A brief statement on the position that golf occupies in my life.
If you're like me, you more or less grew up on a golf course. I don't mean a place with lush grass, zippy carts, and people named Brent, or Brad, or even Bob. My nines were mangy red-dirt places in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, where you paid five dollars to the blind old lady at the counter in the "clubhouse" (a rickety wooden shack where one presumed that, after dark, they moved aside the ancient picnic table and began filming the mule-sex videos) for the all-day rights to go out and lose your ball down rattler holes. If the other players on the course even had names, they were likely Bodie, Bud, or the haunting, telltale "Junior," a moniker that, in those parts, implied an entire family's wholesale dismissal of written language. [Cut to "ma," washing clothing in a tub on a sagging porch, discussing the alphabet with the off-screen documentary journalist: "Ain't need no alphabet what ta tell Junior he's gon' die by skeeter bites he keeps stickin' his willie in that mule come twilight, that's when they come out, don'tcha ken."]
My main course, a place that went by the name of Sierra Pines, is now a series of fallow, untended apple orchards. In its heyday, which I'll casually define as the time when I played there — since I seem to have been the only guy who ever replaced his divots — there were a couple cranky gas carts that tourists used, a pretty horrid looking groundskeeper (read: cirrhosis on a rider-mower) and a wizened club "pro" who exhibited neither professionalism nor any real understanding of the game. To wit: the time he held the blind old lady hostage in a drunken rage, and the police shot him in the arms. Unerringly in-character for Sierra Pines, the pro went back to work alongside the blind lady a few months later, albeit in a diminished teaching capacity, as his arms now bore a striking resemblance to driftwood. In true foothills fashion, I actually took a lesson from him after he'd been shot to pieces (not money well spent, as I'll tell you soon).
Like most golfers, my extreme emotional problems lead me to swing too hard at the ball. In my case, this leads to a strong slice (when a struck ball shoots out, then curves off to the right). At one point, perhaps around age fifteen, I'd hit a wall in working on this problem, and my dad, sick of watching me not listen to anything he was saying, decided to buy me a lesson with the "pro" one day. It should have been telling that on the clubhouse price board, a half-hour lesson was the same price as a gin & tonic.
I stood waiting at the driving range, five-iron in hand, bucket of balls at my feet. "Destroyed Cochlea Mel," let's call him, came shuffling down the pine-needle strewn path. "ORZENBLATT? ORZENBLATT?" he called. Figuring he was looking for me, and not the pot-bellied six year old swapping at pine cones with a switch of cedar, I waved him over.
I was somewhat surprised that his "lesson" was actually less about the mechanics of a good swing, and more about how life will betray you, and steal the game you love from you, and featured several grotesque demonstrations (using my own clubs) of how he couldn't even "swing a god-damned nine-iron" [it was a five iron, as I have mentioned elsewhere] anymore. He was right: the sloppily repaired tendons and muscles in his arms afforded no range of motion befitting a traditional swing. It was kind of like watching...A GOLF SWING, BY DAVID LYNCH.
My father is an excellent golfer. He grew up playing the munis — the cheap municipal courses — in Oakland in the sixties. He's not fazed by a forty-five degree downhill lie to a green sixty yards away and he brought his one iron instead of his lob wedge. He probably practiced that combo fifty thousand times as a teenager, while avoiding going home to his four sisters. He'll get it within six feet of the pin, and one-putt. He put his all into teaching me to play, but for the most part I was a C student. Giving me golf instructions was probably a lot like shaking a Magic 8-Ball: "Can you please break your left wrist earlier in your downswing?" "REPLY UNCERTAIN, DAD. I MOSTLY TAKE AFTER MOM?"
The clubs I use now were the clubs he treated himself to the year I was born, 1975. (The year my daughter was born, I treated myself to a brewery tour and a banjo. Say what, Junior? More Testors? Yeah, it's premium, but you get what you pay for, brahhh.) They're ancient Wilson-Staffs with ancient engineering. There's no perimeter weighting, personally adjustable counterbalancing (what in the name of all that is holy is TaylorMade up to?!) or FancyShaft technology. I think the shafts are filled with Cutty Sark, and the heads of the woods are actual wood, made from wood, with, like, a knothole as a sweet spot, and a small tap at the rear of the hosel.
I will be the first to admit that I am annoying about not playing with modern clubs. You ever watch that America's Test Kitchen cooking show, with Christopher Kimball, where he wears a bow tie and acts like he is angry that no one cooks pancakes like Abraham Lincoln anymore? And he always spent the weekend helping a neighbor pull an old red tractor out of mud? That is how I am about my golf clubs. I struggled hard to learn how to get the ball down the fairway, and now here's this generation of two-lesson junior Chrysler salesmen with silver drivers the size of chowder-in-a-sourdough-bowl slapping three hundred yard tee shots without so much as taking off their beer helmets and bluetooth earpieces. These guys swing at the ball like they were trying to kill a mouse with a broom, and their Titleist flies straight and true. Pretty soon all we're going to have to do is pull up to the pro shop, punch a button that says "9 HOLES," insert fifty bucks, and the machine will spit out a card that reads, "YOU SHOT PAR! GOOD JOB. 25% OFF CHICKEN WINGS AND ALL BIG BERTHA MERCHANDISE!"