Old Hackers Never Die
By Kickntrue on 6/27/08
Copyright c 2008, by Jim Forsha's

The sun has dropped behind the nearby ridge as if weighted; it flees so quickly at this time of year. And yet there is something in Winter's icy air that allows that orb's afterglow to achieve otherworldly magnificence, if only fleetingly. The sky is crisp, clear, tinged in colors so unique and lovely that the old man could swear that, in all his years, he's never before known them. So glorious are they that even the silhouettes of bare, lifeless tree-arms signal that they might yet, at this moment, be capable of a warm embrace . . .

But it's the old man that you wonder about. Only his silhouette, too, is visible, and it's an odd figure that moves in measured steps between of the tree shapes. He's hunched; that you know for sure. He pulls behind him some sort of contraption that's oddly shaped, yet which moves easily with him, as part of him. His head has-for lack of a better description-a "weird" shape.

Oh, you could take a moment-or more-out of your day, put on hold those errands to which you're rushing off, and get familiar with the old man and just exactly what he's doing; but you suddenly realize that you're driving past a golf course, and the crazy old coot must be golfing! You can't imagine what's going on under that battered stocking cap, what in the world could possess someone to come out in sub-freezing temperatures to try and hit a little ball successively into 18 holes sprinkled sparsely at odd intervals over 270 acres of winter-dead land. You can't imagine at all. And it seems such a darned-fool thing to do, that you don't care to think another thought about it. But later you'll wonder . . .

I'd like to ease your mind, give you some insight; still, even though I'm an avid golfer, I'm not sure that I can. The best I can offer: There is no one good reason why any person collects up his golf gear and tells his or her significant other, "Hey, I know it's only 20-degrees outside, and though I know I don't have to do it, I'm gonna go out and drag this 40 pounds of equipment around an open field for four hours." No, not one reason at all . . . but plenty.

First, you must understand many of the things that golf, at its core, is. I remember once reading the preface to a novel centered on the game; it was simply a brief conversation spurred by a non-golfer asking his rabid golfer friend what the big attraction could possibly be. The response (paraphrased): "Consider that you could take a small object-a ball-say an inch-and-a-half in diameter, and, by using a stick to whack that ball just three or four times in succession, you could propel it over a quarter of a mile and into a hole in the ground just 4-inches in diameter. Would you not feel amazing? That you were incredible? Invincible? And suppose that you could do that 18 times. And then again tomorrow . . . perhaps with even fewer 'whacks'. Now, I don't know about you, but to me a life that offers such astounding possibilities is simply more worth living than one that doesn't."

This fictional character aside, search anywhere for an answer to "Why golf?" and you're likely to come up with standards like, "It's a game, and, as such, fulfills an inner need for play and competitive sport"; "With good friends-or simply others who love to play-it's an excellent opportunity for fellowship"; "It's a great way to get outdoors, stretch your legs, enjoy Nature." And these would all be basic and reasonable, all true and correct. All things that get one started in the game.

And then the game itself takes over. From the instant that one who has never had an ounce of interest in golf is conned into "hitting a few balls"-and invariably knocks at least one so solidly that that feel will remain with him for all time-well, he's hooked, and the love affair-some say obsession-begins.

With it come all of the intricacies inherent in complex human endeavor. Soon you're enthralled with the manner in which a shorter-shafted nine-iron is angled to a greater degree than the long-shafted four-iron so that the nine hits the ball a shorter distance, but higher, so that it lands softly near the hole and stays there. You appreciate the dimpled perfection of a blazing new golf ball, and thrill to the sound it makes and the distance it travels when you strike it cleanly. You're preoccupied with not only honing your performance to the best that it can be, but even with having the proper accoutrements for a game so steeped in history.

In the end, you'll find yourself strangely counting your moments on the golf course as some of the most intense you'll ever experience, be they frustrating or elative. The beauty of this emotional roller coaster is that here the frustrations seem to fade quickly, while the joys remain.

There was a calendar put out a few years back that displayed a golf-related cartoon on the top of each month's page. One of the "bubble" months between good weather and bad featured an animated figure in full golfing regalia hanging onto the flagstick implanted in a golf hole, while winds whipped so viciously that the golfer was flying parallel to the ground as even the characters from the Wizard of Oz were being blown past him. As he hung there, he was concentrating fiercely on just one thing: holing out his last putt. The caption? "Dedication."

And, finally, there was that older gentleman acquaintance I'd met through golfing. He could be absolutely cantankerous, especially when his golf game wasn't solid. And so once I asked him why it meant so much to him. "It's all I have," he replied-even though it so wasn't; he had a wife, children, grandchildren . . .

Now, to my mind, neither golf-nor any game-should seem so important. Yet it seems that the sanctuary of the golf course simply lends itself to being, well, a fine, ordered refuge from the craziness of a life that often makes less sense the further one is allowed to venture into it. And it also seems that it is the older golfer you'll most often see out there on the dried-up days of winter. It is as if he feels that giving up on his golf game might be tantamount to allowing his spark of life to be blown dark for good. And the best of us simply won't settle for that.

So, though I've determined that my own present threshold for enjoying inclement-weather golf stops at 45 degrees with no wind and a good deal of sunshine, to that old guy enjoying the solitude and a few good swats as he moves across the winter ridge I say, "Golf on, old man. Of all the things you could be doing, I know why you do this. And, somehow, I think we're all better for it."

Copyright c 2008, by Jim Forsha

[ comments ]
golfgirl says:
This is wonderful. It reminds me of some of Updike's winter golf writing which I adore. If Jim Forsha plays golf half as well as he writes, he's a really good golfer.
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