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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Birthday Golf

All of us have weird, idiosyncratic golf rituals.  I was once chatting with my spiritual daughter, Jane Lybecker, about our plans to reconnect with family and friends in the aftermath of a great disaster.  I confessed that I didn't have a plan.  (Jane, who's remarkably prepared for disasters, carries a 4-day water supply in her car at all times.  I would succumb to dehydration.)
Jane and her Sister Kim, Ready for a Family Golf Round 

That led us to consider the barriers to reconnecting when, in our cases, we are separated by great geographic distances.  (You can't get much further apart than South Carolina and California.)  We decided that the best we'd be able to do if faced with cataclysmic forces of destruction was drive to the nearest golf course and play a round, all the while sending out loving thoughts to everyone in our networks, who would also be playing a round of golf while waiting for the world as we know it to end.

That solution is far more appealing to me than trying to fight my way across a vast, chaotic, hostile world struggling to survive so I can be reunited with Wes and Charlie and their various entourages.  Playing golf while I wait for the end, I'll be able to transmit serene, calming vibes to the people I love but from whom I'm separated because that's always the underlying emotional base I recover again and again when I take to the links.

I try always to play a round of golf on 3 special days in the year: New Years Eve, to say good-by to the year I've just lived; New Years Day, to greet the year I'm going to live; and my birthday, to celebrate the fact that I've survived another year.  I've played in cold winter rain.  I've played when the pond that intersects the fairway on the 8th hole is frozen and my ball behaves like a hockey puck.  And I've played when the weather was so hot and humid that I was drenched in sweat -- sweat, not perspiration -- before I'd finished the first hole.  But I've also played in shorts in December and worn a sweater vest in August.  As Tommy Pendley once observed when I finished my birthday round in a downpour, real golfers never permit a little inclement weather to interfere with a good round of golf.

Birthday Golf Foursome, from Left:
Me, Judy Cobb, Marie Pate, & Shirley Cheek
My Birthday Round was really quite delightful this year.  The August heat and humidity took a vacation from South Carolina and gave me a day of sunshine with temps in the mid-80s, and practically no wind.  But I was a little slow getting out of the house and the Star Fort Ladies Golf Association was a little early getting off the first tee for their regular Tuesday round, so when I glided into the parking lot full of hoards of men's groups and saw the 4 women's group lined up and teeing off my heart lurched.

No Warm Up for the Birthday Round!

I hustled into the pro shop and picked up a cart key and asked Fred if he'd changed the women's Tuesday tee time.

No, it's still 9:30-ish, he said, looking a little perplexed.

I looked at the clock on the wall.  Fred, it's 9:15-ish.  Why are you sending them off early?

He waved his arm at the mob of men milling around outside.  That seemed explanation enough for him.  I muttered about no time for warm-up.

Cadillacs don't need much warm-up, he assured me as he shot one of his most charming smiles and handed me a cart key.

I have news for Fred.  1940-ish Cadillacs need a little warm-up, but I slammed my clubs onto the cart, tossed my shoes on the seat, and chugged off to the first tee.  The back group had seen me drive in, made some personnel shifts, and was ready for me.  The game was on, even without warm up, and a lovely round it was.

The Birthday Foursome

I've written earlier about Shirley Cheek in the post Golf Clears Your Mind.  Golfing with Shirley is a spiritual experience for me.  She's kind, caring, and a ferocious competitor.

The first major birthday event when Shirley finally birdied a par 3 and joined the Birdie Club.  We start the Ladies Golf Association Birdie Club anew every January.  There are rules.  The birdie must be on a par 3.  Birdies on other holes don't count for the Birdie Club.  And there are quarters at stake.  The first chick to birdie gets in free, but everyone who follows her has to hand over a quarter -- an initiation fee? -- to the one who birdied before her.  It's kind of a round robin quarter exchange.

But once in, when one birdies a par 3, she gets to collect a quarter from everyone in her foursome who's also a member of the Birdie Club.  So, you see, there's a certain financial advantage as well as a status advantage to being in the Birdie Club.  Shirley, who's usually one of the first to make it into the Birdie Club, has been fretting for a couple of months about her lack of par 3 birdies, so we were all pleased to stand with her and watch her ball track faithfully from the face of her putter to the bottom of the cup.

I've played several rounds with Marie Pate recently.  I always enjoy playing golf with Marie.  She and I play at about the same level, and so we enjoy a friendly, gentle competition with each other.  But Marie's been struggling with the head bob/peek-at-the-ball syndrome recently, so her drives have been sort of dribbling down the rough in front of the tee, sometimes not even making it to the fairway and her game's been suffering a bit.

Between last Saturday and Tuesday, however, Marie remembered that she's supposed to keep her head down and not try to peek.  Her balls were flying off the tees with sharp, smart cracks -- that delicious sound I love to hear that tells me I've made contact with the sweet spot.  And, as is the case with golf, when one aspect of your game gets better, good things begin to happen.  Marie started collecting pars!  And she's such a pleasant playing partner that we all felt we were sharing in her victories over Old Man Par!

Judy Cobb always outdrives me, always.  In my defense, she has about 15 years on me and she didn't take a 30-year vacation from golf, and I love playing golf with her.  She's focused, serious about her game, fiercely competitive, and always challenges me to play better.

Somewhere in the middle of the front 9 I reminded Judy that today was my birthday and I felt an appropriate birthday present from her would be an occasional short drive, so that I could at least hit even with her.

Judy responded in much the same way as she did after she won our match in last year's Match Play Tournament.  I was playing with a torn meniscus and wearing a knee brace.  Judy offered to postpone the match, but I declined.  My surgery was scheduled, but I wasn't going to be playing much golf for a while after the surgery, so it was play the match or forfeit.  I played, and played well for 8 or 9 holes.  Then Judy got stronger as I got weaker and she won.

As we were walking back into the clubhouse after the match I asked her, Don't you feel just a bit bad beating a little old lady with a broken knee?

She gave me the same look then that she gave me when I suggested she give me a couple of short drives as a birthday present.  It was a look that I interpreted as: Dream on! This is golf! I'm going to tear you apart!

I really do enjoy every round of golf I play with Judy Cobb.

I got a really nice birthday putt on the 13th hole, a 25 foot, downhill slider from the fringe that had all the makings of a 3-putt when I initially plumbed it.  All four of us stood there and watched it roll, and roll, and roll, and break, and roll some more, and drop.  It was truly a glorious putt, a perfect birthday present from the Golf Goddess!

Judy bobbled a couple of drives on the back 9 and I was able to outdrive her, so that put a little extra sweetener on my Birthday Round.

And in the crazy little games we play after the round, I won $2 in the betting pool.  All in all, it was a delightful way to mark the passing of one year in my life and the beginning of another.

I've always believed that my absolutely perfect death scene would be to be found face-down on the 18th green, with the ball in the cup and all my bank balances at $0.  As you reach my age, you begin to have thoughts like this.

And so I play on!