The Downhill Lie

I like Hiaasen and I love golf. I should have read this when it came out. I’m not sure what took me so long. This is Hiaasen’s story of his quest to pick up the game of golf after giving it up about 30 years ago when he was 20.

I had a hiatus from the game also. It wasn’t as long as Hiaasen’s, it ran from about 1993 to 1998. After I came crawling back to the game my love for it increased considerably. Unlike my return, Hiaasen’s return wasn’t met with love. But I’m not surprised, my love didn’t arrive in earnest until a few years after picking up the sticks again.

And anyway, love isn’t funny.┬áPain and frustration is funny. And if you play the game you know about pain and frustration. Hiaasen goes into his own pain and frustration in great detail it’s funny as all get-out. Plus it’s full of keen insights into the game.

Hiaasen is smart. He didn’t go into this endeavor with dreams of glory:

When I decided to reconnect with the game, I had no illusions about getting really good at it. I just wanted to be better at something in middle age than I was when I was young.

That’s realistic, and highlights one of the beautiful things about golf. You can actually improve all the way into your 60s I think. This potential for improvement does not make it any less painful when you dump a $4 Pro V1 in the drink:

Hooking a new Pro V1 into the drink is like totaling a Testarossa while pulling out of the sales lot. It makes you want to puke.

That’s my man. I would love to meet this guy and just have a conversation with him. He cracks funny on a ton of stuff. Here is his take on golf magazines:

That’s because most players drift from weekend to weekend in a fog of anxious flux; they play well in streaks and then, for no plain reason, fall apart. They are seldom more than one poor round away from stammering desperation, and to these unhinged souls every golf article dangles the most precious enticement: hope.

It should be fun, but it’s so difficult to make it fun. Says Hiaasen:

Sure, I want this game to be fun.

I also want peace in the Middle East, a first-round draft pick for the Miami Dolphins and a lifetime of reliable erections.

Wanting, however, won’t necessarily make it happen.

In the end, even with the frustration, you gotta keep things in perspective, which I feel like I learned a few years ago after having some tough times. Hiaasen’s take on the frustration level:

Trying to be good at something isn’t a bad idea. But, in the turbulent and random scroll of life, topping a tee shot is a meaningless if not downright comic occurrence. A few players I know appreciate this truth; they shrug off their flubs and placidly move along. Such inner peace is as enviable as it is elusive.

I made a list about 10 years ago about why golf is fun even when you’re playing bad. I eventually brainwashed myself into appreciating being outside, hanging out with family and friends, and the potential for a comeback, such that I now have achieved a certain amount of that elusive inner peace on the course. It’s important to get there, not just for your own self-preservation, but for the people you play with. Hiaasen has this lament about playing on Sundays with his dad:

I’m wondering if he knew what those Sundays meant to me; if he understood that even when I was playing poorly and fuming like a brat, there was nowhere else I’d rather have been, and no one else I’d rather have been with. I hope I told him so, but, sadly, I cannot remember.

Stop for a moment, please, thanks. Keep playing, even though it sucks sometime.

No matter how frustrating it gets, and how much it sucks, there are those moments of total brilliance that anyone can achieve:

That’s the killer. A good shot is a total rush, possibly the second most pleasurable sensation in the human experience. It will mess with your head in wild and delusive ways.

Bissinger talked about this in 3 Nights in August, about the feeling a pitcher gets when his heater slaps the back of the catcher’s glove and the batter didn’t even get close to it. I’m paraphrasing, but any pitcher, he says, would think it’s simply a feeling worth having again. That’s why we play sports; sports are rife with chances for having a pleasurable feeling that’s worth having again. They don’t come often, but they come. Try and duplicate that dynamic during work, watching TV, or partying.

Okay, maybe it’s not a fair comparison. Maybe this elusive feeling is not a great justification for pouring time and energy into sports. But Hiaasen and I feel it is.