News From Terre Haute, Indiana

June 16, 2013

TODD GOLDEN: Golf ... the beast within?

Todd Golden
The Tribune-Star

---- — Like many sports fans, my interest in professional golf is confined to the four major tournaments. Many prefer the Masters, some like the back-to-roots British Open, but I’ve always liked the U.S. Open the best.

I love the idea that anyone can theoretically qualify (though “anyone” almost never does) and that it’s played on our toughest courses from coast-to-coast. The U.S. Open is rarely tamed. It humbles the best golfers in the world. Merion has once again proven that adage to be true this weekend despite predictions that said otherwise. I like that.

Between work duties, I’ve watched my share of the U.S. Open this weekend. Even my kids have joined in – mainly to guffaw at Ian Poulter’s retro 70s slacks he wore in the opening round.

Whenever I watch, I start to get that feeling. Maybe I should go out and hit a few?

Those are dangerous, forbidden thoughts. I’m tempting the wrath of The Beast. I’ve successfully kept The Beast suppressed for two decades. You don’t want him to re-emerge.

At this point, you may (or more likely É may not) be thinking to yourself, “Hmm, I’ve never seen Todd Golden out on any of our fine area golf courses. There’s plenty of events he could likely participate in. And every time I’ve seen him at an event, he looks like he’d be immensely gifted at just about any athletic endeavor he’d consider trying.”

Wait … I should strike that last part? Just keep your thoughts to yourself.

It’s true. I’ve been asked many times to participate in the many golf events that take place annually here in the Wabash Valley. My boilerplate response is to politely decline in a self-depracating manor, usually ended with a simple phrase that describes my game, “I stink.”

Only it’s not self-depracating. I well and truly stink at golf. I stink out loud. But that’s not what I’m worried about.

Flashback, if you will, to the early ‘90s. George H. Bush was our President and all was right with the world so long as Right Said Fred was on our airwaves.

I was 21 and I played everything back in those days. Golf wasn’t a sport that came natural to me – my dad didn’t starting playing it until I was in high school, so I was never exposed to it at an early age.

I messed around and played some par-3s in my teens in Milwaukee and I’d risk everyone else’s life and limb with an occasional driving range visit when I moved to Indiana.

I once hit on a crescent-shaped range at the old Sycamore Springs Course in Indianapolis. I was golfer’s left and shanked a ball off the side of my driver and it went directly sideways golfer’s right. A duffer on the other side of the crescent had his back turned and never saw how close he came to permanent damage when it line-drived perfectly É between his legs. I didn’t even have time to yell “fore!” which is itself pathetic for a driving range visit.

But I didn’t start playing “real” rounds until I was college age. My buddies were getting into it and my dad’s interest in golf blossomed É to the point two decades later where he’s likely to retire to a golf community in the near future.

I was interested too. To this day, I feel that there’s few things better in sports than being on a golf course. Even the most basic of courses can be tranquil and beautiful.

Lord knows I saw my share of them. With no golf acumen whatsoever, I was a regular visitor to the woods, the rough, the sand, the water, and oftentimes, the hole adjacent to the one I was actually playing at the time.

That tranquility and beauty was like some devil’s trick he uses to draw you in. Golf was a non-stop source of frustration for me, hence, The Beast.

Simply put, The Beast would make Happy Gilmore seem like Thomas The Tank Engine. Frustration management is a vital part of golf and I had none of it. At that age, pride consumed me, and I had no time for the baby steps it takes to improve at the sport of golf. I just wanted to be good and so emphatically wasn’t. So I got mad.

Real mad. Many a beer can bit the dust on the wrong end of The Beast’s wrath. Replace divots? It would hit the fairway so hard in frustration with my club, I’d penetrate to the crust of the Earth. I distinctly recall a Styrofoam cup of soda being beheaded by The Beast. Of course, I hit that one perfectly.

If violating golf etiquette was an actual crime, I’d be locked away in a Supermax Prison.

It came to a head on the weekend I turned 21 all of those years ago. My friends and I played nine holes at Indy’s Pleasant Run Golf Course.

Pleasant Run’s layout abuts Arlington Avenue, and if you drove down Arlington that day, you were taking your life into your own hands. Even by my standards, I was having a bad day, and on this occasion, I was getting deservedly ribbed by my friends to boot.

The Beast was in full raging flower. Not only that, but in the pre-over-the-counter allergy drug days, my allergies made me physically miserable too. I vowed that golf just wasn’t for me. I “retired” … and The Beast went into hiding.

My only experience with golf since then has been flipping my left thumb up and down whilst playing Tiger Woods PGA Tour golf on my Playstation 3, but I still get that feeling to do the real thing.

Three years ago, I got the bug and actually did hit some area golf ranges. I went in open-minded, knowing full well that my extraordinarily limited non-skills would have eroded over 20 years time.

I hit a few times, but even doing that, I knew The Beast lurked. On the wrong day, I was one worm-burner away from his re-emergence.

So I’m in a quandary. Golf is a great sport and I’d love to give it a try again and expose my kids to it too. Perhaps I should take an actual lesson. That would undoubtedly help. I’d really like it if I had the option to do a combo father-son or father-daugher lesson. That would start us all at the same point.

I’m on vacation starting today. Maybe I’ll scratch that golf itch?

But if I do ... you’ve been warned. The Beast is ever-present. Hide the women and children.

Todd Golden is sports editor of the Terre Haute Tribune-Star. He can be reached at 812-231-4272 or todd.golden@tribstar.com. Follow Golden on Twitter @TribStarTodd.