10 Things I Hate About You

By Rory Hughes

Adapted from “Against the Grain” column (March 2016 issue of Golf Chicago Magazine)

The minutiae of the Rules of Golf, as well as the unwritten rules of golf etiquette, are enough to drive Joe Public away from the game. However, this has led the rest of us to a sense of entitlement; as if because we know how to play and how to not be a jerk, we need not adhere to any other norms. In 2016, let’s all to stop doing the following on the golf course, not because there is an official rule that dictates them, but because they’re bothering me.

Stop saying “I never play like this” when you’re having a bad round.

This is a logical fallacy. That you’re doing it now is evidence that you do it. By insisting that your poor play is an anomaly, you’re actually accomplishing the opposite of your intent. Remember that every player has a bad day. How many times has a tour player followed up a 65 with a 75? That’s golf. Accept that how you’re playing at a given moment is not a reflection of who you are. Billy Shakespeare said it best: “Me thinks thou doest protest too much.”

Stop using your phone.

The only exception is if you have kids, in which case you may do so sparingly and inconspicuously. You’re on the course to escape life’s obligations. If you can’t do that and enjoy your round, then get off the course. I don’t care about your important client or your nagging boss. I don’t want to play golf with someone who can’t be fully present. By definition, if you’re checking your phone, you have something else more important to do. Go do it.

Stop playing out the hole when you’ve reached your handicap limit.

We have handicaps for a lot of reasons, one of which is to speed up play. You pull-hooked your drive into the creek, sprayed your third into the woods, bladed your fifth into a pot bunker, chunked your sixth thirty yards short of the green. Now, calmly reach down, grab your ball, place it in your pocket, mark an “X” on your card, and watch the rest of us finish; this will also give you time to reflect on what you’ve done.

Stop getting mad at yourself.

Another logical fallacy. Only one “you,” exists, so to get mad at yourself is actually an admission of insanity. Plus, I don’t want your bad vibes.

Stop narrating your round.

“Should’ve hit a 6 there…man, that putt broke more than I thought…I think I tweaked my elbow…wow, that turned out better than I thought…I’d forgotten this was Bermuda…I actually birdied this hole yesterday…jeez, I can’t believe I’m already 10 over. I don’t think I’m gonna break 90 today…” I understand that some of us think, then speak; some of us speak, then think. But this is not your skull session at work or the dinner table or any other place where it’s acceptable to “think aloud.” To be sure, I’m no mute on the course. I’m happy to discuss just about anything in the world — except your round.

Stop not reacting when you hit a good shot.

If you’re taking cues from Lucas Glover, Danny Lee, Gary Woodland, or any other expressionless doorknob on tour, then you’re already in trouble. I’m not expecting a Cam Newton celebration, but if you jar one from 70 yards, give me more than a half-hearted shrug. It’s downright disrespectful. When blessed with such a stroke of luck, you owe your playing partners and the game at the very least a hearty fist-pump or a Mickelson phone booth leap.

Stop not reacting when I say “Nice shot.”

Plain dickish.

Stop saying, “But I was hitting it so well on the range.

Really? So was every other human who ever hit balls before a round. “It giveth and it taketh away” is one of golf ’s core tenets. You’re not entitled to a good round because you hit it well on the range. You’re not even entitled to hitting it well on the range. You, my friend, are entitled to nothing. Besides, if you had so much fun on the range, go back there and let me finish my round in peace.

Stop not having cash to pay up on bets and/or tip the cart girl.

You’re either unprepared or you’re cheap. Either is intolerable for a golfer, let alone a human. Please leave home a few minutes early and stop at the ATM. The golf course is not a place for credit cards, or PayPal, or IOUs; it’s one of the last bastions of Grown Man-itude, where we smoke cigars and swear at each other and pay with crisp bills.

Stop forgetting your score.

If you’re one of those “I don’t even keep score, I’m just out to have fun” types, you need to either tell me on the first box or stop lying. We’re not kicking around a soccer ball or shooting hoops. You just paid $50 in the pro shop, grabbed a scorecard, and proceeded to commence a game which is based entirely on posting a score. If you don’t keep score, then you don’t play golf. And certainly don’t announce that you got a birdie after you supposedly are “just messing around.” You may not have it both ways. Besides, the golf gods only smile on those who keep score.

These guys know my rules. From left: pops, me, uncle, biggest bro, big bro

The Case of Mistaken Hosel Hockey

The Case of Mistaken Hosel Hockey

adapted from Golf Chicago Magazine, September 2015 issue

The setting for the horror show.

They’re merciless. They are golf’s unspoken disgraces. They seize your throat like Cujo and choke out your soul. They call into question your golf swing. Your sanity. Your humanity.

They induce panic like black ice on a highway, like locking eyes with the weird cousin in public, like a toilet-paperless Porta-John.

Think running out of gas in strange, scary city. A dead furnace at 2:00 am on a Sunday in February. Malfunctioning sedatives before a colonoscopy.

But they’re not just panic. They’re confused panic, like someone strangling you from behind, in the dark, while they ask you an impossible Trivial Pursuit question. They’re not like a slump in baseball or basketball because those don’t sneak up on you.

The Shanks attack you like a figment of Robert Allenby’s imagination outside a Honolulu strip club. And they arrive at the worst times, like when you’re hosting your father-inlaw and his buddies at your home club.

I’m one over through two, lining up my second shot on a long par 4. I had settled into a rhythm with Bill and his buddies. We’re even for the moment — not that I’m counting. Luckily, we get along and we share a fondness for his daughter and for golf. I tell myself he’s better because he’s retired and plays more, but in truth he’s just better. That stings.

A little background on Bill: 1) I can’t tell you what he did for a living. 2) When suitors came to the house when my wife was in high school, he would position himself prominently at the kitchen table, cleaning his gun. Think De Niro in Meet the Parents meets De Niro in Goodfellas. Just a little more intimidating.

I finish my pre-shot routine, begin my remarkably mediocre backswing — later Bill likened it to that of Jim Furyk (my least favorite tour player) — with my 4 iron, start down, release, and … there goes a flaming squirrel headed on a line toward the wrong hole.

And so begins the most befuddling, horrifying six holes of my life.

Anyone who’s suffered the shanks knows their paradoxical nature: on the one hand, you know they can’t possibly last; on the other hand, you know they’re not called “the shank.” The plurality of the affliction makes it that much more sinister. Those unspeakable putting woes are not called “the yip.” If so, Ian Baker-Finch might be on the course instead of welling up in the booth every time an Aussie drains a three footer.

Back to my round with Bill. To compound the crisis, he tries to help, “Relax, Rory. You’re trying too hard because my friends are here.” To which I politely respond, “No offense Bill, but I don’t give a f — about your friends.” Now consider in what context speaking to your father-in-law like this would be acceptable. Had I taken that tone anywhere but on the golf course in the midst of a tussle with the shanks, I’d be limbless at the bottom of the Chicago River.

Truth is, I’m not nervous — at least I don’t feel nervous. And yet his “help” actually pisses me off even more. Here I am, a 36-year-old man being spoken to like a three-year-old trying to catch a Nerf football. It’s beyond embarrassing. It’s emasculating. For the first time ever, I’m relishing longer holes because that means I can hit a shank-immune club. Alas, I stripe a driver, then a hybrid on #6, walk confidently to the green, putt out, then half-strut to the #7 tee with cautious optimism. #7 calls for a 5-iron — when you’re fighting the shanks, just the word “iron” causes dread. As I stand over the ball, I’m reminded of my high school Humanities teacher, who taught us that organized religion arose to answer three simple questions: Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going? After scuttling a scalded dog 30 yards off line, through the pine trees, and onto the fifth tee, I was asking the same three questions about the shanks. I’m not one to argue about religion, but I can say, definitively — thanks to the shanks — that there is a hell.

People often describe golf as “humbling.” I’ll spot you a few more letters: at its worst, golf is humiliating. There is nowhere to hide, no clock to save you, no teammate to pass the ball to, no injury to feign, no coach to ask for a breather. A shooting slump in basketball means you might be missing the hoop by a few centimeters; in golf — while in truth the difference is even smaller — what’s visible is a miss that is not only off line, but potentially dangerous. Baseball is different because the odds are you won’t hit the ball. Three out of ten is actually pretty good.

What’s most amazing about that day is not that I managed to break 90, but that upon closer examination, I only shanked the ball four times. Four times? Really? It felt like 50. It felt infinite. But like other forms of abuse, we learn to repress the shanks; in fact I’ve already forgotten. To even speak those words, “the shanks”, is sacrilege to most golfers. I expect Bill to remind me though.

Unless I can’t hear him from the bottom of the Chicago River.

The Internet is Killing Golf

Golf’s future is uncertain. Courses are closing and membership numbers are shrinking faster than D.J.’s bladder before a clutch putt. Jordan, Rory, and Rickie have injected some much-needed sizzle, but not enough to reverse the downward trajectory of the game at large. Old codgers, teaching pros, course owners, fellow coaches, and media blame the same triple-headed monster: “It’s too hard, too expensive, and takes too long.” The industry has responded with gimmicks like foot golf, enlarged cups, 13-hole courses, and golf “experiences” like Top Golf where you can “play” while slurping margaritas and jamming chili cheese fries. Private clubs are slashing rates, partnering with fitness centers (no thanks), and letting Joe Public play at select times. The First Tee’s impact appears to be negligible, and a broken, balding Tiger Woods did not bring about a generation of minority players; at the high school regional tournament where I coach in metro Detroit, there was exactly one African American player.

Yes, the game is difficult, pricey, and time-consuming, but I think the real culprit is more insidious; it’s one that has infiltrated every aspect of our lives, often without our permission.

I’ll wait for you to stop looking at your phone.

It’s the Internet.

This might be a curmudgeonly “kids these days” argument, but consider the extent to which the interwebs have spun their way into every crevice of our lives. What’s the first thing you do when you get up in the morning? Before you go to bed? Stopped in traffic? Watching the baseball game? At the game? While you’re at the game and the winning home run is being hit? If you didn’t answer “check my phone,” then you’re probably lying. Mobile web access has rendered useless three traits vital to golf: patience, concentration, and the ability to interact with strangers.

In 10 years teaching high school English and five years of coaching golf, I’ve witnessed a precipitous decline. And it would be lazy to suggest that only teenagers are in this electronic thrall. We’re all more impatient, more distracted, and more self-absorbed. I have to tell my 66-year-old dad to put down his iPhone during conversations. “No dad, I didn’t see Bernie Sanders’ tweet.”

So it’s no wonder that when you ask a kid if he wants to play golf, he’s not interested. I hear, “Want to escape for four hours and play a game in nature with some good people? You might even get close to God.” He hears, “Want to put on a collared shirt, turn off your phone, abandon your X Box, walk through the woods, and get really frustrated?”

Golf requires the very qualities that digital technology doesn’t:

Patience. On the golf course, if the foursome ahead is holding up play, you wait, take some practice swings, and visualize the rest of the round. In our digital world, if you’re stuck in traffic, you can read a Times article, check email, text three friends, deposit a check, and update your Fantasy roster. Consider that for 3 hours and 58 minutes of a 4-hour round, you’re not even swinging a club. Why would anyone “waste” that much time when he can get so much done?

Concentration. On the golf course, in order to properly execute a difficult shot, your body, mind, and soul converge in a Zen-like focus on a single task. In the modern world, you can simultaneously run a spreadsheet, listen to a Podcast, IM a co-worker, and order lunch. And despite the prevailing research that less that 2% of the population can effectively multitask, we insist on — even take pride in — doing multiple things at once.

Ability to interact with strangers. Without a clean foursome, you experience that awkward first tee moment when the starter introduces you to your playing partners. As an introvert, this has always induced anxiety for me. But isn’t it healthy to be uncomfortable? I look Bob or Bill or Mike (90% of the time they have one of these names) in his eyes, smile, and firmly shake hands. And we’re off. When was the last time you shook hands with someone in his twenties? Exactly. There’s a decent chance he spends 80% of his life on the Internet, where — with sound tech skills, serviceable writing, and cleverly placed emoticons — he can earn a paycheck, “run” errands, and find a wife. Try using an emoticon when you’ve got a 220 carry into a postage stamp with the club championship on the line.

In Nicholas Carr’s chilling book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains, he argues that the Internet is rewiring our neural pathways such that we are experiencing the world much differently from our predecessors. Specifically, we’re conditioned to crave instant gratification, distraction, and artificial light. I submit that these pathways are leading us away from golf and into a scary place where silence isn’t golden and nothing is worth waiting for. Yes, golf is hard, it takes time, and it’s costly. But so is a bottle of Scotch. So is a great marriage. So is being a parent. Remember that progress is not always good. So call me old-fashioned…Please.

An open letter to my wife and an inspiration to expecting dad golfers everywhere

Can you see it in her eyes? “Go play 18!” http://www.eschmidtphotography.com

(Adapted from the June/July 2o15 issue of Golf Chicago Magazine)

I was at the golf store last weekend for an iron fitting; Spieth’s Augusta drubbing coupled with blind trust in my brother’s equipment knowledge led me to the Titleist AP2s. I’ve never owned a set of irons that were made after I hit puberty. Brian, the club expert, worked with me for 15 minutes as I blasted balls. We small talked a bit until he asked if I had kids. “Not yet,” I said, watching a 6-iron draw toward the flag. “My wife is due in July.”

Long pause.

“What is it?” I turned around.

Brian’s face had gone from relaxed sales guy to concerned uncle. “I’m going to grab another club. The AP1 is much more forgiving.” He shook his head. “Let’s be honest man. With a baby, your once-a-week days are over. Hell, I haven’t been out this year and I do this for a living. You need to be realistic.”

This has been the refrain from all of my father friends. There seems to be an unwritten rule that once baby enters, golf game exits. I understand that reversing this trend is almost impossible. I understand that I’m venturing into completely uncharted territory, a la Jerry Seinfeld in the January, 1995, “The Switch” episode, in which Jerry tells George of his intentions to date his girlfriend’s roommate:

GEORGE: Do you realize in the entire history of western civilization no one has successfully accomplished The Switch? In the Middle Ages you could get locked up for even suggesting it!

JERRY: The point is I intend to undertake this. And I’ll do it with or without you. So if you’re scared, if you haven’t got the stomach for this, let’s get it out right now! And I’ll go on my own. If not, you can get on board and we can get to work! Now what’s it going to be?

GEORGE: All right, dammit, I’m in.

JERRY: I couldn’t do it without you.

GEORGE: All right. Let’s get to work.

So I’m Jerry, and you, dear reader, are George. If you’re a dad, you can live vicariously as I try to find the white whale. My editor insists that my quest to play more golf as a new dad is futile, not to mention toxic to family life. He is venturing into year 12 of parenthood, and his game has steadily declined. But, call me Ishmael. If you’re an expecting dad, pay close attention. Step #1 in this process is crafting a persuasive letter to your wife, which you may or may not publish in a regional golf magazine.

Here goes:

Dearest Andrea,

You’re not a sap so I won’t waste time telling you how much I love you or how you’ve made the last three years of my life better than I could have imagined, or that you are the one woman on this planet who can love me unconditionally, or that I am ecstatic that you will be the mother of my child. Rather, I want to start by thanking you for being the most pleasant pregnant woman I’ve ever known. My friends warned me about their “irrational” or “hysterical” or “demonic” pregnant wives, but you, my love — aside from swallowing a basketball — have not changed. Further, at no point have you discouraged me from playing golf. In fact, you’ve encouraged it. Well, there has been the occasional “You better play a lot now because July will be here before you know it.”

About that… Remember when we read Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages before the wedding? Of the five we both prefer “acts of service” and “quality time.” In fact, selflessness and your preference to spend on experiences rather than material goods were two of the qualities that drew me to you. Accordingly, I have always appreciated your willingness to let me protect my hobbies and relationships that are independent of you. As marriage guru Kahlil Gibran says, “Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.” Thanks for letting me have my own cup. I concede that my “acts of service” have been paltry at times. I’ve left dishes undone, lawns unmown, laundry unfolded, and floors unswept.

That’s about to change.

I will make you a deal. If you allow me to play golf at least once a week after our child is born, I vow the following:

I will not go to the course unless the sink is empty of dishes.

I will schedule tee times that are convenient for you instead of me.

I will bring my phone to the course and, if you need me immediately, I will walk off the course, no questions asked. note: If I’m under par on the back we may need to negotiate.

I will support you in your parallel endeavor that soothes the body, mind, and soul.

Once allowed, I will take the child with me and, in the interim, I will research golf cart baby attachments that may or may not include a Benadryl I.V.

Should you have any added stipulations, please let me know. I realize that this is a bold request, but because of your compassionate heart and rational mind, I know you will seriously consider it. Thank you and I love you.

Sincerely,

Your loving husband, Rory

NOTE: Jerry never pulled off “The Switch,” but I’m convinced he went about it all wrong.

It cannot be the end for us.

Top 5 Reasons a Golf Membership is Better Than a Gym Membership

By Rory Hughes

(from Golf Chicago Magazine, May 2015)

It’s spring cleaning for the house, the car, and
more importantly, the finances. Time to review
discretionary spending and start making choices.
Must you eat at McDonald’s twice a day? Is NFL
Redzone a necessity? Aside from the bacon-cooking
alarm clock, can you reduce the Skymall purchases?
Finally…gulp…golf membership or gym membership?
On the surface it’s an easy decision. The aver-
age gym membership costs $800 per year. Let’s say
the average golf membership is five times that, or
$4,000. Bump that to $5,000 to account for inci-
dentals. Huge margin, right? And the gym is a great
place to “get your heart rate up,” and “build core
strength” blah blah.

Well, if you’ve canceled your membership at your
club, there’d better be a grace period, because after
much careful, totally biased research, I’ve come up
with the Top 5 Reasons a Golf Membership Beats
a Gym Membership. If you’re not the CFO of your
household, make sure he or she reads this.

#1 It’s Social
Meeting new people at the gym is at best pathetic, at
worst creepy (see John Travolta). Those troglodytes
chatting next to the weight bench didn’t just begin a
lifelong friendship; they’re buddies who are Googling
pickup lines for the bombshell on the treadmill.
Not only is a golf course void of the gym’s predato-
rial climate, you can meet a friend for life; perhaps
even more remarkable is that you can spend four
hours and say nothing and not feel awkward. Golf
provides a natural rhythm, a give and take with an
implicit understanding that you can reveal as much
or as little as you like; over time this can lead to real
relationships.

#2 It’s an Escape From the Onslaught of Digital
Technology

Notice that, increasingly, gyms are feeding our screen
addiction. First there was one TV, then there were 30,
now every machine has one. We can hook up our cell
phone so we can listen to our music but watch their
TV. We’re distracting ourselves from ourselves. We’re
doing something we hate, so we trick our brains into
thinking we’re elsewhere. As we agonize toward the
30-minute mark on an elliptical, we jump between
Dr. Phil, TMZ, and Arkansas-Pine Bluff vs. Weber
State. The golf course, on other hand, is nature plus
play. No screens necessary (shame on those of you
who use a phone app for your rangefinder. Sacrilege!)
Even when we’re playing poorly, we’ve walked several
miles in a natural, serene environment, mimicking
the hunter-gatherers of yesteryear (some hunt more
than others).

#3 It’s Food-friendly
I don’t mean energy bars and “juices” with unpro-
nounceable ingredients. I mean real food and drink:
bacon-egg-cheese sandwiches, hot dogs, hamburgers,
coffee, Pepsi, beer. Some guys have a system. My uncle
starts every round with a full house (three Advil, two
beers), then a Red Bull and vodka at the turn. I only
drink water until I know I won’t break 80. Can you
imagine drinking a beer on the treadmill? I don’t
think the software can add calories.

#4 It’s a Game
We say “I’m playing golf today.” versus “I’m going to
the gym today” in the same way we might say “I’m
going to the doctor for a prostate check today.” These
poor souls schlep around the gym with a clipboard,
tick-marking every lift, tracking progress — they’ve
added three pounds in two weeks — hooray! What
they’re trying to do is turn the gym experience
into a game. But it’s not a game. It’s an obligation,
the same way taking the trash out or flossing is an
obligation. I’m going to modify Joan Rivers’ famous
quote about jogging: “The first time I see (someone
at the gym) smiling, I’ll consider trying it.” Even
during my worst round of golf my face does not
show the pure anguish of a gym rat. Fine, there’s a
brief “workout high” for 15 minutes afterward, but
how about a “golfer’s high” for four hours during?

#5 It’s Story-worthy
“I had just hit 3,346 steps on the treadmill. Cavuto
barked on one TV, Van Susteren on the other. The
manager was interviewing a prospective personal
trainer…” Gripping, right? Dying to read on? Nothing
great ever happens at the gym. Conversely, things
happen on the course that you can’t help sharing,
even with people who don’t care. When my wife asks,
“how was golf?” I tell her about the hook 8-iron on 5
that I stuffed to two feet for a double save. She doesn’t
care per se, but I still want to relive it. When she asks,
“how was the gym?” I either change the subject or
lie about how long I was on the Stairmaster.

Remember, I’m not talking about tour players — they
play golf for a living, so this meathead fad — sorry
Rory, I preferred you doughier — is for the world-
class golfer who wants to hit it 325 instead of 320.
We mortals simply want to play as much as possible;
if you’re like me, you’re dividing your membership
fees by the number of times you play in order to
justify the cost. Make this the year you stop doing
that. Acknowledge the gym as an unnecessary evil,
the course as much more than a line item on your
budget — as your beacon of physical, mental, social,
emotional and spiritual health.


Compilation of 45 anonymous responses to “What comes to mind when you think of the gym?” and “What comes to mind when you think of the golf course?”

The Things We Carry

from Golf Chicago Magazine (April 2015)

INTRODUCTION

Since Neanderthals scrawled in blood on cave walls, we have been defined and connected by our stories. And every story has included the core elements of conflict, setting, character, plot line, and theme. I’m an English teacher by trade, so I tend to look at the world through a narrative lens. And although my life is its own epic, I’ve yet to find the hero.

The following chronicles the story of eight 30–40 something men — ranging from wildly successful to hopelessly depraved — and their descent upon a California retirement community to escape the soul-killing winter for a “healthy” golf competition. Format: half Ryder Cup, half I’m-still-not-sure-how I-lost. Below is the study guide, with footnotes for key vocabulary. You will be tested on this.

SETTING

Palm Desert, CA, Super Bowl Weekend, 2015; headquarters is a 7-bedroom McMansion equipped with pool, putting green, 9 Flatscreens and a $4,000 massage chair; fridge is jammed with 100 bottles of Stella Artois, 80 eggs, and a vat of pickles.

CHARACTERS

To preserve identities — and marriages — I will use aliases — to be fair though, this is what we actually call each other.

Julie

Named after the cruise director for The Love Boat for assuming the thankless job of coordinating housing, tee times, grocery shopping, including shab provisions; others suspect he secretly relishes cat-herder role because it’s a diversion from work; refers to himself in third person after bad shots; also known as “Greek Tragedy” for shooting a pair of 79s and earning no points.

Ryzer Soze

Named after the enigma from The Usual Suspects; his refrain to our citing the official rules of golf: “You guys and all your rules…”; prefers Crown and Coke over coffee as a morning jumpstart; his Hard Resets generally include an antique.

Digital

Only drinks alcohol if his round is shot; most offended by players not knowing where they lie: During a pivotal match with Soze, “What do you lie, partner? Soze looks back down the fairway wistfully, “One..two…three..four…five…six…” Digital: “F — — it, nevermind.”

The Yeti

Large, lumbering and white as Stewart Cink’s mid-season head; known to chortle loudly at night (or your backswing); full nomenclature: “Eastern Slope Hairless Yeti”; swing resembles an epileptic baboon swatting mosquitos, hence also known as “The Yeti Project” ; only 23 handicapper with the game acumen of a tour caddy; laying seven, 80 yards out on a par 4, “What do you like? Cut 48 or draw 52?”

Purple

Tour pro wardrobe, toddler mental game; excuses are as abundant as matching belts: after blade yank from 130: “Damn it, did you hear that chicken chuckwagon me in my backswing?”

Pastor Frank

Protects his “flock” as the resident chauffeur — drives the “bus,” which resembles a church van except that it teems with alcohol, cigarettes, painkillers, and malcontents, chef — makes coffee and eggs every morning, and spiritual guide — I read his lips a few times: “May God have mercy on their souls”.

Rockefeller

Bet his wife they would have a boy when the ultrasound officially determined a girl: ”Double or nothing”; after a full day of intense gambling on the course, demands action in shuffleboard, Donkey Kong, and Backgammon. Julie’s rebuff of the Backgammon challenge genuinely offends Rockefeller, prompting him to retire to the massage chair awash in self-pity; in a rare moment of self-reflection, “This is the first time I’ve had a dip in and a cigarette going at the same time on this trip. I don’t know what’s taken me so long!”

RISING ACTION

The Yeti asks Julie to “leave the pin in” because he’s “gonna miss” a 45 foot putt, to which Julie responds “No.” Yeti proceeds to drain a 45-foot snake for birdie and a halve. Later, Purple nearly dies choking on a Safeway jalapeno popper, then nonchalantly quips, “you can’t get those at Kroger.”

CLIMAX

Pete Carroll snubs Beast Mode for a quick slant; concurrently, Purple, and gulping Sake, exclaims obstinately, “I’ve got the dinner under control!” as the grill, directly behind him, loaded with eight ribeyes, erupts in flames, jeopardizing our $2000 deposit for the third time.

FALLING ACTION

Yeti falls into a deep shab-sleep in the massage chair again.

DENOUEMENT

Pastor Frank, the winner with a 19 Index, returns the van to Enterprise full of empty beer cans, a bottle of Crown, a bag of eggs, and a jar of pickles.. Rockefeller: “If they’re industrious enough, they’ll find some full Stellas.”

THEME

I’m teaching Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried to my juniors. It’s an examination of war, of boyhood and brotherhood, of love and loss, but most importantly, of the power of story. O’Brien contemplates the space between what we remember, what actually happened, what could have happened, and how we are shaped by the blurred lines between: “Stories are for joining the past to the future…for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity…”

While it would be disingenuous to suggest that a Guys Golf Weekend is analogous to a Vietnam tour, the game of golf — like war-provides the ideal framework for a good story. It’s full of drama (Purple’s jalapeno brush with death), tragedy (Julie’s stellar play earning him no points), comedy (The Yeti saying or doing almost anything), and even Providence (the Pastor’s improbable win). What’s more, with golf, all of these can manifest themselves over the course of not just an entire weekend, but a single round, even a single hole. If you doubt that, just tune in to CBS around 5:30 every Sunday from now until late August.

And so perhaps this is why we’re so drawn to the game — in my case it’s obvious that I’m a sucker for character pieces — because we know every time tee pierces ground, a great story awaits.

Cabin Fever North of the Inferno

from Golf Chicago Magazine (March 2015)

For months you’ve longed for respite from the
stifling, omni-gray winter drudgery. Whether
it’s Derrick Rose’s knee, Jay Cutler’s pouty-face, your
boss’s snicker while you scan the Fantasy waiver-
wire (no, Odell Beckham is not available), in the
winter you’re a bit more agitated and depressed,
hopeless and dark. And cold. Damned cold.

But the Midwest ethic is hardy — it’s hearty. You
wake neighbors at 5 a.m. with guttural, scraped-
windshield sounds, then drive to work in darkness,
then drive home in darkness, then try to avoid an
ankle sprain as you scale the icy steps into your
high-energy-bill home. Chicago winter means ten
extra pounds, three more inches on the beard,
two shots of whiskey neat instead of vodka on
the rocks. You quickly transition from basking in
leaf-crunching, pumpkin-patching, autumn glow
to wondering what it feels like to open your front
door without swearing.

What kept you going? Maybe your screensaver
is the 12th at Augusta, the 7th at Pebble, or some
nondescript “hidden gem” resort course in St. Lucia
(it’s actually a goat track but your colleagues will
never know). Maybe it’s the R15 waiting on a rack at
the golf show, like a frightened puppy at the humane
society, eager to join a loyal and loving master.
And the transition from not golfing to golfing
for a Midwesterner is more dramatic than that of
our southern and western counterparts. My uncle
in Tennessee and my brother in Colorado often
gloat, “Yeah, it’s crazy. Sometimes we’ll just get a
70 degree day out of nowhere.” Hell hath no fury
like a dormant golfer scorned.

But in the final analysis, we might just have it better.
During premarital counseling my wife and I read
a book based on the central question, “What if there
is no such thing as heaven or hell?” In other words,
what if here, on earth, some of us are actually living
in heaven and some are living in hell? That there is
nothing “after” this; it’s all happening here and now.
The Chicago golfer experiences both, every year,
at their extremes. So we’re the Yin and the Yang,
the “it’s always darkest before the dawn” and “no
joy without pain” cliches. We embody the death
and rebirth archetype.

Frozen, barren, dead ground is replaced by lush,
vibrant, green blankets of rolling hills and fertile
plains, dotted with 4¼ inch holes, in which our
climactic winter dreams are realized: a steaming
nature-pool of pars and birdies and eagles, of won
skins and dragged in five-footers, of rounds with
your dad and a cool drink in the sun afterward.
In the winter, we turn to Guinness or Italian beef
sandwiches or Breaking Bad reruns, but as the sun stays
out a little longer, and the snow-covered ground turns
to green-mud slop, our souls swell with excitement. We
sneak a quick nine at the muni-down-the-street with our
daughter, skip the beef sandwich, and fire up the grill
for chicken or a salad. Hope replaces cynicism. Activity
supplants sloth. And now, instead of every decision beg-
ging the question, “will this help me endure the winter?”
it becomes “will this help my golf game?” which can be
directly translated to “will this help my soul?”

And besides, we “figured something out” in our
swings last year. That statement is in quotations
because it’s not my original thought; it’s plagiarized
from everyone who has ever gripped a club. The inevi-
table statement to follow in May: “What happened? I
thought I figured something out in my swing.”

I really did figure something out. I saw it in an
insomniatic Golf Channel blur with Michael Breed and
Paul Azinger. It was something so simple that I hadn’t
internalized in 25 years of playing: release the club at
impact. I wrote it on my hand, then on my scorecard,
then typed it in my iPhone, where it now looks exactly
like this: “Swing thoughts loose grip release club finish
forward posted August 30th at 3:21 pm.” Those three
simple thoughts changed my ball flight from weakish
old-man push slice to pro-style draw. It got me to a 5.9
index. And yet, I want to go lower.

In philosophy, the Hedonic Treadmill refers to
our human nature to always want more, no matter
how much we have. Think John Daly with chicken
wings and Budweiser or Tiger Woods with Perkins
waitresses. We’re like this with cutting strokes.
Golf equipment sales are predicated on this idea,
and though we know rationally that a ball or iron
or driver will only mask a weakness, we keep buy-
ing. You, my friend, are hereby permitted to jump
on that “treadmill” — goodness knows it’s better for
your soul than a real treadmill. It is time for rebirth.
So as the chill subsides, Derrick Rose plays two games
in a row, Cubs hope replaces Bears hate, and your boss
lets you out early for a quick nine, appreciate the privilege
of the yearly winter of discontent. I read a newspaper
headline in January, “Kitten freezes to death, stuck to
the front porch.” I mean really, how much less would I
appreciate a round at Cog Hill without that image seared
into my brain? I doubt some guy in L.A. or Phoenix
would. For us, that first round will be sweeter, the first
dig into turf more precious. So as soon as a flag goes up
within 30 miles, head out and play. Buy the new driver.
Pay for a lesson. Re-up at your club. You lived through hell. You deserve it.