Golf The Greatest Game: Despite Subjecting Us to More Ups and Downs Than Riding a Pogo Stick, We Love You
Forget Charles Dickens and his two cities. This is the tale of two golf rounds.
First came Escena, a gentle and kind-looking layout near the Palm Springs airport. The sun shined brightly. The usual swirling winds of the desert were napping. It was a perfect day, and I fell for it. Again. The classic golf setup. If ever there was a day to break 80 again, this was it.
Halfway through the first nine, the 80 became laughable. This wasn’t Augusta National, but then, I sure wasn’t Jordan Spieth. The delightful day became a dreary round of dreaded snap hooks, banana balls and chunked chips. Near the end, I prayed that one of the traps in which I landed had been enhanced with quicksand.
There is a place I go for my solace. In the middle of these rounds, when everything that should be going right goes left; when sand traps jump out of the middle of fairways to grab my ball; when swinging the driver feels as if my wrists and elbows are going through a divorce, I am always soothed by the words of the late, great L.A. Times Columnist and SCGA Hall of Famer Jim Murray. He was an incomparable realist, and romantic, about the game.
He once wrote that golf “never lives up to its promise … it’s not a sport, it’s a bondage.”
He also wrote of the game that “it plays with men and then runs off with the butcher.”
I have long ago learned that golf is not a sport, it is a Jekyll and Hyde. Trust it and it will slap you down. Expect the worst from it and it will hug you. The only thing predictable about it is that it never will be.
If you truly love golf, you have to truly hate it. Those opposing emotions drive its attraction and drive you crazy.
Golf loves you almost as fast as it leaves you. It coaxes you out into the sunshine and the perfectly manicured grass. What could be so hard? A tiny ball needs only to be hit by a large, scientifically engineered club. And then that tiny ball ends up under rocks or in the middle of rivers or under a chaise lounge in somebody’s back yard. Is it really laughing at you as you peer over the fence?
All this legend about the Scots creating this game on their fields while they herded their sheep is a pile of dung. The game was created by the Marquise de Sade.
A few days after the Escena episode came a trip back to more familiar territory, good old Sierra Lakes in Fontana. Nice course, reasonably challenging, usually in very good shape. The general manager ought to be spanked for allowing fivesomes, and even an occasional sixsome. But other than that, a comfortable round in a comfortable setting.
I was determined to forget Escena. I heard an interview with Spieth after he shot an opening-round 79 at Riviera and he shrugged it off as just one of those things. It happens, he said. It just happens to we mortals a lot more.
I got to the fifth hole at Sierra Lakes 2-over par. Not bad, not great. It was like so much else in golf. If you are a 9 handicapper, you feel good about yourself. If you are a 15, you have little hope of getting to single digits and you feel rotten about yourself. If you are a 12, you are mostly just confused.
The fifth hole at Sierra Lakes is about 400 yards, is slightly uphill and always seems to have demanded one more club than you have just hit. It is rated the toughest hole on the course.
I drove it my old man’s usual 200 yards, then took out a five-wood to traverse the remaining 205. At this point, an alien being took over my body. The swing was smooth, the ball jumped off the club and even sounded good in doing so. Suddenly, I was in foreign territory. Not only was the ball heading right to the pin, but it was going to get there. On the green in regulation. Pop the champagne corks.
From ten feet above the hole, on a green running about 10 on the stimp meter, I was in foreign territory again. Putting for a birdie. It was one of those putts you wish you didn’t have to hit, but just blow on it. The only way to stop the ball was with the hole.
And so I did. Clunk, rattle, birdie.
Escena’s 97 became Sierra Lake’s 85. The sun glistened, the birds chirped and the world was a swell place again.
Is golf a great game, or what?