs and floors. The day of metal spikes has ended. At last I eye my golf gloves, both are checked for rips, tears, and loose threads. The soft white leather is a dirty blackish grey on the palm. Gloves last a season or two, summer sweat and sun turn them stiff following a winter of non-use. As a right-handed golfer, I wear a glove on my left hand and this the point where I connect to the club. This single point sweat stained glove is where the ball’s flight begins and travels up the shaft to grip, grip to hands, hands to arms, arms to body. Golf swings are not necessarily pretty, but it is better for it to look smooth than jerky… I unfortunately am a jerky golfer. As I finish checking the gloves, I check my mind for rips, tears, and loose threads… like any game or sport, the mind is the piece of equipment that is most important and most likely to be damaged. Mental check complete… I calmly wait for the season to begin.
Golf is a game of habit and routine. I cannot golf without a hat, I cannot putt with my glove on, I cannot mark my ball with average pocket change, and I have to put a fat lip of Skoal in before teeing off. Rob, my best friend, doesn’t dip but says that the smell of Skoal in the morning means golf. I don’t like other golfers talking to my ball. My shot, my ball, my encouragement. I won’t encourage your ball because it is a backwards compliment that actually says “hey dude, your shot kinda sucked so I am going to pretend I can talk your ball into doing something you couldn’t make it do.” Leave my ball out of your conversations. These habits and routines are the ritual of my game.
Golf is a game of consistency. Unfortunately, consistently I suck. Golfers, when upon hitting a straight drive or perfect iron, wonder aloud on why that can’t do that all the time. They also allow themselves the selfish thought of thinking that perfect shot is actually what their golf game is. It isn’t, their golf game is the slice, hook, stub, topping, worm burner, and all the other horrible shots that consist of the majority of their game. I no longer tell myself that my inner and true golfer is a straight drive hitting and long putt sinker scratch golfer. I am hacker, I am average, and I revel in it.
Golf is my escape, golf is my hobby, golf is my fun. I am not playing against you. I don’t care how you score and I won’t correct you when you purposely or accidentally shave a stroke or two. If you want to lie to yourself that is your business. I play against myself. I used to viciously compete against myself. Every bad shot and missed putt was followed by an internal argument and cursing. Now an easy peace has settled upon my soul. I am happy with who I am on the golf course and like the golfer I am. Acceptance is the first step, I accept who I am as a golfer.
Spring is here, and even though I have golfed a few times this warm winter, golf season has officially begun. For the next 7 months or so, I will spend at least one day a week chasing a little white ball around a grassy terrain. Like life, perfection is unattainable. The pursuit of the perfection… the journey is what is thrilling. I intend to keep my swing thoughts simple (“Keep your head down”) and my grip loose. It is hard to imagine something better than the possibility of a well-placed drive followed by a buoyant walk down the fairway with thoughts of that perfect second shot.