This is in memory of Sam ( Slammin' Sammy) Snead and master instructor Harvey Penick as well as all the elder duffers of my youth who tried to help me relax.
I try to forget that regrettable September day in 1973 when I, an innocent 13-year-old punk, was invited to walk the hallowed fairgreens of what's now called Shawnee Golf Club, in Marion, Ill., alongside some psychotic golf-club-swinging, cursing peers. I had no particular interest in the game, and it was only out of boredom that I would idly take some air swings off to the side of the tee box as the lads waited for the group ahead to get out of range of the good shot that would never come from any of them. Then, it happened. About 50 yards in front of the 9th tee, one of the guys tossed a ball on the ground, handed me a seven-iron and told me to take a whack at it. Not wanting to scuff the beautiful grass, I asked for a wood and a tee and was given what I later learned was a First
Flight brassie (two-wood). I took some sort of whirling, Hail Maryish slap at the Kro-Flite ball and banged my neck with the shaft before spinning out of control and falling to the ground.
"You golfin' or diggin' for worms.... That's in the next county--to the right," were the needling vernacularisms that had been spouted after almost every shot by the three lads that day, but as I picked myself up off the ground after my wild swing, an eerie silence had fallen over the scene. And it wasn't a bird or a plane that the guy whose club I had used was pointing at; it was my friggin' shot making a magnificent trek toward the 9th green. Then we all started yelling, with extra gusto, a word we had to scream quite often that day--"Fore! Fore! Fore!"--at the foursome up on the green, but they were engrossed in totaling up their Nassau and were shocked when my ball caromed off the metal KEEP CARTS 30 FEET FROM GREEN sign behind the putting surface, rolled through their huddle and stopped in the front fringe.
Right there on the spot, an inner turmoil started to brew within me, as Old Tom Morris from the Royal & Ancient instantly anointed me a Golfer. My life would never be the same. I was hooked.
No Short Game Blues
My parents tried to dissuade me, but I made it clear that I wanted to play golf. I bought a five-, seven- and nine-iron, along with some 10-cent balls, from the pro shop for $9, and then set about hitting every chance I got, out where they eventually built Marion High's new football field. Slowly I added more clubs and better balls to the feed sack that held my precious dream sticks, and although I still hit four out of 10 shots totally sideways, or caught the turf three inches behind my ball, my self-taught progress was awesome.
In the summer of '76 I became a man among boys when I went out for the Marion High golf team. I rocketed drives 280 yards on the fly and hit long, towering irons like a PGA Tour player. Trouble was, my shots had the nasty habit of tracking to an area 10 to 20 yards left, right or behind the green. Most disturbing was my case of the yips when facing an innocent-looking chip or pitch. When I finally would pull the trigger, nobody but those behind me was safe from harm. Alas, I was still a hacker and didn't make the team. I was crushed.
I threw that first set of clubs into West End Creek and didn't play again until 1990, on a horrid day during which I was blessed with three holed putts of more than 20 feet, two par-4 greens hit in regulation, two par-3 greens hit (one converted for birdie), a chip-in for a heroic bogey and only one sideways tee shot for the entire nine holes. There was no stopping me, and once again I had stumbled upon the dreaded golf fever.