Coach's Corner

Why you want to read about golf, Coach's great metaphor for life

A sure way to generate negative e-mail, always a good start to the day, is to use the word "golf" in my column. I could understand this response if I regale you with hole-by-hole coverage of the Colonial Open where I was, by the way, refused credentials ... thereby sparing you hole-by-hole coverage.

However, most of my golf columns have little to do with pars and nothing to do with birdies and everything to do with my struggle against all the many and varied indifferent, often hostile forces of the universe. Of the injustice, for example, of a $6 defective ball that didn't, like it promised on the box, "fly higher, straighter and longer," but instead rolled swiftly along the ground into the pond 36- yards away.

And if the Host of Universal Indifference is arrayed against me, well saportsfans, he's arrayed against you, too. The Host isn't, necessarily, about sports. Is your flight into Dallas delayed 45 minutes, cutting your time for a connection to under a half-hour? Your connecting gate will be in distant terminal B. Run if you want. You'll never make it. Why me? What have I done? You've just 4-putted a hole-in-life. Why me indeed!

The tale of the muni-golfer is foreshadowed, in fact, in the biblical tale of Job. Looking back on my decadelong struggle to shave the odd stroke off my handicap, I feel the old man's pain, though golf's torture is more subtle than heaps of dung and whatnot.

And so when you see the word golf, don't turn the page and send off another ugly e-mail but read on. My tale is your tale, and it's not about swing planes or double bogeys but about you in the wrong line at the bank. I write so you can feel better about yourself knowing I suffer, too. Worse, sometimes I pay $200 to do it! Golfers are a masochistic, anal, grim lot. Many are driven to drink to excess. Many drink to excess -- and smoke pot -- and they do it on afternoons when the temperature hovers around 100. We're a sick and pathetic lot. We are, in fact, you.

You are not, however, my friend Dunn, a fact to be grateful about. At 54, Dunn's a broken-down hulk of a man: an undignified, portly belly hangs over a new surgically implanted hip which stabilizes him over his knees, both of which are past due for replacement. His relatively healthy upper torso is unsullied by any sort of weight training, aside from the repetitive movement of lifting cocktail glasses and beer bottles to his mouth. Dunn and the word athlete are not often mentioned in the same sentence. In spite of this, Dunn consistently -- regularly -- whips me on golf courses across the USA. This drives me batshit. I took the game up before him, and I once was considered a jock.

Late this spring we met for a golf outing in Tucson. For the "high handicap" golfer, certainly an apt adjective for us, desert golf ratchets up the difficulty level close to the ridiculous. There's no rough, woods, or acres of open space: places where blind luck might, occasionally, allow for a respectable outcome from an errant shot. There's only desert in the desert; an inhospitable place inhabited by slithering reptiles, with plants and pitiless bushes well armed with all manner and size of thorns. Or -- if you're lucky -- sand traps the size of Maryland.

Desert courses also take the ground ball, an unsightly but often not catastrophic "high-handicapper" weapon out of play off the tee. Almost every tee-box, no matter how far forward you go, involves the dreaded "forced carry" over raw desert. And for three days and 54 holes Dunn's tee shots infrequently negotiate the carry. He clanks and skulls balls, on a tedious basis, off rocks, cactus, and brush: slices and hooks fly into places where multi-million-dollar homes will someday sit.

Beginning with gentle self rapprochements about swing path and leading -- in an ever-increasing arch of frustration level -- to more vocal reminders of, "Keep your head down, you fucking idiot," to finally the sad sight of an otherwise patient fellow pounding, pounding, pounding a $500 driver into the earth, I observe (with some earned satisfaction, I must admit) the disintegration of my friend's personality.

Not that I have no problems of my own, oh no, but compared to Dunn my adventures in the bush pale. After years of embarrassing whippings, I feel a chicken or two come home to roost. A wave of entitlement overcomes me. There is justice after all.

In the end Dunn's reduced to hobbling about like the Ancient Mariner, gobbling Advil every other hole, complaining of stabbing pains in his back, counting the minutes until he can have his first beer and finally, pathetically, accusing me of stealing his 4-iron (which would have been, by the way, doing him a favor).

Though I gloat, I do so quietly and even with humility. Like Job, I'm terribly afraid of the Golf God. Though I've persevered and smote a lingering parasite, he won't remain smote for long. As a metaphor of life golf is perfect: Our demons are never really tamed, just maybe, in good times, shoved into a dark closet for a while. They will return. Always.Multimedia

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golf, Job, Dunn, Host of Universal Indifference, Tucson

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