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Newz Forum: GOLF: Home on the Range

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posted on Apr, 24 2005 @ 08:12 PM
Like a lot of people, I find most of my inspiration in the work of others. I think.

I mean, I know I get my inspiration that way, I just don't know that a lot of people do the same thing.

But then, whose definition of "a lot" are we using? A million is a lot, but not when you base that number against the population of America, the world, etc. So it's all a matter of perspective. I don't know what your standards are, and there's no telling What Would Jesus Do, so I've decided, for the purposes of this column, to base all my life's opinions on Fresno, and what I think might well be considered normal there.

My guess is that the average citizen of Fresno thinks a million of just about anything is plenty, and so I now feel confident enough to cut and paste my first sentence as the beginning of a whole new paragraph. Here we go:

Like a lot of people, I find most of my inspiration in the work of others. I write because of people like Hunter S. Thompson and Terry Southern. I play guitar because of, and wholly unlike, Jimmy Page and John Lennon. Today I revisited an old habit of mine, one inspired by, over the years, people like Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, and Tiger Woods - I spent $5,000 at the racetrack and hung out with paunchy white people all day.

Oh, of course I'm kidding, I went to the driving range. And I was pretty good.

I used to be much better. In the mid-1990s I worked for three summers at the Indian Lakes Country Club in Bloomingdale, IL. It's a 36-hole course with no driving range, but with a wonderful policy that allowed free golf for minimum-wage cart cleaners at all hours of the day. I abused this policy grandly, often playing over 100 holes a week and developing the kind of game, and tan, that people with girlfriends could only stare at in disbelief. I weighed about 145 pounds, and could drive the ball twice that amount. Sometimes.

By 1995 I was regularly scoring in the low 80s, and once double-bogeyed the 9th hole to come in at par. That was the day I shot 79, my best score ever, and 72 hours before I dislocated my shoulder, and my game, in a short brawl on the West course's 4th fairway. I have rarely played 100 holes in a year since then, and if I approach 79 it is because I have just reached the 15th hole.

This year is going to be different. My wife's friend Ben, who at 23 is organizing White House inaugural balls, also finds time to run a gloriously ramshackle annual golf tournament in the hills of Danville, IL. I learned about it last summer, and spent the two weeks leading up to it working harder at my game than at any point in the millennium. I chipped. I putted. I hit range balls next to children and the infirm, and worked my way up to the elderly. I was determined to win, and on the day I was confident I would do so.

I tied. Everyone tied, actually, because on that day the rain poured down like water from the clouds above. Which is all it is - why do people get so metaphysical about rain? It's a natural process, nothing more, nothing less, and it's responsible for green grass, free car washes, and the long, strange career of James Taylor. And last July, it ruined my re-coronation as Winner of Meaningless Events.

This year the tournament is on August 20th, and today I began my preparations. August 20th is Robert Plant's birthday, and I found myself listening to Led Zeppelin as I drove to the local range. Plant has never written about golf, at least overtly, but he has written his share of songs about rain, and this summer I shall listen to as many as I can in an attempt to ward awful the evil stuff. It worked today, and within 10 minutes I was at that most logical of starting places for an afternoon of golf practice - Walgreens.

I needed sunglasses. Around the time I could kind of play like a professional I decided I needed sunglasses that looked the part. I already had a Greg Norman-style shark hat (free, courtesy of a drunken golfer at Indian Lakes), and logic dictated that I get a pair of shades that would grip my head and look cool at the same time. I found them at the Oakley counter in the mall, and they only cost me $160.

With the hindsight of time, I can see how stupid that was. It became astonishingly clear, in fact, on a midsummer afternoon in 2000 while I was playing softball. I was the catcher, and as I squatted behind home plate I spotted a man dealing sunglasses that looked remarkably like those Oakleys. It was easy for me to compare them, in fact, because I was watching him though the very Oakleys I owned. He had a table full of them, and was selling them for the ripe old sum of $10 apiece. At that point I realized I'd spent $160 on maybe $5 worth of plastic, and in the intervening years those Oakleys have found their way into the garbage heap of history, much like my swing, my hat, and Greg Norman.

Today I spent $10.66 and got virtually the same thing

When I arrived at the range my ego quickly deflated. In the old days I used to deliberately find a mat near a parent/child combo or a pretty girl, because I could crush the ball and show off while looking sweet in my Oakleys and hat. I now see, of course, that what those people actually were watching was a gigantic dork with an oversized hat, ego, and pair of sunglasses, who happened to have a decent golf swing. Today's range crowd featured a bunch of well-dressed Japanesers, two middle-aged women, and a smattering of honkies whose handicap exceeds their waist size. And I am one of them.

There's hope, though, and I assure you I will keep you informed about the Rebirth of My Golf Game at least as long as the hits on these articles don't fade. My swing's a bit rusty and my hands are weak, and my back hurts, and my arm, and I hit a number of ground balls. But all the old swing techniques I'd forgotten came flooding back - Keep Your Head Down; Hit Down On The Ball; Use One Arm At A Time; Quit Talking To Yourself - and by the end of the bucket I was swinging easily and hitting 75% of my shots pretty well. Even the Japanesers were impressed, but that may have been because I gave them my last seven balls once the blisters started to bleed.

I'm going to go back there next weekend, armed with even more of my tools from the old days - Band-Aids, a wet towel, and my putter. I was going to practice my putting after the bucket, because that's what I used to do when I was good. See, I discovered that on the actual course I tended to leave my putts short, so I practiced putting when I was tired, which trained my wrists to hit the ball harder. Then I'd get on the course and that extra little Ooomph often spelled the difference between Par and Bogey.

Today I forgot to bring my putter at all, which sums up nicely the current state of affairs re: my golf game. I did remember my shoes and gloves, though, and this is an excellent start. It's a far, far better state of affairs than the last day I was good at golf, which ended with me on my back, my 8-iron in pieces, and my shoulder in my ribcage. I looked good, though, in that hat and those sunglasses, rolling around the fairway and shrieking like Robert Plant. He'll turn 57 on the day of the tournament this year, and if I'm lucky I'll come within 30 of that and maybe win a $10 trophy. If I'm unlucky it will rain, and I'll end up like the Bishop in "Caddyshack," cursing the Lord and getting hit by lightning.

That'd still be better than losing, though.


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