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On the range before the shotgun start of today's scramble, I am spraying irons, slicing three-woods over the 100-foot-high netting that protects innocents on the 9th fairway from public enemies like me. I am dropping internal f bombs, feeling my blood pressure rise, when I hear Shoemaker's voice from yesterday: This walk is about catching yourself before you become automatic.
He had snuck up on me, on my old self--hit a few crappy shots and regress instantly into the misanthrope with the furrowed brow and the Andrew Dice Clay vocabulary. With a deep inhalation and an act of will, I catch myself. I reflect on the homework I'd done that morning after deciding to blow off yoga. I'd written a sort of mission statement on the back of my notebook. The day before, Shoemaker had pointed out that most golfers arrive on the 1st tee committed to one thing above all else: not embarrassing themselves. He urged us to reflect on why we play and to come up with a commitment deeper and more meaningful than simply scoring well. To obsess on a number, the Shoe had told us, is to "miss the creativity, the connection to other people."
I had two goals, the first of which was to "be present to the head of the club"--be aware of where it was facing at impact. The other was to enjoy those moments between shots, which comprise, according to Shoemaker, about 95% of a round.
With an act of will I get out of my own way, hit a few easy five-irons (straight, at last), then find my cart. I'm sharing it with a guy named Eric Topacio. "That's the guy who's engaged to Tina Mickelson," said Jared Wood, who is also in my foursome, along with Mindy Affrime, the woman who is producing the Golf in the Kingdom movie. Tina is Phil's big sister, a golf pro who's one of our instructors this weekend. "This guy has to be pretty good," Wood reasons, "or she'd dump him, right?"
A fine golfer, Eric proves to be an even better coach, a soothing, upbeat presence. My approach on our first hole carries the paved road behind the green, caroming off a building and flushing a covey of gardeners. "Nice shot!" says Eric. "I think you hit the Wellness Center!"
We use two of my shots on the next hole. (But who's counting?) Mindy, whose preswing routine is a parody of a waggle--a waggle on Dianobol--hits a wedge to within 12 feet on 11, and Jared drains the putt. On 13 Jared bombs a drive; I hit a wedge to four feet, sink the putt and levitate off the green. Stinking up the range this morning is a distant memory. "I'm telling ya," says Eric. "There's something magical about this team!"
The magic fades in and out. My five-iron off the par-3 16th tee is a skulled grotesquerie that Hoyt Wilhems its way toward a barranca left of the green. I am puzzling--O.K., sulking--over this regression when Eric says, "Man, how pretty is that?" None of us is on the green, and it takes me a moment to realize he's talking about the vista beyond the putting surface: the Topa Topa mountains rising from the far side of the valley, garlanded by cirrus clouds. I do a better job, and have done a better job since that day, enjoying the moments between shots.
And there are plenty of those. Even by the standards of such events the pace of play is glacial. "I like Deepak," a member of one foursome says about Chopra, a few groups ahead, "but he needs to spend a little less time meditating over his shots."
Overall, though, Chopra is a useful guy to have around. With the shotgun start minutes away, he'd led a small fleet of hopelessly lost golf carts to the 15th tee. "How did you find it?" my friend Barbara asked him. "The universe led me here," he replied.