You hear the sound of birds, just as you would expect on any morning in the open country. The light on the figure standing near the tee markers has the warm, long-shadowed look of either sunrise or sunset. The scene shifts to a sort of narrated flying preview of the next hole, skimming along the treetops, around the slight dogleg to the right, and swooping down to the green checkerboard of the putting surface, with its white-shafted club flag fluttering gently in the breeze. The narrator all the while telling you what you should attempt, and avoid, in order to score well on this hole.
Then the image on the screen is a closeup of the golfer. His name is Garfield (inspired by the ancient American fish, the gar, rather than the president, or the cartoon cat). By now I feel like I know this guy. I know how he runs around pumping both arms when he makes a great shot; or how he swings a big uppercut when he makes a birdie, or how he leans backward in anguish when an important putt rims the cup instead of falling in. I have seen (and felt) his pain when the wind takes his shot into the water after he failed to allow for it.
He doesn’t really look like me, though there is a slight resemblance, but the most striking part of this is how much I identify with him, and each thing he does. At first I wanted to write that he is me, but the truth seems more like I have become him. He wears glasses like me, and he has gray hair that’s thinner on top. He has a beard that lines his jaw, something I could never grow. His build is roughly like mine, if a little slimmer. He has come around to wearing a bucket hat as his trademark, after trying various caps and being hatless. He prefers darker colors, especially dark green, or dark blue. He wears long, slightly loose nylon athletic pants. His shoes are inconspicuous, but expensive, golfing shoes, not white or saddle shoe styles. He walks with a funny sort of bent-kneed slouch, but there’s nothing wrong with his golf swing.
At first he used to slam the ball all over the course, hitting monster drives into the rough, or into water hazards. Then he would chip shots over the greens, and have to recover all the time, just to make a double bogey. He was really terrible, and I was ashamed of him. Yes, it seems funny, but I wanted him to do better and not finish last in every tournament he entered.
Gradually, you could see he was getting it. He started hitting shorter drives, and learning to compensate for wind and terrain. He began learning the courses, and figuring out which holes required more careful club selection. He began planning how to position his ball to make the next shot easier. He figured out how to take something off his swing so he didn’t fly past every green. He even learned how to put spin on his shots to make the ball roll back closer to the flag stick. He started birdie-ing many, and then most, of the holes he played. He was becoming a very good golfer.
Soon he was finishing in the top 10 in tournaments, and then winning them. He won nine tournaments in his first season as an amateur, and then finished 6th in Q-School and got his card to compete on the PGA Tour. I was so proud of him and how he had progressed. All those short practice competitions, against increasingly tougher opponents, have built up his experience and skill to the point where he can hold his own against the biggest names in Golf. Now I need to remind him not to let up if he gets a big lead in the first round, because he shows a tendency to get complacent and careless until the other golfers catch him in the later rounds. Then he has to battle with no room for errors.
So here I am at 5:30 in the morning, as I stand there ready to swing. Unconsciously I take a deep breath and hold it as I swing my arm back and then smoothly forward, trying not to pick up too much speed. I hear the swish of the club and the crack of the ball. I see it arch towards the green, and can see it is going to pass the pin, so I apply backspin before the ball hits the green with a convincingly real dry thump, and starts rolling back towards the cup. It stops eight feet from the flag and the crowd roars. There is a whistle of exhaled breath, now that the shot is done. The same fools voice yells “I love this game!” for the umpteenth time. I get in my putting position and study the grids of moving dots that tell me how the green is contoured and how much the ball will roll, and in which direction. From this I change my aim to allow for a sharp break to the left and I stroke the ball with what I hope is the right amount of backswing and forward impact. The ball rolls on the velvet-like green, and curves towards the hole while another fool screams “In the hole!”. There is a plastic plop – birdie! He has won his first pro tournament at a course in South Africa in a sudden death playoff against Phil Mickelson.
I stand there with my arms up, in the living room, in my pajamas and slippers, with my bed hair flying every which way and my cup of tea on the mantel. My wife sleeps peacefully upstairs, unaware of our triumph.
© 2008 Michael Yanega