Chapter One

Admit that you are powerless over golf—
That your life has become unmanageable.


Admit it, there are times on the golf course when you get so frustrated by your inability to execute the most elementary shot, that you want to rip your clothes off, run spastically down the fairway screaming obscenities at yourself, jump into a pond, climb out of the water and throw yourself into a bunker, roll around like you’re breading a chicken leg, and lie there in tears, praying for crows to come and peck your eyes out so you’ll have a reasonable excuse for never playing the game again.

There’s no getting around the fact that you are powerless over golf. The game has got you wrapped up tighter than a 100-compression Titleist Balata, and you’re caroming through life like a Pinnacle bouncing down a cart path. You’ve convinced yourself that you could quit if you had a problem, but since you don’t have a problem, why should you quit?

Oh, you don’t have a problem? Try this: You know the name of everyone in your golf league, and every score you’ve posted since you switched from forged to cast irons. But you don’t know the name of your kid’s English teacher, or the score your kid received on his or her most recent spelling test. More than once you’ve requested, in writing, that your home course erect light towers around the last few greens so you could finish those late evening rounds. For the same reason you’d be more than happy to pay a premium fee for a cart with headlights. Halogen if possible.

Golf owns you. From your logo-emblazoned cap to your spikeless Foot-Joys, golf dictates everything you do, manipulates your emotions, and will eventually call six pallbearers with lower handicaps to your side.

If you’re not playing golf, you’re thinking about playing golf. When you’re not thinking about playing golf, you’re thinking you should be thinking about playing golf. Like it or not, your life is spinning out of bounds like a blistered rope-hook off a whippy-shafted, oversized driver.

Problem golfing is a disease, and if you don’t think you’ve been infected, think again. Only a problem golfer would do the things you do, and have the things you have.

Over the past three years you’ve purchased more than a dozen putters, a half dozen drivers, and sampled twenty-eight different types of golf ball. You’re now referring to your stack of first-edition golf instruction manuals as an investment in rare books. You have so many back copies of Golf Digest, Golf Magazine, Golf Illustrated, Senior Golfer, Golf World, Links, Golf Week, Golf Tips, and Southern Golfer, that your attic has an R-value of 125.

You have a season pass at three different driving ranges. You can calculate your handicap, to three decimal points, in your head. You actually believe that you can hit a low-draw, or a high-fade, on command, with a two-iron.

You sold your house for the purpose of moving into a community with a cable system that offered the Golf Channel. When that system pulled the Golf Channel, you moved again. You refuse to play miniature golf without your own putter. You listen to golf on the radio, and PGATour.com is your home page.

You religiously watch both the evening and late night Golf Central report on the Golf Channel, even though you know that the late night show is a repeat of the evening broadcast. On occasion you have set your alarm to wake you between 1 and 4 a.m. so you could catch an infomercial featuring a “radical new swing technique that will revolutionize the way golf is played.” Taping it so you could watch it during daylight hours was never considered.

You don’t think twice about skipping work to watch first- and second-round coverage of the Masters, but have never been able to find the time to watch your children in the school play. Your personal collection of artwork begins and ends with an assortment of Leroy Neiman golf posters. You have golf ball racks on your office wall, filled with balls stamped with logos of courses you’ve never seen, let alone played.

You name your putters. Nothing sweet and simple, like Calamity Jane. No, you name your putters like people name American Kennel Club show dogs: Sir Reginald Ping Backandfrontnine, Most Holy Roller of the 25-footer; Lord Odyssey Von Greensidebunker, Baron of Inside-the-Leather; the Teardrop Earl of Bentsodgrass, Duke of the Sliding Left-to-Right Downhill Knee-Knocker.

But worst of all, you believe that you can improve your golf game, and that one day other people will consider you to be a good golfer. God have mercy on your soul.

Your whole existence centers on one trite activity: hit and chase, hit and chase, hit and chase. Humans call this playing golf. Dogs call this playing fetch. It allows them to run around, first this way, then that, and chase objects that have no inherent value to them. Their tongues wag, they perspire, and they get some fresh air. It’s the same thing that happens to you when you golf, though you do it with less grace than the average canine.

What separates man and beast in this instance is that dogs don’t dwell on playing fetch, don’t read books and magazines about playing fetch, and don’t spend gobs of money trying to get better at fetching. Dogs don’t sit around after playing fetch rehashing what just happened. They don’t bark about how they could’ve fetched better if it wasn’t for the wind, length of the lawn, and their sore paws. Dogs don’t harbor deep resentment toward other dogs that are better fetchers than they are. Fetch is just something to do in between doing what they were put on this earth to do: eat, sleep, and occasionally mount your grandmother’s leg.

Just like dog, man needs to eat and sleep. We are expected, however, to succeed in an endeavor with more substance than chasing a ball, or humping our grandmother’s leg. Regardless of how fun these things can be, both should be out of your system by the time you get a temporary driving permit. In other words, man has been put on this earth to do something productive. It’s time to quit golfing and get to it.

No one put a gun to your head and made you golf. It was laid before you, and you grabbed it as fast as you accept conceded putts. Knowing how you got to this state is one thing. Leaving is entirely different. What makes quitting golf so difficult is this: Everyone is powerless over golf because golf is run by the Golf Gods, and there’s not a damn thing that you can do about it.

Behold, the power of the gods.

In the much-ballyhooed Showdown at Sherwood match in August of 1999 between David Duval and Tiger Woods, Duval hit a perfect drive, straight down the middle of the sixteenth fairway. His ball came to rest under a boulder that Jack Nicklaus, the course architect, felt would be appropriate to leave in the middle of the sixteenth fairway.

In this example it’s obvious that Duval did everything that he was supposed to do, yet he was powerless over golf as to the outcome. As good as David Duval is, after he hit the ball there was nothing he could do. Duval’s poor luck is technically referred to as “being boned by the golf gods.”

This circumstance could lead one to assume that the golf gods were out to stick it to Duval. This, however, is a myopic view of the big picture. Don’t forget that there was a reciprocal beneficiary to Duval’s poor luck. How do we know that the golf gods weren’t looking out for Tiger Woods?

This is a very plausible scenario. First, Tiger is the anointed savior of the game. The gods can’t have their man fall to his archrival on prime-time television. Second, this was a clear signal to Tiger that the gods had his back. Third, the golf gods had already stepped up to the plate for Duval earlier in the year when they helped underwrite the 59 he shot in the final round of the Bob Hope Tournament. For the most part, golf gods like to spread it around.

Sticking a ball under a boulder is a much subtler approach than was used by the gods in days of yore. If the gods had their money on Woods during the heyday of Greek mythology, when gods strutted around like rock stars, treating people with indifference, and sleeping with whomever and whatever they pleased, Duval would have been blasted off the golf course by a lightning bolt, end of story. Today’s golf gods go about their work with less dramatic flair than their predecessors; this is the reason Duval wasn’t lit up like Ted Bundy during his visit to “Old Sparky.”

In examining why we are powerless over golf, the golf god theory carries weight. Who among us hasn’t suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune on the golf course? A ball sliced through a row of trees appears to be heading for the safety of a parallel fairway, only to hit a golf cart and bounce back into the woods. A ball skips a dozen times across a pond, yet falters in its bid to reach land, drowning in six inches of water.

Once you think about it, the presence of golf gods makes perfect sense. Golf can’t be this hard; there’s got to be something else going on that we just can’t see. Much of what happens out on the golf course could be attributable to forces beyond our control. For instance, who could possibly take more than twelve shots on a par three? Nobody can, just the thought is preposterous. It’s from here to there; you could almost throw it to the green. You could definitely throw it and make less than a 9. But given the right circumstances, such as a rogue god trying to make a name for himself, nothing is out of the realm of possibility.

Case in point, Tom Weiskopf makes a 13 at the twelfth hole during the 1980 Masters. Even though it is regarded as one of the most difficult and challenging par threes in the world, an eight-year-old should be able to get it home in six. How hard can it be? It’s only 155 yards! Bunt it off of the tee, chip it over the creek to behind the green, roll in up onto the putting surface, and three-jack. There, six.

In defense of Weiskopf, it’s fair to suggest that had he wanted to make 6 he more than likely could have. At least two times out of three anyway. But throw in some entry-level golf god lurking on the lunatic fringe, and all bets are off. One in the water, two out, three in the water, four out, five in the water, six out, seven in the water, eight out, nine in the water, ten out, eleven on the green, two putts—13.

This is definitely not the work of a human operating unencumbered. The only way to rationalize something like this, lest the victim slide forever into a state of dementia, is to look for some sort of overlord as co-conspirator. Weiskopf should, as most PGA tour players do, acknowledge the existence of golf gods. They recognize the role they play, and realize that it’s their world; we’re just here to make tee times.

His acceptance of this is the reason he isn’t meandering around the streets of Columbus, Ohio, wearing his Ohio State University letter sweater inside out and mumbling, “I could have made nine. I could have made nine. Maybe even eight, but definitely nine.”

A collapse of this proportion, to one of the best ball strikers of the last half of the twentieth century, is the stuff of Greek tragedy. The role that the Greek mythology, gods, mortals, and everything in between served in Greek tragedies correlates directly with the role the golf gods have with the game. They are all over it like white on a Strata. The existence of golf gods also explains why golf is such a crazy game. The Greek gods were as screwed up as the characters in an Aaron Spelling soap opera.

Everything begins with Zeus, the youngest son of a Titan named Cronus. When Zeus grew up, he initiated a hostile takeover and dethroned his old man, making himself CEO of the gods. He tossed off a couple of minor executive-level positions to his brothers Poseidon and Hades, but there was never any confusion over who was calling the shots.

Concluding that he answered to no one, Zeus married his sister, Hera. He fathered many children; Ares, god of war; Eileithyia, goddess of childbirth; Hebe, the goddess of youth; and Hephaestut, the god of fire, just to name a few. Hera, by the way, was not mother to all these kids. Zeus got around. It seems as though Zeus knocked up just about anyone or anything, be they goddesses or mortals or whatnot, and would go to any lengths to get some action.

One story has it that Zeus had the hots for this mortal named Leda, who happened to be married to a Spartan king. That she had a husband meant nothing to Zeus, and apparently not much more to her. Leda also had this thing about waterfowl. Zeus, never one to shy away from a kinky escapade, dressed up like a swan, made goo-goo eyes at Leda, and the two of them got a room.

The tryst resulted in the birth of Polydeuces, and possibly his fraternal twin brother Castor, though Leda’s cuckolded husband Tyndareus disputed that. When Castor died, Zeus made him immortal like his brother, and from that point on the two of them spent half their time in the underworld and half with the gods on Mount Olympus. Sort of like a crazy uncle and his longtime companion who summer in the Hamptons and winter in Key West.

To further underscore that the Greek gods were eccentric and self-indulgent whackos, there’s the story of Io, daughter of the river god Inachus. She also made Zeus’s knees knock, which apparently didn’t take much. Word about Io got to Hera. Zeus, fearful that something bad might happen to his latest chippy, changed her into a heifer to protect her from his jealous wife (changing women into barn animals was the Olympian equivalent of setting up a mistress with an apartment and a Neiman Marcus credit card). Suspicious, Hera sent the monster Argus to guard the cow and keep Zeus at arm’s length. Then Zeus sent the messenger god Hermes to rescue Io.

Hera, who was fed up, but unable to leave the village and run for senate in an adopted state, decided to torment Io with a gadfly (not the lady who lived across the hall from your first apartment, but a real fly). Io, who apparently was still a heifer at this point, swam across the sea to Egypt, and in doing so set a world swimming record for bovine that stands today. Once again on land, she was restored to a woman, spent a weekend drinking wine and eating feta with Zeus, and ultimately gave him a son, Epaphus. This progeny put Zeus one illegitimate child above the NBA average. All in all, a grossly undisciplined culture, even if it was only mythical.

Today’s golf gods have an ancestry of torture, villainy, philandering, narcissism, dirty tricks, and incestuous promiscuity behind them. You wouldn’t want these types of people to take care of your geraniums while you were away, and yet they control all of golf. Knowing this, don’t you feel stupid for spending so much time trying to figure out why putts that look like they’re going to break left actually break to the right?

We can’t forget, however, that if the golf gods are responsible for all that goes wrong on the course, then there’s a good chance that golf gods also control all that goes right. This quid pro quo of golfing fortunes explains golf’s most confounding phenomenon, what we call the brilliant shot—the reason to believe.

The brilliant shot is the inexplicable shot that goes exactly where the golfer intended it to go, with total disregard to the skill level of the golfer. The presence of this shot is enough to cloud the mind of golfers into believing that golf nirvana is just around the corner. It lures them back for more, regardless of how bad the rest of the round was. Shrinks call this random reinforcement. You may as well call it crack cocaine.

Feeding on the golfer’s weakness, brilliant shots are distributed methodically and purposefully, as though the gods are saying, “Hey, dude, wanna get high?” Golfers get hooked, and therefore create return business.

The brilliant shot is usually presented in three forms:

1. The perfect drive. This shot is always, without exception, followed by the statement “Where’s that been all day? That’s how I was hitting ’em on the range.” That shot has been on the range all day because that’s where the golf gods keep them until it’s time to mess with someone’s skull. Then they toss it out there just to watch how the recipient golfer reacts. The gods are never disappointed.

2. The chip-in from off the green. Many a golfer will vocalize how he was “owed that one” by the golf gods. The golf gods owe nothing to anyone. Especially some chop who believes his drive into the woods, his insistent slice, his cold tops off the tee, his approach shots into ponds, and his chronic three-putting are the result of him being in disfavor in the eyes of the overseers of the game. Golfers are given a chip-in by the gods because they rejoice in seeing angry men spend good money to scrape it around, and piss and moan all afternoon. They want you to come back.


3. A birdie on the number 1 handicap hole. This occurrence is doubly evil. First, like many other euphoriant drugs, it provides a short-term sense of happiness, and deludes the golfer into thinking she can always feel this good. Second, a birdie on a tough hole will likely win a skin. Now the golfer is not only euphorically delusional, she’s got extra walking-around money in her pocket. Cash she will undoubtedly use to feed her Jones, with either a down payment on a new driver, or a trip to the range and an extra large bucket.

 

Most of the time brilliant shots will occur over the final three holes of a round, and therefore will be fresh in the golfer’s mind as he leaves the course. Without the incidence of these brilliant shots, golf would have the social and commercial impact of feather bowling.

Given that there’s no difference between the score of 103 and the 101 that is the result of the brilliant shot, it can be concluded that these shots happen for the sole purpose of golfer retention. So therefore, not only do the golf gods oversee the game, they are the enablers of the game. Pushers if you will.

They use brilliant shots as an opiate, and prey on the central nervous system of naïve golfers. If you’ve ever bent a shaft across your head and asked, “Why do I continue to play this stupid game?” now you know—you’re a junkie. As with all addictions there are health risks that come with golf. After long-term exposure to these sporadic shots, the problem golfer’s nerve cells begin to degenerate. This results in the golfer becoming physically dependent on an external supply of these shots.

The problem golfer will spend more and more time on the practice range. She’ll pound ball after ball attempting to develop the skills believed necessary to hit brilliant shots of her own fruition on the course. She will become proficient at hitting almost any shot she can envision while on the range, but under no circumstances will she ever be able to duplicate on the course what she does on the practice tee.

Long-term dependency on these brilliant shots can turn into a physical illness and central nervous system disorder. Many can recall seeing a fellow golfer out on the practice range after dark, grinding away, trying to find it. As a cart boy leads her back to the clubhouse, she’s seen twitching and talking to herself: “I’ve got to hold parallel at the top. Parallel at the top, pointed down the line. Parallel at the top, pointed down the line. At the top, down the line.” At this stage her family doesn’t even want her.

Most problem golfers will claim that they are powerless over golf because they are powerless over golf. They assert that they have no control over the time and money they spend on the game. Their devotion to the game, and their collection of silly golf stuff, is out of their hands because they are nothing more than a puppet on the end of the golf gods’ string. The problem golfer will defer all responsibility of her affliction to an outside agency—the golf gods. Believing firmly that since the gods have their fingers on the triggers of everything golf related, all golfers are powerless. So not only have the lives of problem golfers become unmanageable, the problem golfer is as crazy as hitting a one-iron out of a green side bunker.

When Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, he said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Two years later Alan Shepard would hit a golf ball on the moon with a makeshift six-iron. We can do many things, overcome enormous obstacles, and achieve heroic successes, like putting a man on the moon, but we haven’t figured out a way to quit golf—until now.

You should consider Chapter One a small step that will build into the giant leap of quitting golf. No chapter on its own can do the job, but in concert, the twelve steps of How to Quit Golf will release you from the earthlike gravity that has held you under the oppressive nature of golf for all of these years.

 

Reprinted from How to Quit Golf by Craig Brass by permission of Dutton, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright Craig Brass, 2001. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

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