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

More Trash Talk Than the NBA

When you are ahead, don’t take it easy, kill them. After the finish, then be a sportsman.

Earl Woods—to his son Tiger Woods

Being a typical sportsman, I pride myself in being able to play a good game. But, almost as important, I am a typical man, and I pride myself in being able to talk a good game.

I learned from a master.

I don’t mean to brag about father, but if there were a Hall of Fame for trash talkers, my dad would be right up there with Charles Barkley, Xavier McDaniel, John Starks, Reggie Miller and every professional boxer who ever lived. He might even be up for a lifetime achievement award. I mean a bronze statue and everything.

In other words, Dad knows how to “talk the talk” and “walk the walk” of a champion. He could be on the basketball court with Michael Jordan and find something wrong with his jump shot.

It’s not so much a matter of simple bragging—it’s the subtle little things he says and does. The latest “psych job” took place during a semifriendly family golf outing over a holiday weekend.

First, he forced the enemy (me) to watch the seemingly endless early-round coverage of a pro golf tournament on television, analyzing what each golfer did right and wrong along the way. Dad even offered an explanation for the putting difficulty Jack Nicklaus experienced at one point. Something about a follow-through technique he read about in Golf Digest. I dunno. Jack himself probably wrote the article, but Dad would have you believe he coauthored it.

Then came the actual family outing itself. The site of this mock PGA event: a rundown par-3 where most people play winter rules year-round. The “championship flight”: my dad, king of the jungle; my mom, who lets her game do her talking; me, the personification of the term “weekend hacker”; and my sister, 60 handicap.

Dad wasn’t too concerned at first—he kept the discussions of his recent league tournament wins to a bare minimum as we headed to the 1st tee box.

After all, I had never come close to testing my dad on the links—except for that time when I was twelve and my mulligan limit at least double that number.

But this time was going to be different, I convinced myself. Tension grew thick as I reached two of the first three greens and played par golf. Dad, on the other hand, struggled, failing to even make par on any of the first three holes.

I thought about exclaiming, “Can anybody beat a 2!?!” after I birdied the 3rd hole, but that would have been too cocky and bold. It might have awakened the beast within The Master. So, like an awestruck Luke Skywalker in the presence of the Supreme Jedi Yoda, I bit my lip and moved on.

As time wore on, however, I could see the pressure getting to ol’ Dad. He even tried coaching Mom on the read of the No. 5 green—a nearly fatal slip of the tongue.

I cringed and looked away as he said, “It looks like it’ll break a little left, Dear.”

Now, just calling my mom “dear” was enough to throw off the poor woman until at least next week, but telling her how to read a green!?! Better to tell Leonardo da Vinci to use longer strokes! Better to tell Cindy Crawford to lose the mole! Better to tell Jordan to keep his tongue in his mouth! The very idea!

From past experience, even dumb ol’ me knew not to even talk to my mother during any sporting contest. I mean, if you so much as breathe during her backswing, you can expect to dine on the club head of her choosing. Yes, this was a definite mistake and a sign that The Master had lost his grip—not only on his golf game, but on reality and sanity itself.

Sweat beads poured down my dad’s forehead on the No. 7 tee box—still one stroke down to the kid whom he once said had “absolutely no athletic ability.” I again reached the green. It was time for Dad to pull out all the stops.

As I reached down to pick up a stray ball in the fairway, my dad shouted, “No!”

I moved on, without the ball, knowing full well that nobody on the course would claim it.

While my mind worked on the reason that it was a punishable sin for me to pick up this lost ball, you see, I could not concentrate on my upcoming putt. Dad had done it again! I three-putted and walked off in disgust.

“Well, at least you got a 4!” said Dad, in the cheeriest voice imaginable.

I was still chewing on the mental breakdown from No. 7 when Dad mentioned to Mom—just loud enough for me to hear—something about the stiff wind we’d be hitting into on No. 8.

I promptly decided against my 6-iron, pulled out the 5 and launched a shot well over the green and into the driving range area for a one-stroke penalty. Reality set in. Dad was going to get my goat again.

Dad added insult to injury on the No. 8 green, giving me a backhanded compliment about how good my long game was, but at the same time telling me how horrible my short game was. He’d be happy to give me putting lessons.

Dad had everything in the bag as he took a one-stroke lead into the final hole. Taking nothing for granted, he laid up short and avoided trouble on the back of the green. I, however, airmailed the green (into that “stiff wind”).

Dad tapped in for a bogey while I sat thirty feet away from the hole, putting for par on the slope of a steep hill.

“Well, it all comes down to this—if I make this putt, I tie you, Dad, ” I said, getting a good read. “How’s that for motivation?”

With Dad in the background of my vision (another psych-out technique, probably picked up from my Uncle John), I stroked the ball and looked on with anticipation. Oh, how smoothly the ball rolled over those thin blades of grass! Oh, how satisfying a tie would be!

“OH! YESSSSSSSS!” I screamed, much louder than I wanted, dropping my putter and pointing at Dad with the index fingers on both my hands. “YES! I TIED YOU!”

I quickly threw my hand over my mouth, realizing that at least three other foursomes were staring in my direction. I realized that, if only for a moment, some hellish energy from deep within my dad’s competitive soul had invaded my normally calm demeanor. For a fleeting moment, I had become The Master of Maliciousness.

And then, it was gone. I was back to myself again, apologizing for my absurd behavior and thinking about challenging Dad to a playoff hole, where I could purposely lose and somehow restore order in the universe.

But, glancing at Dad, I realized it wasn’t necessary. He smiled and appeared truly at peace. He was actually glad, in his own way, that I’d tied him and earned a moral victory. And it was then that I understood . . . that maybe the only mind games taking place that day were the ones inside my own mind. And maybe, just maybe, Dad wasn’t such a bad sport after all.

Dan Galbraith

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