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

The Old-Guy Game

I went to the golf course alone the other day. There were four carts parked beside the 1st tee, and a young guy in a Greg Norman hat was taking gigantic practice swings in preparation for slicing his drive into the 18th fairway.

The pro offered to run me out to the 2nd tee so I could jump ahead. A group on the 3rd waved me through. I ran into another group on five, so I ducked behind the snack shack and went to No. 7. I had clear sailing for one shot.

That caught me up to a threesome of old-timers, who were moving down the fairway as slowly as if they were worried about land mines. They invited me to play through—many clear holes lay ahead—but I asked if could join them.

I like playing with old guys. My tempo drops out of the red zone, and I stop trying to hit the ball farther than I can—the opposite of what happens when I play with twenty-five-year-olds. I enjoy hearing stories about what the course or the club or the members were like forty years ago, when everything was better than it is now. Every so often, an old guy who can no longer reach the fairway with a driver will turn out to be a former hotshot—as I’ll discover later, when I recognize his name on one of the plaques on the grillroom walls.

I like looking into old guys’ bags: mismatched irons, woods made of wood, grips resurfaced with electrical tape, chippers, Gintys, Samurais, 23-woods, putters with punch marks on their faces and ball retrievers that extend so far you could use them to rescue your glasses from the Mariana Trench. The guy in the Greg Norman hat would sneer, but to me those golf bags prove that with good luck and the right equipment you can keep playing until the day you drop.

You also need the right swing, of course. Two of my companions the other day had one that I’ve been studying: a short, turnless lunge—the move you make when you throw dirt with a shovel. It’s the old-guy swing, and it’s the product of a compromise worked out by old bones, stiff muscles and osteoarthritis. I’ve been studying it because I suspect that someday it will be my swing. I want to be prepared.

Both players aimed left and hit right. They took their clubs back belt-high, then leaned forward and swatted. Their shots didn’t go very far, but we never had to look for a ball except mine. After three 3-woods apiece, they were each close enough to the green to hit pitching wedge, just about the only iron that either of them still used. They drilled their putts, got two strokes and took the hole with net birdies, while I three-putted for a 5.

I still nurse a fantasy that I will wake up one morning and be Ernie Els, or even Morris Hatalsky. But it pays to be realistic, and time is running out. There’s a lot to be said for the old-guy game. If my regular foursome wouldn’t make fun of me, I would almost be tempted to switch right now.

David Owen

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