Golf

I hadn't realized until the other evening that golf could be a violent sport even when you're not playing it. Of course, I had no idea we were going to be talking about golf when I was invited to join a couple of acquaintances of mine for a beer. One was a middle-aged man who owns quite a bit of real estate, and the other was a young doctor. Apparently, the land owner had convinced the doctor to take up golf because it was a way to make "good connections" and get some exercise while you're at it. The land owner had that very afternoon been instructing the doctor in the proper stance and the proper grip and all that sort of thing, and I gathered that the doctor wasn't getting the hang of it very well.

I suppose it's just as well that I was sitting between them, though for my ears' sake I would rather have been somewhere else. The land owner's voice got louder and louder as he chastised the doctor for his bad attitude, his bad posture, his inconsistent stroke, and so on, and the doctor just kept saying who cares how you hold the damn club as long as you hit the damn ball. Then the land owner informed the doctor that he'd never get up in the world and most certainly not into a decent country club, because of his big divots. Then the doctor said he wished he had a golf club with him right then so he could break it. Then they both stomped out of the place. It was one conversation I was glad to be left out of.

Golfer breaks club

Then the doctor said he wished he had a golf club with him right then so he could break it.

In the ensuing silence, I sat there thinking, "Divots?" and that word made me remember the two reasons I had never become interested in golf: its inadequate equipment and its weird vocabulary.

My first and last attempts to play golf occurred back in college. I went to one of those old-fashioned schools where they forced all of us to take physical education whether we liked it or not so that we'd have sound bodies in which to house our sound minds. I asked the dean of men if he'd exempt me provided I could prove that I didn't have a sound mind and therefore didn't need any special housing for it. He told me to get out of his office.

At least we were allowed to pick which sports we would learn. They didn't offer ping-pong, so I tried tennis one semester. Whenever he was around me, the instructor kept singing "You Ain't Got A Thing If You Ain't Got That Swing." I took the hint and signed up for golf the next semester.

When the instructor showed us how to tee off, I couldn't believe what an unreasonable feat he was demanding of us.

"But sir," I protested, "the diameter of that ball barely subtends an angle of one degree of arc in my visual field. Surely, you don't expect me to hit it with this tiny club? This game would be much easier if they'd make the ends of the clubs several times bigger than the ball. And while we're at it, how about bigger holes, too?"

He told me to shut up and address the ball.

"But sir," I objected, "I'll never be able to hit it far enough away that anyone would have to mail it back to me."

The look on his face convinced me that perhaps less talking and more teeing off would be in order. After we had all tried teeing off a few times, the instructor told me that my divots were bigger than anybody else's. I wasn't sure what divots were, but I thanked him for the compliment anyway. Then his face turned very red and he told me to put them all back. It was only then that I realized that divots were those large chunks of sod that my club had sent flying down the fairway about twice as far as the ball.

This instructor was an enigmatic man. He was able to keep a perfectly straight face while he explained to us the characteristics of the different clubs, which had ridiculous names like mashie and niblick, yet he would blow his cool at the slightest cause when he was putting—like once when he said, "Rector, I hear you talking back there. It's upsetting me and I'm about to get a birdie."

"But sir, there's no reason to take it out on the poor, innocent wild creatures." That's when he broke his putter.

For our final exam in that course, we had to play a real round of golf. The instructor said that anybody who got a score in the nineties on this would get an A-plus, and then he just laughed as if that would be totally impossible. Well, I showed him. I already had ninety-six by the time I reached the eighth hole, and believe me, I worked hard to do it. I crossed two highways and managed to avoid a very large water hazard which appeared to be Lake Michigan. But the instructor didn't keep his promise: he gave me a D anyway.

Maybe that's why I never made it up in the world. I suppose it sounds like sour grapes, but I agree with Mark Twain, who said, "Golf is a good walk spoiled."

An earlier version of this article first appeared in the Korea Times on 15 February 1992.