By JEFF PICKELL
Someone once said, “Man is the only creature that drinks when it is not thirsty.”
That quote should be extended to, “Man is the only creature that bulldozes and landscapes massive stretches of untouched nature, spends great sums on metal shafts and tiny balls, and wakes up at 5:30 a.m. on a Saturday so that it can drink when it is not thirsty.”
For those who don’t share my wry and unfunny sense of humor, I’m referring to the often simultaneous acts of playing golf and drinking beer, which comprise the unofficial pastime of American businessmen who should be at work but hate their jobs.
I suppose the pleasing combination of alcohol and whacking the buh-jesus out of something offers some consolation for these miserable men, but it never has for me. On the contrary, playing golf makes me hate my life even more.
Here’s why: my mom always tells me I shouldn’t sweat the stuff I can’t control, so I don’t. I don’t sweat things like my poor diet, dire physical shape, outrageous spending habits, dirty dishes, tattered wardrobe, or childish lack of self-control.
However, I do sweat things I should be able to control, like the trajectory of a tiny ball sitting on a tee. My friend Will describes a miracle as a momentary breakdown of the laws of physics. If this is the case, golf is one big old miracle, because there’s not a physicist on the planet who can explain to me how, by swinging a club forward, I can send a ball careening 150 yards to my right.
And there’s not a physicist on the planet who can explain to me how my brother John’s seemingly identical swing sends the ball 350 yards down the fairway.
John and I teamed up against six other family members last week for the annual Fourth of July golf outing, and from the woods, sand traps, water hazards, weeds and, occasionally, rough, I had the pleasure of watching my brother play one of the best games of his life. With a five over par 41, he carded the top score of all the participants, but, sadly, my 18 over par round put us out of the running for the team title.
However, I’m not ashamed to say that’s the closest I’ve ever gotten to beating John.
My brother has always been better at sports than me because he has something that I lack: not being a head case. For John, when it comes to hitting a ball straight, that’s as easy as it is; he puts his mind to it, and his body cooperates. My mind and my body hate each other, as, I believe, my athletic record—and appearance—demonstrates.
But that’s why I enjoy watching John when he’s in form; it’s almost sublime to see someone similarly burdened with these toxic Pickell genes competing so gracefully and graciously. It’s reassuring to know that, perhaps, with a little genetic engineering, I, too, might one day run a mile without feeling like my lungs are trying to kick their way out of my chest.
I’m not going to turn this into a “let’s fawn all over John,” column, though. His athletic dominance of our family is far-reaching, but not absolute. For instance, I’m far superior to him at the noble aquatic game of Marco Polo. I’m unmatched at trampoline dodge ball. On our bicycles, I can peddle hands-free farther than him.
Also, I can juggle three tennis balls to his two, and make my ears twitch while doing it.
I should say too, though, that there’s an advantage to being as bad as I am at golf; I get more opportunities to hit great shots than John does.
For example, John rarely gets the chance to pop a ball 120 yards onto the green from atop a stump in the middle of a forest, as I did last Tuesday. And I’m pretty sure that John has never used his driver to send a ball 200 yards down the fairway after a 12-yard tee-off that landed in a sand trap.
These dazzling displays often make John’s “straight” shots that land where he intends seem paltry in comparison.
There are also health benefits to my style of play. Since 80 percent of my balls land places a cart can’t navigate, I spend a lot of time walking. I also burn a lot of calories scratching the poison ivy and poison sumac rashes I get from an average day on the golf course.
So, next time you see calamine-soaked “Pink Legs” Pickell walking around the neighborhood, know that he’s probably spent a day reaffirming his fallibility on the golf course.– July 12, 2006