There's nothing like hitting the perfect tee shot on the first hole of a green, green fairway at 6 am on an early Sunday morning. It almost doesn't matter what course you are playing. That first shot, that first warm-up swing even – ahhhh. Stretch those back muscles, twist around the 2 iron. Bend and touch your toes and twist around again. There, the kinks are out now. Go ahead and swing.
If you're smart, you will have hit on the driving range for a bit to warm up. Not too many balls, maybe 20 or 30 shots. Work up from a pitching wedge, to the 9 iron. Just a couple of shots – let the club go through the ball, feel the head of the club move back around to the top of the back swing with your longer irons, drive down and through and let the arc of the club act as the pendulum, your legs the power, your hips the pivot point. Now move on to the longer irons. Now the fairway woods. Maybe the driver, maybe not. Go ahead and save it for the first tee if you want.
Don't overswing. Don't overswing.
I had a McGregor persimmon driver and 3 wood. These were the old days, the days before metal clubs, the days when traditional craftsmanship and forged irons and true sweet spots on metal and leather grips for some were still the fashion. Graphite shafts were just beginning to be the "next hot thing." I had a wonderful old Acushnet Bulls-eye putter. How I loved that putter. The bronze-brass metal of that putter head was almost soft and caramel-like. On a hot summer day, the touch of that warm putter to a ball on a fine sawgrass green was zen-like as it followed a perfect curved line to the dead center of the hole. The plink of a golf ball in the cup on a green is the sound most golfers long for and if one is truly obsessed, it's a sound heard in dreams at night. And most days, I could putt. Give me a Titleist ball, a decent green with a gentle sloping rub to the left, a slight drop to the hole and I could sink 'em almost every time from within a 30 foot range.
And that persimmon wood. You see, there is still nothing like a persimmon wood, McGregor-made. No laminate wood for me. No metal wood for me. I liked my Titleist woods and irons, but when I competed, I brought the McGregor 3 wood and tossed my sand wedge out of the bag. With the confidence I felt when I had that 3 wood in my bag, and golfers are as superstitious, if not more so, than baseball players – well, I swear I never hit a bunker in competition. Perhaps the years have faded my memory and erased the difficulty of some of the lies I found myself in.
I speak of golfing lies – of course I do.
In last month's (February 2007) Vanity Fair, Graydon Carter mentioned an old Gail Sheehy Vanity Fair article on George Bush from October 2000 in his The Measure of a Man Editor's Letter at the front of the magazine.
(Flip past the Angelina Jolie ad, past the smirking face of John McCain the fisherman in the Table of Contents, and move to the page right after the Jaguar ad with the Benicio Del Toro lookalike model – sigh.)
As Carter recounts the Sheehy excerpt, he states "He is a sore winner. And a horrible loser." The implications for the next two years of our future have lurked in the back of my mind since I read that article and I cannot shake free of my alarm at Bush's arrested development behavior. I know, I just know that he has never grown out of this:
When Barbara Bush took her 13-year-old son and his best friend, Doug Hannah, to play golf at her Houston club, George would start cursing if he didn't tee off well. His mother would tell him to quit it. By the third or fourth hole he would be yelling "Fuck this" until he had ensured that his mother would send him to the car.
"It fit his needs," says Hannah. "He couldn't lose."
Part of the reason that this bothers me is the sheer entitlement and the appalling ignorance implied in that behavior. I, too, played golf at 13. Unlike George, I did not belong to a country club; I was a public course player. Well, you see, different socio-economic level, of course. However, I had the great opportunity as I grew a bit older, into my mid to late teens, of being invited to play on some verrra nice courses in the Portland, Oregon area and later, around the state. Peter Jacobsen's (for those of you who know professional golf – truly the nicest guy in the game) mother acted as a part-time mentor to me in those days and would often invite me to play in tournaments at Waverly Country Club as a junior golfer. Her younger daughter Susie was my age and we often played in the same junior tournaments and had about the same level of ability. Our senior year in high school, we both tied for fifth individual in the state high school tournament. I think Barbara believed that my presence might provide an impetus for Susie to compete more – she had the natural talent and ability, but not the driving competitive urge that her older brothers, especially Peter, possessed. And I, well, I was very lucky and had some great oppportunities in those days. I was also fully cognizant that it was a rarified atmosphere for a less well-off kid to circulate in. I never yelled "Fuck this" and never stormed off of any course.
Another fast friend, Roland Betts, acknowledges that it is the same in tennis. In November 1992, Bush and Betts were in Santa Fe to host a dinner party, but they had just enough time for one set of doubles. The former Yale classmates were on opposite sides of the net. "There was only one problem—my side won the first set," recalls Betts. "O.K., then we're going two out of three," Bush decreed. Bush's side takes the next set. But Betts's side is winning the third set when it starts to snow. Hard, fat flakes. The catering truck pulls up. But Bush won't let anybody quit. "He's pissed. George runs his mouth constantly," says Betts indulgently. "He's making fun of your last shot, mocking you, needling you, goading you—he never shuts up!" They continued to play tennis through a driving snowstorm.
This is a man who doesn't know when to quit; who has no sense of timing, who thinks he doesn't need to know diplomacy or the rules of the game. If he does quit, it is only ever on his terms. He thinks he just needs to keep going until he wins. That is not how the game should be played. This is not how a Presidency, or a country should be run.
Etiquette was drilled into me on a golf course. As a young golfer, I learned more about the proper way to compete on the golf course, and perhaps in life, and how to act when things are not going your way, than from any other activity I've ever been involved in.
I learned how not to block someone's line when they are eyeing their putt to the hole on a green. Not proper etiquette. I learned when to be quiet. I learned it's never acceptible to throw things (not that I was ever like that, but there were others who did and they were promptly castigated). Just not done. When I caddied occasionally during the summer, I learned how and when to give advice. When I competed, I learned how to analyze how someone else played the game. And how to look ahead and see what holes I might be able to gain advantage on, given my own strengths and weaknesses. For me, my weaknesses were always the long irons and a lack of consistency in lining up properly on a dogleg left. My draws were always a bit out of control. But my fades were a thing of beauty. I could hit a long drive like few others in those days.
"George would say, 'Play that one over,' or 'I wasn't quite ready.' The overtimes are what's fun, so you make your own. When you go that extra mile or that extra point ... you go to a whole new level."
Play the course, not your opponent, not yourself. Play each shot for its own value; read the fairway from start of shot to where you want the ball to land. Don't look ahead, just play the shot you are on. Feel your hands as they hold the grip of the club –it's like holding a live dove – you should have the lightest touch, coupled with the firmest grip, but do not hold it tightly. If you hold the club too tightly, the bird will either die or struggle to escape.
That is the way you hold a golf club.
Golf is a game of degrees. From tee box to next shot. From shot to shot. From pitch to putt. And then you start over again. Each hole is different. With each hole you get another chance (unless it's match play). There is finiteness to it from the first hole; after that you know you have only 17 more chances to make it right on that day. When the game is over, you sign your score card. Your signature implies your honesty in verifying the score of your game.
Then you shake hands and walk off the course. George, walk off the course. Game over.
(Note - This editor's letter was also mentioned by Maureen Dowd and referred to in dov12348's previous diary on January 13, 2007 on this site - "Maureen Dowd - Bush always "had" to win")