After a 20-year hiatus, my golf bug is back.
This is as planned. When the kids came along, I couldn’t afford the six hours to play golf. I switched to tennis.
Now two sons are off to college. My 15-year-old daughter is low maintenance (at least for me.) My tennis game has peaked and my joints ache more. Time to go back to golf.
I started out playing golf. As a child, my mom would just drop me off at Bear Creek Golf Course in suburban Houston, Texas. She’d pick me up nine hours later. I did this all summer long for years.
In Greenwood, I played at the country club. As a teenager, I played on the Greenwood High School golf team with Charles Bowman and Charlie Cooper. We won third place in the state championship.
I have never been much better than bogey golf. I never learned to grip the club properly at a young age. There is a life lesson here. Your first few steps in any direction are often the most important, so be careful about those first few steps.
I was also stubborn and arrogant. I taught myself instead of taking lessons and listening to pros. Pride goeth before a fall.
My temperament, which is energetic and impetuous, is suited to tennis, but not so much for golf, which requires zen-like calm and control.
The addicting thing about golf is that the less you try, the easier it is. When you are in the zone, it seems effortless, thus getting you excited about improving. The excitement then leads to effort, which screws everything up to the point you don’t care anymore. Then the cycle begins again. This is not unlike life.
My friend Charles Bowman once observed my golf swing and said these words which I have never forgotten: “Wyatt, the problem with your golf game is you have just enough talent to make it frustrating.”
I love a challenge. That’s the fun part. Getting better. I am only going to get worse at tennis.
My 40-year-old clubs are outdated. My bag has holes in it. I hit a $10 driver from Wal-Mart. “Why don’t you buy some new clubs?” a friend asked me. Simple. Then I would have no excuse.
The Internet has changed things. Now I can go online and get thousands of free golf lessons complete with slow motion video. I actually now know what to do. It’s the execution that’s the problem.
I was at the symphony sponsors party when I ran into Alon Bee. We played golf together at a charity event 25 years ago and remembered each other since. As we marveled at the passing of the years, I mentioned I was taking the game back up. He promptly invited me to one of the biggest charity golf tournaments in Mississippi, the Trustmark Children’s Hospital fund-raiser at the Jackson Country Club.
It was Alon, Billy Mounger and me as the amateurs. The pros were Bubba Holloway and John Harless, college players, and Trey Denton, a former touring pro.
All I wanted was to not duff it on the first tee. Of course, I duck hooked the ball into the water. On the next tee box, I completely whiffed. The ball went a few feet. The shame and horror was infinite.
The golfing gods do display occasional mercy. On the third hole, a par three, I hit the ball four feet from the hole and sank the birdie putt. Big sigh of relief.
It was hard to play with such outstanding golfers. My drives were 100 yards shorter. By the 18th hole, my ego was frayed. Playing a “shamble,” we all hit from the best drive, 165 yards to the 18th hole flag.
Bubba, John and Trey all hit perfect shots within 10 feet of the hole. As I addressed the ball, I complained loudly: “It’s bad enough to watch one of y’all do that, but to have to watch all three of y’all do it in a row is just too much to bear.” Talking as I swung, I proceeded to put my ball five feet from the hole. Ah, golf! That will be the only shot I remember from that day.
My goal is just to play golf well enough to not slow down my playing partners and enjoy the beauty of the course. Tennis courts are all the same, but golf courses are beautiful displays of man’s mastery and enhancement of nature. As a tree lover, I enjoy identifying the different species of trees.
I am a stickler for the rules, which adds at least five strokes to my round. Someone once asked me why. “Because it’s the one thing in golf I can do well,” I explained.
My first cousin Charles Hardy, a prominent divorce attorney in San Antonio, taught me the greatest lesson in golf. It transformed the way I play the game.
A bogey golfer, Charles was even par as he stepped onto the 18th hole tee box. It was the round of his life.
The hole was a 3 par, surrounded by water. His first shot hit the bank and just barely rolled down into the water. He proceeded to hit several more consecutive shots in the water. We cringed as we watched, anticipating the worst, which is typically chunking the entire bag into the pond.
After finally getting a ball dry on the green, Charles stooped down to pick up his tee and grinned broadly as he got back up. “That’s golf,” he said. And that was that. If he was angry or upset, we couldn’t tell.
Thanks, cousin Charles, for teaching me how to play golf. Because of you, golf is no longer simply a “good walk ruined.”
We should all be thankful Jackson is blessed with a bounty of great affordable golf courses. Our top courses are world class.
But the real golfing story this week is about my old golfing buddy Charles Bowman. Playing at Live Oak, he did something that has only been caught on camera nine times in the history of professional golf.
He made an albatross – a two on a five-par hole, three under par. That’s even better than a hole in one, which is a one on a three-par hole, only two under par.
His second shot was blind and after everyone looked for his ball over the green, Charles posed the question: “Has anybody thought of looking in the hole?”
Wyatt Emmerich is publisher of the Northside Sun in Jackson and owner of Emmerich Newspapers.