"Awesome!" A Blog.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Golf memoir No. 2

A friend had recently invited me to hit balls at a driving range equidistant between our two homes, so we settled on a place that sits along the San Francisco Bay coast, just a few miles south of that great city. This particular plot of earth is also directly beneath the flight path for SFO, so menacing jumbo jets in all their surreal glory look to be in very real danger of getting pelted by well-struck Callaways. Myself an avid and tireless planespotter, I thought the combination of golf and see-what-the-guy-in-the-window-seat-is-reading views would be worth the price of admission and then some. Also, there was a bar, which I thought could be fun afterwards.

We bought our buckets and approached the large, screened-in range (were it not for the tall screen walls, the high bay winds would no doubt carry off a significant portion of their range ball inventory, comically plonking them down onto the heads of sea lions, who would then feel disinclined to return them). It was one of those double-decker structures, where a second story houses another range of mats and tees. Finding the first story full-up, we climbed the stairs to the next. We located a few neighboring mats, and after some gentle joshing and good-spirited canavery, we selected our warm-up clubs and teed the first ball.

It becomes salient, at this point, to note that the edge of the astroturf mat went right up to the precipice of the second story, so that not twelve inches from my left foot was an unprotected drop of at least fifteen feet. I should also note that a golf swing involves the transfer of a lot of momentum in the direction of that very same left foot. Look at photos of golfers who have just completed their swings: the entire weight of their body rests on the outstep of their left sole. One misstep and I'd tumble off the platform to the ground below, no doubt taking a few 160MPH Maxfli's in the knees and teeth on the way down.

Think: had I taken any missteps in the past, on flat ranges? Dozens of instances sprang to mind, perhaps amplified by my rapidly maturing acrophobia. There was that time in high school, when I'd swung my driver so hard that I came to rest a good ten feet out into the range...the five-iron with the head so heavy it carried me off into the air after my ball...the time I fell over to my left simply because I saw a woman of average beauty. True or not, my mind was beginning to shake on the rails of reason.

Wincing a bit while stepping up to my ball with a fairway wood, I gamely waggled and settled into striking position. How was I going to do this without falling off the structure? One solution might be to swing incredibly slowly, perhaps like a mime in a strong wind, I reasoned. Or maybe a chuck-swing, a 1/4-arc bleck meant to look like you're practicing punching out of trees with a low iron. Okay, I thought. Hold it right there. Nobody punches out of trees with a 3-wood. And regardless of club choice, nobody at the San Mateo Swat & Swill practices odd-looking, unsexy utility shots in front of the other off-shift cell phone salesmen. These are the kind of specialty shots that Nick Faldo might practice once in his career, on the professionally landscaped, heavily-treed Bilbao estate of Seve Ballesteros. The guys at the Swat & Swill? They're trying to crush shots as hard as they can, because (a) they want to show off, and (b) they make a living lying to people who know that they're morons.

I'll just act like I'm deconstructing my swing, I think. I'll swing slowly enough that I can't fall off the structure. No one'll notice me. I wear glasses, for goodness' sake — most guys at cheap public driving ranges already write me off as invisible. I might as well be a successful woman with computer skills.

I draw the club back, twenty-five years' worth of muscle memory guiding my arms. I feel goofy, but I keep the timing in proportion. I cock my wrists at the top and begin the downswing. Don't want to fall, don't want to die. Just got to get the club head through the danger zone and not topple off the building. Swinging real slow, now. Real measured.

The sweet spot of the thirty-year old stiff-shafted persimmon club hits the ball and it flies away with the beautiful, calm clack of one croquet ball striking another. Pay attention to what I just said. This sound does not occur in nature, particularly on golf courses. Modern "woods" are engineered to give off a satisfying metallic TING!, the sort of thing you might hear when a cartoon railway worker drives a spike with his big silver hammer.

The sound was so unusual, in fact, that the fellow in front of me turned around, looked at my club, and then furled his nostrils as though I were standing there in overalls swinging a mattock. The ball landed a respectable 230 yards downfield, an achievement that seemed impossible given my "underwater clown" swing velocity. It was what you might call a breakthrough moment, sort of like when Benjamin Franklin bumped his head on a towel rack and invented the post office.

The next five dozen balls went much the same way, up and down the irons and woods, swinging so slowly that at any given moment you could have stuck your face into the path of my swing, blocked my clubhead with the surface of your open eye, and closed your eyelid around it so as to keep me from easily pulling the club back. A magnificent feeling reared its golden-coiffed head within me as ball after ball soared straight and true over the grass.

Once in a great while I will allow myself to think that I have achieved something remarkable (the last time being that late, late drug- and alcohol-fueled night in 1998 when I noticed the little arrow hidden in the FedEx logo). Upon the depletion of our buckets, my friend and I trotted back down the steps to the bar. In my giddiness, I peeled a twenty out of my wallet, handed it to him, and grinned a nearly inaudible "Hiiii!" He was on the case immediately, and before long we were mulling things over a couple of draft beers and a bowl of used popcorn. I pulled off my cap and smoothed my sweat-soaked hair. It seemed like I was onto something. Was it too late to join the tour? I'm pretty much tour-quality, I reasoned. I can hit the ball straight, I'm used to high levels of stress (thanks to my job of drawing unemployed cats whenever I feel like it), and on more than one occasion I've had gin while waiting for the morning paper to arrive.