10: Who Is the Greatest Golfer?

10: Who Is the Greatest Golfer?

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tales of Golf and Sport

Who Is the Greatest Golfer?

My body is here, but my mind has already teed off.

~Author Unknown

For the first time in my personal golfing history I had broken 90. Because of it, I couldn’t sleep. In the midnight darkness, I nudged my sleeping wife, “Can you believe it?” I cried. “I’m no longer a duffer! The secret of golf is simply a matter of...”

“...Of beginning your downswing with your shoulders instead of your hands,” she muttered.

“How did you know?” I asked, amazed.

“Only because that’s what you’ve been muttering all night.” She felt my brow to make sure I was not delirious. “Try to get some sleep now, darling. You’ve got a big day coming up, remember?”

She was right. I should have been asleep hours ago. In a few hours, I would play my first-round match in the club tournament against my arch golfing enemy, Steve Galloway. I chuckled into my pillow sadistically. With the secret of the game now locked in my breast, I would humble him at last.

I shut my eyes and ordered my mind to go blank, but to no avail. It insisted that I again replay each stroke of my day’s round. During the first two holes, my smile all but illuminated the night shadows of the room. But when I again found myself missing that twenty-inch putt on the 3rd green, my smile turned itself off. That putt had hurt. So had the four other short ones I had muffed later on. If I had sunk them instead, I would have completed my round in 84.

Nor were those missed putts the only additions to my score that should not have happened and most certainly would not happen again. If one of my drives hadn’t sliced out of bounds, costing me two penalty strokes, I would have toured the links in a sizzling 82.

Or might not I have scored better still? The supposition caused me to gasp aloud, waking my wife with a start. Now that she was no longer asleep, I could find no reason for not sharing my joyous discovery.

“I had some tough breaks today, not of my own doing,” I explained. “A perfect pitch shot to the 9th green took an astounding hop into a bunker, and my drive on the 12th freakishly scooted beneath a bramble bush. And on the 17th hole, my caddy sneezed at the top of my backswing, all but causing me to miss the ball completely. Wouldn’t you agree that because those were obviously nonrecurrable accidents, I should further reduce my score by that same amount?”

“Why is it,” my wife interrupted, “that a man can recall for a week every shot of his last game but can’t remember for five minutes that the screen door needs fixing?”

I lay back in the pretense of sudden sleep. But my subconscious kept busy subtracting those three strokes from my hypothetical round of 82. On arriving at the amazing answer of 79, my body seemed to float toward the ceiling.

“Good Lord,” I cried, “I’m a championship golfer!”

Every shred of evidence now pointed to my being able to par even the toughest holes on the course, and should it be my good fortune to slap in an occasional birdie—and, after all, why shouldn’t I?—well, the implications were downright staggering.

Ever so carefully, so as not to cause my wife to phone a psychiatrist, I slithered from bed and stood beside it, my hand gripping an imaginary driver. For a moment I waggled it back and forth in delicious anticipation, then powerfully and smoothly I swept my body through an entire swing. Had the situation been born in reality, the ball surely would have zoomed into orbit. I drew in my stomach and threw out my chest and, in the utter darkness of the bedroom, exuded more confidence than ever before in my life.

Confidence, that was the key... confidence born of my new mastery of technique. How incredible to realize that in all these years I had simply conducted an endless series of tiger hunts on the golf course, violently beating the earth with my clubs, exhausting myself with my very ineptness. Not once, in fact, had I gotten past the first round of the club tournament. But tomorrow would be vastly different. Poor, unsuspecting Galloway!

At 2 A.M., I begged my mind to let me sleep. My plea was in vain. By three o’clock I had won the club championship. An hour later, I captured the U.S. Open. Dawn was creeping over the window-sill before I divested myself of an armful of phantom trophies and tumbled into a canyon of sleep.

My wife and I and the Galloways sat together on the golf club terrace, watching the sun call it another day on the fickle fortunes of man. Now that my tournament match was over, I wished I were alone, like Napoleon, on Elba Island. Not even on Boy Scout timber hikes had I met up with so many trees. No doubt about it. I would have scored better with an axe. What could have gone wrong to lead to all that abject, humiliating agony? My wife reached over to pat my knee. “Didn’t you remember to keep your eye on the ball, sweetie?”

Her question was so ridiculous that I refused to answer. Without looking up, I felt the sting of Steve Galloway’s mocking glance. This time I was through with golf for good. Should I give my clubs to some deserving caddy, I wondered, or instead salvage a scrap of retribution by wrapping them around my opponent’s neck?

My wife was talking again—a far too usual procedure—and I was trying not to listen. I chose instead to gaze out over the course where the evening dew already had tinted the fairways with silver and where, on either side, the terrible towering trees now slept, harmless and serene, as a moon tip rose above them into the night. It seemed impossible to believe that this gentle pastoral scene had, by daylight, proved itself such a violent battlefield.

I poured myself another drink and downed it quickly. Somehow it made me feel better. I reclined in my chair, my eyes again drawn back to the lush and quiet fairways. The course was beckoning me now like a temptress in the shadows. “Come conquer me,” she seemed to whisper. “You can, you can.”

I closed my eyes, but the voice refused to go away. When I refilled my glass and drank deeply from it, I began feeling surprisingly relaxed. Much the same as I had felt yesterday when I had shot my 89.

Ah, so that was it—relaxation! Not how you gripped the club or pivoted your hips or snapped your wrists, but simply how well you relaxed. No wonder Galloway had trounced me so completely. My mind had been gorged with a jumble of mechanical DOs and DON’Ts. By taking it smooth and easy, wouldn’t those technical elements fall naturally into place?

Yes, yes, I saw it clearly now. After years of huffing and puffing on the links, I caught the message at last. Silently, almost breathlessly, I started out over the vastness of the golf course, lost in wild surmise. What, I wondered, should I wear while competing in the British Open? A touch of heather, perhaps? I could only hope I would not be so relaxed as to drop my trophy on the toe of the queen.

Pulling myself back to the present, I tried not to sound condescending as I turned to Steve Galloway. “How about a return match next Saturday?” I asked.

“But darling,” my wife protested, “that’s when you promised to fix the screen door.”

For a moment her words buzzed near my ears like mosquitoes, then mercifully took flight when Galloway’s voice chose to lead him to slaughter. “In the mood for another licking, eh?”

I only smiled in the dark. Already I was growing joyfully tense just contemplating the wonders of relaxation.

~Graham Porter
Chicken Soup for the Golfer’s Soul, The 2nd Round

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