By Bill Buchanan
I was talking to Tom Farmer the other day, and the subject of golf came up. He asked me if I played. I said I used to, and played a lot at one time, but had not played in several years. After I had back surgery, I decided to quit. If I ever re-injure my back, it will be doing something I enjoy more than golf.
I used to love golf. However, I do not possess the right temperament for the game. Any time you throw the club farther than you hit the ball, you might need to take up something else. Or as Tom said, “Your problem is that you are standing too close to the ball after you hit it.” Exactly.
Another frustrating thing about golf is that unlike other sports, you are usually not rewarded much for a good shot. For instance, in tennis, if you hit a good serve, you might ace the other guy and win the point immediately. But in golf, unless you hole out, you have to hit another shot.
Case in point — years ago when I was playing regularly I was having one of those rare days where I was just crushing the ball on my drive — and it was staying in the fairway. We came to a par five, a little over 500 yards. I hit a very nice, straight drive, and decided to go for the green on my next shot. Any attempt to go for the green in two shots had to carry the creek, which ran about 15 yards in front of the hole. The idea being that you had to hit a good second shot, you could not just run the ball up to the green.
I caught all of a three wood, and wound up just over the green in two — two of the best back-to-back shots I had ever hit. I had avoided the sand trap (which was good, as I was famous for pulling an “Adolph Hitler” when in a sand trap — also known as “two shots and still in the bunker”). I was chipping for an eagle three. I was thrilled.
Now the game of golf senses when you are thrilled. It only allows you to experience temporary excitement so it can devastate you that much more when it takes it away. Sure enough, on my next shot, I looked up too soon, and moved the ball about 18 inches. There is a common term for this in golf, but it cannot be published in a family newspaper.
I tried to gather myself, but I was angry — not a good emotion to carry around with you if you want to play your best golf. I hit my next shot far beyond the hole, and proceeded to three-putt. So I went from chipping for an eagle three to knocking it in disgustedly for a double-bogey seven. Perhaps that is why one avid golfer was quoted as saying, “There is nothing I love as much as I hate golf.” Amen to that.
Now there has been a debate for many years as to who is the greatest golfer of all time. Many people feel that the title belongs to Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer or Gary Player. Others hearken back to an earlier age, and make the case for Sam Snead, Ben Hogan or Bobby Jones. The more contemporary theory is that Tiger Woods is the Babe Ruth of golf, and that he will one day be, if he is not already, the greatest to ever play the game.
I am afraid they all labor under a misconception. I humbly submit that the greatest golfer who ever lived was my cousin, Howard — as long as he was allowed to keep his own scorecard.
It’s not that Howard wasn’t a good golfer. He was. Howard was strong, could hit the ball a mile. And he had an above-average short game that allowed him to play well. However, Howard had an ego the size of Texas, and he just couldn’t stand for his score to be spoiled by one or two bad holes. I’m not saying he cheated, but let’s say he just didn’t let the scorecard stand in the way of having a good round.
Many days Howard would be playing well, but would run into a patch where his swing would fail him. When we were kids, his son and I would often play along with Howard, and it might go something like this:
Howard tees up his ball, a Black Titleist No. 4. He hits his drive into the woods, looks around for his ball. He “finds” his ball which has miraculously moved to a different area than it seems it had originally landed. No longer stymied by the trees, he takes a mighty cut at the ball, but nothing happens — “That was just a practice swing,” he mutters. He winds up again and he shoots for the green — but goes over. He then chips onto the green, and now stands over his putt as he says, “Well, gotta’ sink this for my par.” Howard sinks the putt, and I retrieve his Red Slazenger Three from the cup, and toss it to him. No sense in arguing that this is not the ball Howard hit off the tee, as I would only have to walk home.
None of those guys would have stood a chance against Howard.