Coach's Corner

A rookie "sports- writer," nervous and paranoid, is attending his first staff meeting. He's chastised by the opinionated veteran food writer, ominously warning the new kid about "ignoring golf." The sportswriter's never played golf. He thinks golfers are dorks.

Barton Creek Country Club, April '92: Determined to prove this premise, the sportswriter enrolls in the Barton Creek Golf School. His intention? To pen a caustic, scalding screed, lambasting those whose life consists of swinging at a dimpled ball. Three days later, the sportswriter, hands swollen to the size of Christmas hams, leaves the school, utterly obsessed. Not that golf is fun. No, it is that he, a jock in his youth, can be so pathetically inept at striking an unmoving object.

Lakeway Academy of Golf, June '96: The sportswriter, now a confirmed masochist, looks for a "vacation." He stumbles upon a brochure advertising Lakeway's summer school, held at the Kissing Camels Country Club, "The most beautiful golf course in all of Colorado."

The writer's vacations have been marred. Class-4 hurricanes, blinding blizzards, torn retinas, and broken bones are standard fare. A local gives the obligatory "it's never" speech. You know, it's never been so hot cold/rainy/windy/muggy/dry or snowy. All in reverse proportion to whatever it is you want to do. True to form, sunny, dry Colorado, which had been experiencing a Texas-like drought, was choking on rain. Huge, black, lightning-filled clouds covered the sky. The writer sold his girlfriend -- a non-golfer -- on this trip, lavishing praise on the beautiful pool at the foot of Pike's Peak. The rain is relentless.

Sitting around the club patio, on lunch break with his fellow duffers, he thinks it's harder coming up with a story this time. He doesn't think the game's funny anymore. He's not here to toss sardonic daggers. He needs to know how to hit the green from 50 yards out. He needs to know how to distribute his weight in an uneven lie. He desperately needs a way, short of putting, out of the sand. He needs to know, from 130 yards out with the wind in his face, looking at an uphill pull to a raised, bunkered green at an altitude of 5,230 feet, in the rain, which club to choose, 7 or 8 iron? He's become a dork.

But, anyone rabid enough to come thousands of miles to blister their hands and egos isn't deterred by some rain. Though even the clubmembers are wise enough to stay indoors, the fanatical little gathering could be found, no matter how hard the deluge, on the putting green ("Eyes over the ball"), in a muddy sand trap ("Weight forward!"), on the pitching range ("Toss it underhand"), on the driving range ("Head down, elbow out, weight some damn place"), or out on the course, the rumble of thunder their constant companion.

The tiny assembly rather nicely spanned the entire spectrum of golf "skills." They include a financial tycoon and his wife, both rank beginners. The tycoon is looking for a way to relax. Representing quite nicely the vast middle level of ugly hackers, the writer and a youthful optometrist from Canada. Loyce and Aubry embodied the sun-drenched, spent-years-in-a-golf-cart set. Loyce played on the '54 Rice Cotton Bowl team. He's a big man with massive, leathered hands. He's the class big hitter. Aubry never, ever, misses a fairway. These two play a lot of golf.

The instructors, Brian and Jay, water incessantly dripping from sodden rain gear, were ever-patient, though they would have been quite happy -- more than once -- to head into the clubhouse, if the obsessive group had not been so determined to master the various and sundry maddening techniques at hitting the stupid ball.

The sportswriter, ready at any time to complain and gripe about almost anything, was cowed into impersonating a jolly fellow. No matter how merciless the conditions, no one ever lamented the unfortunate meteorological luck.

Sunday, the last morning, naturally dawned picture perfect, displaying an almost purple clear sky and a heretofore obscured mountain range. No one said (though the writer thought it), "Well, shit! Now it gets nice!" This relentless optimism, coupled with Jay's frequent lectures on positive thinking ("I really am a good golfer," "I really don't suck," "I'm not a loser"), had an uncharacteristic effect on the sportswriter. He became indifferent to the rain and cold. He didn't even gripe too bitterly about the split pea soup -- one of nature's most revolting concoctions -- served for lunch.

The tycoon's wife had a career of thrills, holing a 60-foot chip and a 30-foot putt. The optometrist cured his slice. Loyce and Aubry played 18 holes after six hours of school. The sportswriter, helpless as a duckling from inside of 90 yards, learned the pitch shot. He could get out of the sand. Indeed, he became a believer. After an ugly shank, he learned it was bad form pounding the club into the mud. Instead, he closed his eyes and thought a good thought. After a nasty, snapping duck-hook, he didn't fall to his knees crying out to an indifferent, nay, spiteful God. No, no. Instead, as Jay suggested, he made an affirmation: "I am worthy. I am good. It's just a golf shot. I am worthy." n

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