News From Terre Haute, Indiana

August 4, 2009

From The Press Box: Golden vs. golf … golf is winning

By Todd Golden

TERRE HAUTE — There they were stacked in a dusty enclave in my garage. Staring at me … perhaps even taunting me.

It was a set of golf clubs that had not been used in at least 10 years. I had taken them off my dad’s hands for reasons unbeknownst to anyone in my family considering I was approaching my second decade of having turned my back on the sport.

Yet something inside me clicked that day. My personal Cold War with the game of golf was about to thaw. I wanted to hit some balls again … with hilarity sure to ensue.

My relationship with golf has always been uncomfortable. Unlike others, I was never indoctrinated into the game, my family was not a golf family when I was a kid.

My “heyday” of golf activity was my late teens and college years when I’d play with my buddies or with my dad and uncles. My skill level was miles below average, and to make matters worse, I’d physically suffer on the course during my pre-Claritin allergy days.

Worse, my course demeanor was just south of psychotic.

I made Happy Gilmore’s rants look like a Barney skit. I couldn’t hit a good drive to save my life, but if I hooked one into the trees or failed to hit it past the ladies’ tees, I was the Nick Faldo of angrily smashing beer cans.

I decided to give the game up for my own health, both allergy- and anger-management related. I haven’t played a round since the early 1990s.

Despite my long sabbatical, I have to admit as I (literally) dusted off my ancient clubs, that I was excited. I never had anything against the game of golf, just the way I played it. Maybe maturity and a near two-decade absence from the game would do me a world of good? I even told my kids that if all went well, maybe we’d walk a real course the following day.

Never have I spewed anything more insanely optimistic in my entire life.

I went to Fore Seasons Golf Complex with my kids and my ancient bag (no driver, only one wedge, etc.) in tow. I found a choice spot to re-introduce myself to the game, and by choice, I mean a spot far from anyone else to avoid braining someone with an errant shot.

I peered into my bag. Why start with a mere, work-a-day iron? Let’s start with a bang, with the longest club in the bag … my 3-wood. And when I say wood, it is wood. There’s not a hint of carbon fiber or graphite in it. Such space-age concepts seemed as far off as flying cars when my circa-1985 clubs were made.

I mosey up to the tee. I made my best guess on my stance and distance from the ball appropriate to the club. I remembered to keep my head down and don’t over-swing.

Here goes … and it’s a swing-and-a-miss. I had instantly forgot everything I told myself as I looked up mid-swing to admire my effort to “Tiger Woods it” all the way to Sullivan County.

I take a deep breath and tell myself it was OK. It was bound to happen as I shook the rust off. I step up again.

Contact! The ball sailed off the tee and looked majestic as it soared maybe 100 yards into the western horizon.

Unfortunately, Fore Seasons’ range faces south. It was quickly evident that everyone in the immediate vicinity, and perhaps as far away as Honey Creek Mall, was in grave danger so long as I had a club in my hands. When I hit, I should just skip “fore!” and go straight to “incoming!”

It quickly dawned on me how much my knowledge of the nuts-and-bolts of golf had deteriorated. It’s clear I need a golf lesson … or 900 of them. You could pool together the golf professionals from Vigo County and I’m confident I would drive each of them to madness with the monolithic task of teaching me the basics of the game.

For example, I had no idea how the properly grip the club. I still don’t know how … besides the putter, my putting grip honed at Putt-Putt’s from coast-to-coast. I was rocking some sort of reverse baseball bat grasp with my 3-wood.

Yet I kept spraying away. Did I hit the net on both sides of the range? Many, many times. Did I hit the roof above me? Check. Did I drill the windshield of the ball-scooping machine? Yes, and it was awesome, but it would have been cooler had he been in front of me, not at a 35-degree angle.

I have to compliment the architect of the range at Fore Seasons. Your design ensured a miraculous zero fatalities during my 60-ball barrage, though I’m pretty sure the ball-scooping machine driver had his life flash before his eyes.

I was emasculated, but undaunted. By all rights, I should never touch a golf club again and may God have mercy on my soul, but I have a Don Quixote-like determination to get this straightened out.

So after a cursory read of basic golf skills on the Internet — you know, the way the pros hone their game — I went back a few days later. I was much more relaxed and had much better concentration. I was still beyond God awful and I have no business polluting any area course with my presence yet, but I felt better and hit the ball straighter.

On one shot, it all came together. With my 3-wood, I somehow put all of the elements of a good swing together and crushed it. The ball sailed 200 yards, straight and true.

That kind of shot made me realize why duffers like me keep coming back to this frustrating, but breathtaking, game.

Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or todd.golden@tribstar.com.