I played golf the other day and finished last in my foursome. I didn't mind losing to my boss--Tom has been playing a lot longer than I have. I was also okay with losing to a woman--Julieta is a pro golfer. What bothered me a little, though, was losing to Ernie.
"Don't feel bad about it," Julieta consoled afterward. "Ernie is really good for a 90-year-old man."
It is true. Ernie Dacier was born during the waning days of the Taft administration, and he whupped my sorry butt.
I don't want to say that golf is not my sport, because then someone might reasonably inquire what, precisely, is my sport--the athletic pursuit at which I am better than most people--and I would have to admit it is juggling eggs. Suffice it to say that of the many legitimate sports at which I fail to excel, golf is the one at which I fail to excel to the greatest comedic effect.
I was out there, basically, on a dare. My neighbor Julieta Stack was looking for a student to test out an ambitious six-hour training program she is designing to teach a complete novice to play double-bogey golf. (For those who don't know the game, I should explain that a double-
bogey golfer plays at the lowest possible level of quasi-respectability. If golf were rock-and-roll, and you wanted to find a double-bogey rock band, it would be Gary Puckett and the Union Gap.)
I immediately volunteered to be Julieta's guinea pig. This was unfair, right from the get-go. It was as though Julieta had claimed to be able to teach anyone to paint miniature frescoes, and Stevie Wonder volunteered.
Now, Julieta harbors few illusions. She's the ultimate realist. ("Sometimes someone will come to me for lessons because they say they want to be on the senior tour. And I'm thinking, 'Yeah, and I want to be Miss America.' ") So after a few minutes of watching me attempt to drive a ball off a tee with all the grace and composure of Elmer Fudd trying to brain a rabbit with a sledgehammer, Julieta smiled a little grimly and crafted a specially customized double-bogey-achieving strategy: I would not even attempt to pretend that I am a man. I would use only the smaller clubs and not try to drive the ball significant distances. (This was fine with me; I long ago sacrificed any remaining dignity to this column.)
Julieta was good. After three hours, she actually had me hitting the ball in the air, and in the general direction of the green. And when we tried a practice round at a short nine-hole course, I came within one stroke of double-bogey golf. All that was left was the real deal the next day at East Potomac Park.
I contend that I would have been okay if Tom had not helpfully informed me shortly before the match that he intended to invoke the Ankles Convention. The Ankles Convention stipulates that a male golfer who fails to hit the ball off the men's tee far enough to reach the women's tee must waddle to his next shot with his pants at his ankles.
So, I don't know. Maybe I was a little tense. The fact is that I spent the next four hours futilely hacking and chopping at the ball, propelling it forward with all the efficiency of a man kicking a balloon. On one hole I scored a 14, which might be a course record for non-blind golfers.
I admit I was also rattled by the presence of Ernie. There is simply no excuse for a person like Ernie, who walks as erect as a soldier, has a washboard belly, and plays golf not just with skill but with an almost otherworldly confidence that I attribute to simple longevity. You live healthy to 90, you pretty much figure that God's got your back.
On one hole, Ernie found himself slightly off the fairway, with a big, fat, thick-leafed tree squatting monolithically between him and the green. Ernie took out his 5-iron, addressed the ball, and hit it right into the canopy of leaves.
There wasn't a sound. Not a whisper or a rustle or any other hint that a single piece of greenery had been discommoded. The ball came rocketing out the other side at roughly the same speed it went in, and plopped down just shy of the green.
Julieta stared at this, turned to me, smiled, shrugged and said, "Ernie hits through trees."
After a while, I found myself attempting to take my mind off the wretchedness of my performance through theoretical exercises in epistemology and semiotics. For example: Shouldn't there be a term for a putt hit so ineptly that it winds up farther from the cup than it started? I decided this is a "puttz." I had two of them.
I wound up with exactly double par, a score so revolting there is no official term for it--though, at 144, we can just call it a "gross-out."
If golf were rock-and-roll, my game would be "MacArthur Park" re-recorded by those barking dogs.
Gene Weingarten's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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