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Joe Ditzel Has Some Golf Problems
Copyright © 2010 Joe Ditzel
All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author except in the case of reprints in the context of reviews For information, write Hartford-Whaley Publishing, 914 Westwood Blvd., No. 327, Los Angeles, CA 90024.
Library of Congress/CIP Data Pending Ditzel, Joe Joe Ditzel Has Some Golf Problems/Joe Ditzel 1. American wit and humor.
The Only Blues You Should Be Playing is BB King The Mulligan Brothers Surface of the Sun Hit Yourself Hard in the Head Circle The Carts! There’s A Crazy Man In Them Thar Hills! The Long Ball Spanked Whatever You Say Partly Cloudy Game’s on Fire
4 6 8 10 13 16 19 21 23 25
The Only Blues You Should Be Playing is BB King
You used to be able to shoot a round of golf in a few hours. Now a round of golf drags on longer than a weekend with your relatives. It takes all day to finish 18 holes. You play the first hole and then you wait. Finally, you tee off and then you wait. You go to your tee shot and wait until they are off the green. Slow play has never been worse. Let’s all learn to recognize and avoid these slow play sources: Playing “The Blues” Too many golfers overestimate their ability and “play the blues.” You shouldn’t play the blue tees unless you have a 10 handicap or better. The handicap of most people “playing the blues” is their swing. Lost Balls Don’t spend 20 minutes looking for a lost ball. These thrifty golfers organize a safari with tents and camping gear and push further and further into the underbrush. One of the adventurers cries out, “Eureka, we’ve found it, I see a Titleist at the bottom of that ravine!” Hey, it’s just a golf ball! It’s lost- you can buy another one. Don’t worry about the ball. Some twelve year old will find it and sell it back to you from his used ball store set up between holes on the front nine. Don’t let his skateboard throw you off. This kid is the Bill Gates of used ball sales. I know one kid who made $20,000 in one summer selling used golf balls! By August he had set up a drive-thru for golf carts. It looked like a mini-McDonalds. He repeats your order into a little speaker: “Your order is 6 Top-Flites and 6 Molitor X-outs. Please pay at the first window.” Yardage Gurus Another person sending golf back to the ice age is the golfer that needs to know the exact yardage. “Is the pin at the front of the green or the back? What does the yardage on that drain say? Let me check my course guide- it says it is 183 yards from this eucalyptus tree.” After tearing up some grass and throwing it in the air they say, “Looks like about a half club breeze.” Again, if you are a good player, you can go for the pin. Otherwise, put it on the green and keep moving. Putter Woes
One source of slow play are weekend Nicklauses who evaluate a put from every direction. First they stand behind the ball and plumb-bob their putter as if they are surveying new road construction. They don’t feel confident until they consult a U.S. Corps of Engineers topographic map they have spread out on a Black and Decker Workmate set up on the green. Then they take a soil sample to determine moisture content and grass variety. By this time you’ve sat in the fairway so long you are getting hungry so you build a fire and roast hot dogs. Golf Course Management I don’t find many course marshals that do anything to deter slow play. One marshal told me, “There’s really nothing we can do. Even if we let people play through it doesn’t help.” Maybe he would be more effective if he wasn’t sneaking into the trees for a shot of Jack Daniels. He isn’t helping when he yells at a foursome for having eight players on the fairway because he’s seeing double. Many golf courses don’t get it at all. I saw one course that had a sign near a water hole that said “No Fishing!” So far I haven’t had to wait because the foursome in front of me was fishing. Hey, not a bad idea- “Martha, I shot 175 again, but look at this mackerel! I hooked him with some ham on the end of a sharpened golf tee.” Eating at the Turn Learn to order quickly. Simple. Fast. Bing, bam, boom. Don’t ask to see the wine list. Don’t order Chicken and Shrimp in White Cream Sauce. In fact, don’t even sit down in the grill at the turn. Eat while you play. My brother can hit his driver 270 yards while drinking a Heineken. Mr. Equipment This guy has the latest Callaway Big-As-Half-a-Loaf-of-Rye-Bread Bertha. He had the first metal woods on the market. He had the first graphite shafts. He had the first titanium. He scours golf magazines looking for articles like, “Will the New Kryptonite Shafts Help YOUR Game?” All day he must tell you what equipment you should have, “You should get a Tight Lies. You would have hit a good shot there with a Tight Lies.” I wouldn’t have hit a good shot there with Jack Nicklaus’ clubs. I mis-hit it, graphite breath. Come on, kids. Don’t take 8 practice swings and let’s all get home before the sprinklers pop up at dark and hose us down.
The Mulligan Brothers
Jimmy shanked his tee shot into the woods. He pulled a second ball out of his jeans pocket with one smooth move. “I’m taking my mulligan!” he announced to his brothers Steve and Mookie. He placed it on the tee, reared back and blasted a worm-burner down the middle. “You should have saved your mulligan for later on,” Mookie said, driving the his golf cart over the tee box. “You only get one mulligan per nine holes.” “I’ll be warmed up by then,” Jimmy said. “I won’t need it.” “Yeah, right,” Steve said. “By the time you are warmed up, we’ll be in the bar.” We were on the brutal Ike course at Industry Hills, one of the toughest tracks in Southern California. I was teamed up with three brothers. They attended UC-Irvine together- Steve was a senior with a vague major, Jimmy studied advertising but spent more time on his mobile DJ business, and Mookie dropped in and out of school like he was checking into a hotel. Mostly he helped Jimmy by scratching records. I learned he got the name “Mookie” from his cell mate in the Pocoima jail. He was sentenced to 30 days after inciting a brawl at a wedding. Jimmy was DJ’ing the reception when Mookie decided it would be a good idea to put some moves on the bride. The groom and his 7 groomsmen felt differently. On the third hole, Steve tried to blast out of a sand trap. His ball hit the lip and rolled back to almost the exact same spot it used to occupy. Steve picked up the ball and tossed it near my feet on the grass. “I’m taking my mulligan,” he said. No one else was near us. “You can take your mulligan out of the sand?” I asked. “Yeah, but you only get one mulligan per nine holes,” he answered. On the seventh tee, Steve smashed a ball deep in the rough. “Mulligan!” he said loudly, setting another Pinnacle Extreme on the tee. I looked at his brothers. They didn’t say anything- they didn’t know Steve had already used his mulligan out of the sand. Steve had apparently forgot as well. On number eight I waited for the foursome in front of us to get off the green while I watched
Mookie size up his shot. He was behind a tree that was dead solid in the middle of his line. He kicked the ball out in the fairway. “Taking my mully,” he said to me. I didn’t mind that they were taking mulligans everywhere. They paid their money. But I don’t like mulligans. I try to play it where it lies. I usually don’t have to worry because most of my tee shots end up off the course itself so I have to re-tee anyway. But half the fun for me is trying to hit a heroic shot- one that is way over my skill level. When I pull it off it is more exciting than a monster truck triple bill. In tennis they let you hit a second serve if you miss the first one. But tennis isn’t much of a sport. You can’t smoke cigars very well and it is hard to hold a beer and serve the ball at the same time. If I played tennis I would set up the ball machine to launch serves while I went to the snack bar. In baseball you get several swings at the ball. The only difference is the ball is moving toward your body at over 90 miles per hour. But in golf you just hit it and find it, hit it and find it, hit it and find it. Mulligans take the misery out of it. What fun is that? On the ninth tee Mookie sent his ball over the green into the flowers. He reloaded and hit the second ball on the green. Steve bounced his shot off the cart path and nearly hit the Funicular, an old-fashioned tram railway that runs up the side of the hill to the pro shop. He set up another ball and poked it on the green. Jimmy skidded his 9 iron halfway to the hole where it stopped dead. Without a word he teed up another ball and hit it near the flag. “You guys playing tennis?” I asked. “You all hit two balls.” Mookie squinted at me through his wrap-around sunglasses. “We haven’t used our mulligans yet!” he said.
Surface of the Sun
I went golfing in Palm Springs on Sunday. If you live in Ohio or Idaho or Iowa and you want to play golf right now, hop a plane and go to Palm Springs. It is golf nirvana. In the Coachella Valley there are 104 golf courses with ANOTHER 100 opening in the next five years. The air is cool and clear. A sweet fragrance lingers in the desert air. Ahhhhhhhhhh! This is the place to play golf. But I won’t be there. In January and February it is not uncommon to pay $125 or more per round. PGA West, home of the famous “Alcatraz” island green, costs well over $250. I love to golf, but I also need to save for retirement. If I don’t put away some money now, I will be eating dog food under a bridge somewhere. $200 a round doesn’t leave much in the Joe Ditzel Retirement Fund. In the summer, golf in the Coachella Valley is much more reasonable. Last summer, I played PGA West for under $60. You can play world class courses for $19. There is only one reason for this price break- In Palm Springs in the summer THE TEMPERATURE IS 258 DEGREES! How can you play in this heat? Here are the things to keep in mind: 1. Drink lots of water. Each golf cart comes with a thermos jug of ice water. I always ask for two. Then I drink a glass after almost every shot. Unfortunately, I drink water faster than my body can absorb it. My stomach balloons to 10 times its size and you can hear the water sloshing around in there. It is so bloated that when I stand up my stomach hangs down on the ground. I could sit on it and bounce around on it if I wanted to. I can barely squeeze beind the golf cart wheel at this point so I sort of lay on my side and push the gas pedal with the shaft of my putter. 2. Wear a hat. I take this a step further. I take an extra golf towel and lay it on my head and then put the cap down on top of that. The towel flows out the back and covers my neck and ears. I look like Lawrence of Arabia. The only other thing I need is a camel with my golf bag hung over one of the humps. 3. Wear Sunscreen.
The sun is extra hard on me because I am 3/4 German and 1/4 Irish. What this means is my skin is so white it is see-through. In high school biology the teacher brought me to the front of the class to demonstrate the digestive system. I would eat a hot dog from the cafeteria and the class would watch it go though my body. So I have to wear special prescription sunscreen- SPF 5000. I fill up my bathtub with the lotion. The night before going to Palm Springs, I sleep in the bathtub and in the morning I wipe off the excess. After 9 holes I need a re-application so I spray myself down with the SPF 5000 loaded in a fire extinguisher. All to play golf for under $20.
Hit Yourself Hard in the Head
Golf is a difficult game to master. Fortunately, all golf instruction is consistent so you can easily learn the skills you need. Bwaahahahahahahahaha. What I meant to say was, there is so much conflicting advice and different ways to do things I don’t know who to trust. One instructor told me, “You should hit a fade.” Another said, “You need to learn to draw the ball.” Huh? I consulted my library of 40,000 golf books. It didn’t help: Tempo “You’ll never play good golf if you don’t hit the ball hard.” Tom Watson - Getting Back to Basics “Appreciate the sensation of swinging the clubhead through the ball as opposed to hitting at it.” David Leadbetter - Faults and Fixes “The pursuit of power is one of the most dangerous things in golf.” Jim Flick - On Golf
Downswing “Trigger your downswing by rolling your left ankle toward the target.” Golf Magazine - Private Lessons “Initiate the downswing by shifting the hips toward the target.” Golf Magazine - Private Lessons
“The downswing begins by turning your left shoulder down and to the left.” Corey Pavin - Shotmaking
Backswing “Load up the power in your backswing. Now is the time to coil your upper body as much as possible.” Ernie Els - How to Build A Classic Golf Swing “Never swing the club past the horizontal position at the top of your backswing.” David Leadbetter - Faults and Fixes “As long as the left side is in control, you can get away with dipping below parallel. Ben Hogan did in the early part of his career.” Tom Watson - Getting Back to Basics
Ball Position “Some great golf minds like Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan advocate one standard ball position, just inside or opposite the left heel.” Tom Watson - Getting Back to Basics “The driver and a teed-up 3-wood are the only clubs you want to play off your left heel.” Harvey Penick - Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book
Stance “Many players associate a wide stance with greater stability and power. That’s a mistake.”
David Leadbetter - Faults and Fixes
“Use a wide stance. The best drivers played from a wide base.” Jim McLean - The Eight Step Swing
Head Position “If you’re trying to keep your head down during the swing, you may want to re-think that advice after looking at David’s impact position. He looks past the ball and more down the target line through the hitting area.” Mike McGetrick analyzing David Duval - PGATour.com “’Head down’ is one of golf ’s oldest mandates and it still makes good sense for the majority.” John Jacobs - Practical Golf
Putting “You only have to look at the wide variety of putting styles on Tour to realise that there are no set rules when it comes to putting. Jack Nicklaus, for example, crouches low over the ball with an open stance, while Greg Norman stands very upright and closed. Fred Couples putts with his left hand below right on the club, Ben Crenshaw grips the club conventionally right hand below left, while Bernhard Langer separates his hands on the grip completely. Mike Hulbert, an American player on the USPGA Tour, even putts one-handed!” Tony Johnstowne - Master Your Short Game It is all crystal clear once you see it on paper.
Circle The Carts! There’s A Crazy Man In Them Thar Hills!
The ball rolled three-quarters around the edge of the hole and lipped out. It came to rest two feet way from the cup. “It could be worse”, I said, smiling, leaning on my putter. Kevin glared at me. “And how could it be worse?” Oops. I forgot my rule. When a golfer is melting down, leave him alone. He holed out, walked back to the cart, banged his putter into the bag and then slammed the gas pedal, the wheels sliding on loose rocks before they found traction and the cart surged forward. The whole day had gone bad for him. Kevin was falling in to the abyss. I’ve seen it before and it is a scary sight. Sometimes a golfer is playing so bad he can’t figure a way out. Everything he tries goes wrong. He tries to slow down his swing but hits shots fat. He puts away the driver and uses his 3-wood but still drives it in the woods. He leaves 20-foot putts 10 feet short. It’s like Madonna’s film career. Every choice he makes ends up wrong. But it is much more than just playing badly. Heck, I do that most of the time. It is the slow breakdown. At first, they are calm. But as the round wears on and their play continues to deteriorate, so does their mental fitness. Madness slowly sets in. They fall into their own personal hell. You want to help. In the past I’ve said things like, “I’m no pro, but it looks to me like you are looking up.” Either I would get a dirty look or a terse, “Gee, thanks!” I’ve learned over the years to just stay out of their way. There is nothing you can do. Except watch. Watch their total psychological meltdown. We went to the next hole, a par 3 with a pond fronting the green. Kevin stomped up to the tee and stuck a ball in the ground. He sets up low behind the ball, like David Duval. He swings incredibly fast. The ball jumped off the clubface and shot toward the pin. It was right on line. Suddenly, the branches of the surrounding trees started to rustle as a cool breeze kicked up in our face. The ball stalled in mid-air, felt the full effect of the wind and dropped in the water.
“$%##@##@@@*%&”, Kevin yelled. He dropped another ball on the ground and swung at it without teeing it up. He hit it fat and the ball bounced once in front of the pond and jumped in. “*$%!%#&*#$#^&”, he screamed. He stormed over to the cart, undid the strap and yanked the bag off the back and carried it over to the tee box. “Hey, Kevin,” Roberto said, glancing at the foursome behind us. “What are you doing? We gotta keep moving.” “I WILL get over the water!” he yelled. He unzipped the pocket, and turned the bag upside down. Thirty balls poured on the grass. He raked one over. Whack! It shanked into the trees. He dragged another one over. Whack! It hit the cart path and flew into some long strawgrass. He let out a long scream. It started low, from the depths of his tortured soul, then got louder and louder. “Aaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” He thrashed at the remaining balls. He didn’t tee them or try to hit them individually- just swung wildly at groups of balls. They sprayed everywhere. We ducked behind the carts. With all the balls gone he stomped around and his eye settled on the tee markers, two blue hard plastic balls. He smashed his iron into the one nearest him. It broke into a thousand pieces. He walked over to the other one and smashed it, too. The club-head broke through the top but the marker didn’t break apart. He lifted the club up and the marker stayed stuck on the end. Shaking the club violently, he attempted to dislodge it. It stuck like glue. He swung the club over his head and behind his back like he was throwing an axe at a Lumberjack Festival. “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhh” he screamed again as he launched the club at the golf cart. CLANG! It hit the steering wheel and skidded down the cart path. The marker shattered all over the concrete. The rest of the foursome stayed crouched behind the carts. Looking at each other, we started laughing at the same time. I laughed so hard I had to sit on the grass on the other side of the cart path. My head banged into the post of the ball washer. Kevin grabbed his bag and threw it on the seat bench. With his right hand he held the bag as he again slammed the gas pedal and the cart lurched forward. He quickly stomped on the brakes as he reached down to grab his club lying on the cart path. He took both hands off
the steering wheel, slipped the club into the bag and drove toward the green. “Hey!” I yelled. He slammed the brakes again, jumped out, took my bag off the back, threw it on the ground, jumped back in and sped off. He drove past the green, the next tee and the next hole. In the distance I could see him throwing his bags in the trunk of his car and slamming the lid shut. His meltdown was complete. He’ll be back tomorrow.
The Long Ball
I am an average golfer. In fact, the average men’s handicap is 16. So is mine. Nothing stands out about my game. But, for an old guy, I can smash the ball. Unfortunately, I haven’t hit a fairway since 1968. I’ve hit everything else: • buildings- houses, condos, churches, clubhouses, mini-malls, concession stands; vehicles- cars, trucks, semi-trucks, golf carts, bicyclists, delivery vans, lawn-mowers, rowboats, powerboats, sailboats. • stationary objects- ball washers, benches, power-lines, fences, telephone poles, traffic signs, buoys, billboards; people- joggers, kids, caddies, family members, other golfers, course marshals. • water- swimming pools, lakes, rivers, streams, washes, runoffs, creeks, marshes, ponds, big puddles, oceans. • vegetation-trees, bushes, hedges, reeds, ivy, long grass, hay, corn fields, bean fields, kikuya, clovers. • and the saddest of all- animals- I’ve hit dogs, cats, crows, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, seagulls, ducks, geese, swans, snipes, roadrunners, deer, crocodiles, snakes, gophers, squirrels, chickens, pigs, and , of course, cows- lots and lots of cows. I hit a lot of cars in parking lots. So many that I can actually tell what kind of car I’ve hit by the sound it makes. BANG! “That’s a 1995 black Nissan Maxima with the sport package and dealer installed LoJack.” BONK! “Blue 1997 Chrysler Mini Van with the entire Phantom Menace character set spilled all over the floor in the back.” BING! “1984 red Corvette owned by a guy with lifts in his shoes.” I yell FORE a lot. I have my own delivery. I used to just yell loud and long: FOOOOOOOO OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORRRRRREEEE! But I noticed people are so used to the word, they don’t even duck and cover. So now I follow the long FOOOOORRRREEEE! with a repetitive FORE! FORE! FORE! FORE! What this communicates is “I’m not kidding, Lumpy! I smashed it and it is coming right into you!
Better hold up your golf umbrella like a shield!” I’ve had to learn to yell FORE in different languages. In France I played a course just north of Cannes. I bashed a ball into the wrong fairway. I yelled “QQQQUUUAAATTREEE! QUATRE! QUATRE! QUATRE!” This isn’t the right word. “Quatre” means “four”. It didn’t seem to matter. French people started running around like the German army was on the move. I apologized to them as best I could but I don’t think it helped. I could hear one of them talking about starting the “La Resistance” again. Last year in Palm Springs I hit a drive into a swimming pool. The next day I hit a ball into the very same pool. I saw both of them at the bottom. It was 125 degrees outside. The water looked inviting. No one is around in Palm Springs in August. It was likely the owners were in Canada or back East. I jumped in and grabbed the golf balls. As I climbed out, I looked up to see the owner in the window. He wasn’t smiling. I walked back to my cart and drove off. It was so hot my clothes were dry in 38 seconds. In 1994 I played a round with my brother at his country club in Houston. One of my drives on the back nine took off at 3000 miles an hour. You could hear the ball yell, “Yeeeeeooooowwwww!” It rocketed exactly six feet off the ground like a stealth bomber flying under radar. First it went straight down the middle of the fairway. At 200 yards it took a hard left turn and headed toward a house. I could feel my brother thinking, “Oh, no! My dumb brother is going to smash one of my neighbors windows. I’m sorry, Fred. Joe was never right. I didn’t even want to bring him golfing. Too dangerous. But he’s kind of lonely. Desperate and dateless. I mean, he seems to get dates. Well, first dates. Second dates seem to be less common for him. Sorry Fred. It won’t happen, again.” The ball smacked into one of the columns fronting the porch and shot across the fairway and settled in a ditch. One time I was playing at a resort course in Palm Desert and it started to rain. I was soaking wet. That didn’t stop me from swinging as hard as possible. I made a huge swing on the fifth tee and the ball went dead right. The club flew left like a machete slicing the air. It flew up and over a condo. Clang! It bounced on the roof. The sliding door to a condo flew open. “I saw the whole thing”, an old man laughed. “Wow! That was something. Wait a minute.” He appeared up on the roof and threw down my beloved Ti-2. “Wow!”, he repeated, “That was something.” Jim Murray, the late, great sportswriter for the LA Times, once described Arnold Palmer as having a swing that looked like a drunk on a driving range at midnight. My swing looks like a drunk getting electric shock treatments at a driving range at midnight. I do take the club back relatively slow. Then I lash at the ball like it insulted my mother. Last year at Rancho Park I swung so hard I drove my driver into the ground and the ball popped up and went
BEHIND me. Not only didn’t I make it to the ladies tee, I didn’t make it to my own tee. My golf pro says I shouldn’t worry about power- that I have enough power already. That what I need is control. Wrong. There is never enough power. That’s half the fun of golf. The big ball. It doesn’t matter where it goes. Just so it goes FAR. I’m never on the fairway. Ever. I see the fairway from the tee. And then I can see it again looking back from the green. I don’t wear golf shoes. I wear hiking boots. My golf bag is equipped for deep woods expeditions. I have a compass, maps, a machete, an ax, rope, sleeping bags, matches, a Coleman Stove, and a golf hat with a light on the front like a miner. When I play desert courses I bring a camel. I have found some interesting things in the deep woods. In Orange County I found several fossil sites now being excavated by University of California paleontologists. In Ohio I discovered an Indian tribe in the Hocking Hills that had never been seen by man. In Texas I came into a clearing to find my ball had hit an old oil derrick. The impact made it crank up for the first time in 100 years. When I got there the oil was shooting 100 feet in the air. There are benefits. I took my girlfriend to Palm Springs last week. She knows absolutely nothing about golf. After watching me for three or four holes she said matter-of-factly, “You hit it far.” Then she said, “It doesn’t go very straight.”
Here is some advice: never go on a golf date. It seemed harmless enough. I play golf. She plays golf. Let’s play golf, I suggested. We could get to know each other and, if love didn’t strike, enjoy a day on the links. Right? Wrong. My first drive hooked left into the long stuff. I eased the cart up to the ladies tee for her drive. She took a few practice swings. This is when I heard the first alert of my MALE EGO DEFENSE WARNING SYSTEM: she had the best tempo of any golfer I’ve ever seen. I should have driven back to the car right then, complaining of dizziness and old war wounds. Her pre-shot routine is careful and un-hurried. Then she takes the club back low and slow, ending with the club well behind her head. No way she can get back to the ball from there, you think. You’d think wrong. She hesitates at the top for what seems like hours. Then she eases the club back down and inside, gently brushing the top of the grass into a perfectly balanced finish. You could set the atomic clock to her swing. The ball sailed down the middle, curling to the left at the end in a slight draw. When I hit a golf ball, it jumps off the clubface in a panic, like someone jumping out of a burning building. When she hits, the ball seems to leap gracefully from the club, like a figure skater gracefully throwing his partner in the air in a tight spin. We found my ball in the rough. I hit a respectable shot to the back of the green. We drove over to her ball in the fairway. Again, she took her time. She didn’t seem to know that golf is an anxiety producing sport. Golf can rip your heart out! No one over told her. She was as cool and calm as the beer in the cooler. She surveyed her shot and took another beautiful practice swing. Easy. Balanced. Perfect. I hate her. Her 7-iron carved a perfect divot as the ball headed for the green. Her golf balls were her friends. My golf balls hate me. They do mean things to me because I hit them as hard as I can. She was nice to them, patting them on the butt with her perfect tempo. In return, they were nice to her. The ball was tracking right at the pin. No fade. No draw. RIGHT AT THE PIN. WARNING! WARNING! I heard my MALE EGO DEFENSE WARNING SYSTEM go haywire.
I remember watching news reports of the Gulf War. They put video cameras right in the nose of some missiles. Norman Schwartzkoff would stand next to a TV while we all watched from the view of the missile as it locked on a building. Seconds later you could see right in the window of the building before it blew up. If there was a camera in her ball, you would have seen the camera looking down at the green as the ball hit the top of its arc. The cross-hairs would be trained spot-on the flag. Then the green would rush into view, filling the screen as the ball slammed back to earth. It bounced once, hit the flag, and dropped next to the hole. Easy birdie. Hello. I’m about to get spanked.
Whatever You Say
Golf salespeople are the some of the best in retail. They are smooth. They think they can sell you just about anything. Because they do. I noticed this when I set out to find a new driver. The salesperson disappeared into the storeroom and brought back the biggest driver I’d ever seen- 58 inches. Most drivers are around 46 inches. I told him I don’t need a driver that is 58 inches long. He said this was the most exciting new driver on the market. He said with this driver I would be able to drive the ball 350 yards. I said if I could drive the ball 350 yards I wouldn’t be in a golf store talking to him. I would be on the golf tour making big money and getting massages from my Swedish caddie named Helga. The problem is that to use a 58 inch driver you would have to be nine feet tall. I’m 5’- 10”. I need a 46 inch driver like a normal person. Swinging a driver that is a FOOT longer than normal would be like wearing shoes with 12 inch heels. You’d walk around like you were the fifth member of KISS. He said “Oh, you just need to slow down your back swing.” I told him that to swing a 58 inch driver I would have to swing so slow they would call me for slow play. One of the basic characteristics of a good golf salesperson is the ability to agree with anything you say. In addition to a driver I wanted to examine different pitching wedges. The salesperson gave me two to try. I stepped up to the demo area where you can smack balls into a net. I hit both wedges and then held the second one and said, “This one is a little bit heavier than the first one.” He said, “Yes, a heavier club is the way to go because it helps you get out of the rough better.” I tried the lighter club a few more times. “I think I like the lighter one better.” He did not flinch as he responded, “Yes, a lighter club is the way to go because you can get more club head speed with the lighter club.” I could have just as easily have said, “I like clubs that are colored green.”
“Yes, a green club is the way to go because they blend into the surroundings.” He changed his point of view based on the last thing I said. The beauty of it was the total conviction in his voice even if he contradicted something he just said. It’s like when you watch football on TV. The announcers always act like they knew what was going to happen AS IT HAPPENS. For example, if Michigan is ahead of Ohio State they’ll say, “we said in the pregame that this Michigan team CAME TO PLAY”. Then after Ohio State takes the lead in the closing minutes of the game they act like they knew it was going to turn out like that. They say, “we said you cannot give up on this Ohio State team. Their trademark is to come back in the closing minutes. THEY NEVER GIVE UP.” Often a golf salesperson has limited golf knowledge. But, they know a lot of golf terminology- just enough to agree with anything you say to move the merchandise out the door. For example, I asked, “What is perimeter weighted technology?” “Well, perimeter weighting is used to help you stay prone on the back swing and get the club on an inside path. When released, this allows the lower body to come through the ball which will keep the club on plane, allowing you to swing naturally and hit 10 to 15 yards further.” In other words he has no clue. The most important thing is that he has an answer. Any answer. Just as long as it sounds plausible to every question the customer might have. The golf salesperson consults his own inner database and formulates his response based on what sounds like the best answer to the question. You ask about graphite shafts and he fills in the blanks from several choices. It is the mix and match answer method: You: How will these graphite shafts help me? Salesperson: These clubs are made using the ______________(forged/ triplefired/ hotbaked) technology. The shaft has the exclusive ______________(kick flex/ rifle/ thickbutt) design. This allows you to swing easy and still achieve maximum____________(trajectory/ gear effect/ stopping power). You: Huh?
I decided to go golfing. I looked out the window-it was overcast and gray. Better check the Yahoo weather page. The Yahoo weather page has weather outlooks, satellite views, radar scans, precipitation measurements, pollen counts, travel planners, everything- a weather junkie’s dream. “Partly cloudy”, it said. “No rain today.” I grabbed my clubs and headed for Griffith Park. Driving alongside the course, I could see golfers on the second and third holes. I love it when you can see the course from the road. It adds to the anticipation. “Today is the day!”, I said to myself. “Today is the day I avenge the previous 7,000 rounds. Today I will shoot a good score!” On the second hole, it started to drizzle off and on. It rains so rarely in LA, I don’t even have a golf umbrella. I have a small collapsible black umbrella- a premium for subscribing to the LA Times. I unzipped the zipper on the side of my bag and took it out. I pushed the button on the side and it popped open. It was about the size of the umbrellas they put in the Mai Tais at Trader Vic’s- it barely kept the rain off my head. By the third hole the random drizzle became a steady drizzle. “This is temporary,” I said to my foursome. “It’s not supposed to rain today. I checked it on Yahoo.” Waiting on the fourth tee, a Japanese woman in the foursome in front of us called it a day. She took out her cell phone and called the clubhouse to get a ride back to her car. One of the city workers arrived in a battered green pick-up with the city seal on the door. He loaded her clubs in the bed as she climbed in the passenger seat. “Anybody else?”, he asked. There were two foursomes waiting. Everybody shook their heads. Since city courses don’t allow refunds, everybody decided to stick it out a little further. By the fifth hole, it was pouring. The wind blew hard and cold. All three people in my foursome must have called in because a ranger came out in a four seat golf cart. They got in, holding their clubs between their legs. Somehow the ranger was able to keep a cigarette going. He looked at me through the smoke and rain. “What about you? Had enough?” Enough? It’s only the fifth hole. I said, “It’ll clear up. I checked it on Yahoo.” He looked at me like the metal plate in my head was showing. Black clouds loomed over the Hollywood Hills. Water dripped off the end of my golf cap onto my shoes.
The eleventh hole is a par three. The green was under 4 inches of water. My tee shot plopped beneath the surface on the far edge of the green. I found it and hit it as hard as I could. It moved slowly under the water stopping slightly short of the hole- about 40 feet or so. On the fourteenth hole, a raging creek roared along the fairway back toward the clubhouse. Two kids were riding the current, sitting on their golf bags, using their pitching wedges as paddles. I waved. “It will stop soon”, I yelled. “I checked it on Yahoo!” I had heard stories about the crazy hermit that lives on the course. The kids thought they had found him. The fifteenth hole didn’t have a water hazard until today. A huge pond had formed on the right side of the green. I saw a family of ducks wearing rubber boots and yellow slickers huddled together on a dirt mound in the middle of the water. The mother sheltered them with an collapsible umbrella that said “LA Times” on the side. The entire eighteenth fairway was under 3 feet of water. I had to stand on top of a bench in order to hit a tee shot. Climbing on my golf bag like the two kids, I held two fairway woods together with the club heads at opposite ends. With this homemade kayak paddle I made my way out to the ball. I could see it on the ground, a crab nibbling on the Titleist logo. I slid off the golf bag and took a wild swing. The ball jumped out of the water and flew about twenty feet. I repeated that until I got to the green. A new course record- 1256. I dripped into the clubhouse, my Foot-Joys making a “squish, squish, squish” noise. The pro didn’t look up but said, “You coming back tomorrow?” “Of course. It’s going to be sunny all day. I checked it on Yahoo.”
Game’s on Fire
Shady Canyon Golf Course in Irvine, California almost burned to the ground a few days ago. A golfer made a bad swing and hit a rock that sent out some sparks that ignited the surrounding grass. 25 acres burned before the fire was contained by 150 Orange County Firefighters. People ask me all the time where I get material. Sometimes it just writes itself. But wait. The unnamed golfer said he hit a rock that created sparks that started the fire? Hmmm. There is also the possibility he was grabbing a smoke and threw down a butt and didn’t stomp it out all the way. Jared was like that. He’s a course rat up at Lost Canyons-- the kind of guy with vague sources of income that hang around the course all day. The marshals regularly told him NOT TO SMOKE ON THE COURSE. He obliged by waiting until he was out of sight of the clubhouse to light up. That may seem fairly harmless until you consider Lost Canyons winds through the Santa Susana mountains located in Simi Valley northwest of Los Angeles. A fire would be devatasting. Throughout the round Jared would sneak smokes. “Heads up right!” he would yell to unsuspecting gophers and deer as he drove another ball into the shadows of a canyon. I got the feeling he was hitting them into the scrub off the fairways just so he had more visual cover from the marshal. He could not go more than two holes before he had to light up another smoke. He had a system-- he would grind out the cigarette on the ground and then pick up the butt and drop it into a little cup he had built on the inside of his golf bag near the clubs. A couple of years ago we were teeing off on a bright Sunday morning. There are no homes surrounding the course so you feel like you are away from civilization even though the 118 freeway is just down the road. Halfway down a long par 5, Jared huddled behind his cart to light up yet another smoke. From somewhere in the shadows of the trees, a marshal appeared heading full tilt toward Jared’s smoking site. “Jared! Are you smoking?” the marshall yelled, his voice echoing down the canyon. Jared flinched like his daughter just told him her college tuition was going to cost $70,000 a year. “No, sir. Just trying to decide on a club. Woo... let’s see...” The marshal drove off in the other direction as Jared mulled over his shot. Finally he lashed a three-metal down the fairway. He nervously got in his cart and sped off.
That’s when I noticed the smoke billowing out of his golf bag. In his haste and surprise he had tossed his cigarette right into the bag itself. The smoke was getting thicker and thicker. He looked like a mini choo-choo train from a Saturday morning cartoon. “Jared!” I yelled. “Your bag is on fire!” He waved me off as he hurtled across the tarmac. His ball was resting just short of the pond fronting the green. He slammed on the brakes and jumped out. By now the smoke looked like a chimney on a steel mill from Youngstown around 1978. Instinctively he unlashed the bag and threw it on the ground. He took two steps, picked up the whole bag in one smooth motion and launched it high in the air. The clubs flew out the top as the bag did a slow helicopter spin before splashing down in the pond, sinking to the bottom. He looked at me and said, “Got a smoke?”