From Chicken Soup for the Golfer's Soul The Second Round

The View from the Tee

Golf is so popular simply because it is the best game in the world at which to be bad.

A. A. Milne

Among my current jobs is that of starter, five days a week, at New Jersey’s Pitman Country Club, a good place for the golfer who wants a chance to break whatever is his or her goal—120 perhaps, but usually 100—because there’s a little less trouble than there is at Pine Valley or Pinehurst No. 2.

Pitman is a “forgiving” course. You can probably shoot a lower number there than Pebble Beach. If you hit a banana slice or a duck hook, you won’t always wind up in the Pine Barrens.

Being a starter is great fun. I get to work on my suntan, kibitz with customers, listen to a zillion excuses, shuffle three hundred players on a busy day, sweep out carts, learn hyphenated words, eat chili dogs and, best of all, see some of the worst golf shots since Mary Queen of Scots missed a tap-in.

Of course, Pitman golfers do not have the market cornered on bad shots off the 1st tee, even though it sometimes seems a prerequisite for playing there.

My own most memorable 1st-tee shot was at Waynesboro (Pennsylvania) Country Club, when I was a fourteen-year-old freshman making his varsity debut. The ball came off the toe of my driver and found the forehead of my coach, who was standing fifteen feet away in what he thought mistakenly was a safe spot.

He was knocked cold and taken away in an ambulance, but he was not killed. The K-28 was surgically removed, and the ball’s dimples reportedly are still visible between his eyes.

Memorable 1st-tee shot No. 2 was at Ron Jaworski’s Eagle’s Nest several Good Fridays ago in a foursome that included Jaws. A huge gallery surrounded the tee, eager to see how far an NFL quarterback could actually hit a golf ball.

When I took my first practice swings of the year I knew I was in trouble. I felt disoriented, as if I were on roller skates. I thought of different ways I could get out of the inevitable: “Jaws, I think I’m having a heart attack, you go on without me.”

Then I heard a whisper: “That’s Bob Shryock. He’s not a quarterback, but they say he can hit it pretty far.”

Thus inspired, I took a clumsy swing and missed, although the wind generated by the clubhead speed blew the ball off the tee. It didn’t go far, but it went straight.

The embarrassed crowd gasped collectively. Someone told me he thought the shot had been staged for “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” I reloaded and dribbled one to the right, spectators scattering for their lives. The ball bounced against the door to the bar. I should have gone in and stayed.

Such experiences enable me to identify with the golfers at Pitman, whose excuses have kept me entertained over the years:

“Second time I’ve played in my life.”

“First time I’ve played since October.”

“I had open-heart surgery Tuesday.”

“My wife died Monday, and I buried her this morning.”

Recognizing that making an excuse on the 1st tee is strictly a defensive maneuver designed to extract shots from a playing partner, I have been as impressed by these justifications as by the subsequent shots. Or, in many cases, nonshots.

A 220-pound athletic-looking twenty-year-old takes mighty practice swings, then misses the ball three times in a row. On the fourth he dribbles one off the tee and pronounces himself ready.

Another who will not make the PGA Tour studies the ball endlessly, swings and misses. He then flexes his shoulders as if to say, “I swung at that before I was loose.”

Another fans the club and pretends it was a practice swing. This golfer never looks back. He prays no one noticed. He is asking himself, Why me, God? His partners don’t say a word, fearing he will bury his club in their heads. He then fires a twenty-five-yard wormburner to the right.

Another whiffs and looks angrily at the starter: “No wonder; we’ve had to wait forty-five minutes.”

Lindy Ingram, once a tough football player, took a mighty rip the other morning at Pitman and did a 360-degree turn. While the ball skittered off the tee, Lindy went careening to the turf as though he’d been shot. The grass was wet and Lindy had forgotten to change from his dress shoes.

At Pitman, Lucky Lindy blends right in.

Bob Shryock

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