ONCE A Year I play
a round of golf with my three oldest pals, the only lifelong friends I have. We
played junior high football and drove cross-country together. We were groomsmen
at one another's weddings. A few years ago we almost literally killed each
other during an on-course argument. "That's my ball in the fairway!"
one of my buddies shouted.
playing Maxfli," replied another.
It caused us to
reevaluate our friendship and got me started writing a play about four buddies
who wonder why they still get together to play. The plot goes to the primal
heart of the sport, which is what makes golf so dramatic to start with. It's a
dangerous combination: men with years' worth of grudges and metal weapons in
remote forests with few witnesses. What other game could conjure such
Sure, a free throw
or field goal to win the game can tighten the throat, and the bottom of the
ninth or the final lap can rile the stomach acids, but every shot in a round of
golf can cut a 4 1/4-inch hole down to one's essence. It places an unmatched
level of pressure on the player; there are no refs, teammates or coaches to
blame, no early exit to the dugout, no helmet or windshield to hide behind. The
scrutiny can force people into revealing extremely personal, often ugly,
character traits. Remember when Woody Austin attacked a putter with his own
head? When Davis Love III smashed a sprinkler head with his club? Or when
Sergio spit into a cup after missing a putt?
Golf's truth serum
causes even more unpredictable reactions from amateurs. I was 10 years old the
first time I played with my dad. It took only two holes for me to realize that
this mild-mannered M.D. was one angry s.o.b. (I learned the term
"self-loathing" later—from a golfer.)
My friends and I
live thousands of miles away from one another, we have less and less in common
with each passing year, and, despite our attachment, all we seem to do is
argue. When we play, the nostalgic niceties fall away by the time we reach the
1st green. We remain fathers and husbands with respectable careers, but on the
course the bullies, whiners, wiseacres and idiots who live within us come
bubbling to the surface.
Why do we do it?
Five years worth of rewrites later, I'm still searching for that answer. Maybe
it's because now that we've shared these hidden sides of our personalities,
facets that even our wives haven't seen, we feel bound together. We're more and
more different from one another, but despite the years and distances, golf has
made us closer than ever.
Maybe I'll get
some more answers when my play, Men with Clubs, which I finally finished, has
its premiere. The guys are flying in to see themselves up on stage.