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The Guy Chronicles

Golf Demons No Match for a Dad and His Boy

August 23, 2000|Chris Erskine

MIAMI — It's a nice sunny day here in South Florida, so we ruin it with golf. Poison it with our putting. Torture ourselves with shots that roar off the tee like the worst sneeze you ever had, slicing so severely that the ball ends up almost behind us, turning a 520-yard par five into a 620-yard par five. That's how our day is going. For a while, it's like we're playing backward.

"Nice shot, Dad," the boy says.

"Thank you," I say.

It is a measure of how much I love this kid that I even attempt this crazy game. He wants to show his grandfather how well he plays, and they invited me along.

"Sure," I lied, "I'd love to play."

And off into the muggy Florida morning we go. Warriors really. Zooming off on our electric horses, me with borrowed clubs and the boy with a used set he received for Christmas. Our tools of torture. Graphite shafts.

"Watch my 7-iron," he says.

"I'm watching," says his grandfather.

The boy is young and naive enough to think that this game can be played for pleasure. Like Tiger on TV, he sends sharp shots off toward the green, believing against all odds that everything will turn out for the best.

"Watch my wedge, grandpa," he says.

"Check your stance," his grandpa advises.

The boy thinks only of the future, only of the time he will march down the 18th fairway at Augusta and claim the green jacket.

Maybe next year, he thinks. Or the year after. Because golf champions are getting younger and younger all the time. So the future is now. If he waits too long, some hotshot third-grader will come along and dominate the game.

"Hey, what did you have?" I ask as we leave the second green.

"A six," the boy says.

"You sure?" I ask.

"Or a seven maybe," he says.

I'm pretty sure Huck Finn here is shaving strokes. He is also, apparently, giving himself a mulligan on almost every hole.

"Oops," he says after a bad shot, then reaches into his pocket for a second ball, drops it quickly and takes a bonus swipe.

"That's better," he says, before heading down the fairway.

It's like he's playing best ball all by himself. It's OK, because this Florida course is mostly deserted in the late morning. It's a luxury you hardly ever find back home in Southern California.

"I think he's shaving strokes," I tell his grandfather.


"He five-putted," I say.

"He's just polishing his game," his grandfather explains.

Me, I'm polishing my game, too. For every decent shot, I slap three miserable ones. That's one for four. In baseball, I'd be making $2.5 million a year.

"If you worked on it a little, you could be pretty good," my father-in-law says.

"Yeah, maybe," I say.

Truth is, I have worked on it. Like the boy, I started young. But too many double bogeys dragged me down. By age 25, I'd quit the game.

Now I am back. So is my old game. I hit the short and mid irons pretty well, but my long game is a disaster.

"Oh jeesh," I say with every C-shaped tee shot.

By the fifth hole, it's pretty clear that the devil is in my driver. There are demons in my 3-iron as well. I don't need a golf lesson, I need an exorcist.

Jack Nicklaus needs to show up wearing a priest's collar and waving a crucifix over my woods and long irons.

"Oh mighty God," Father Nicklaus would say. "Save this man from his demons. Save this man from golf."

By the back nine, I begin to set some reasonable goals for this round. One sweet shot. That's all I ask--that one great shot that keeps you coming back.

All it will take is a little patience. And a driver with a sweet spot the size of a schnauzer.

By the 10th hole, the change in my pocket has all melted together in the Florida heat. And my back is stiffening.

On tee shots, I seem able to coil but not uncoil. I look like Red Buttons playing in some sort of special pro-am for people with bad backs.

"Hey Dad," the boy yells.


"You're having fun, aren't you?" the boy says as we trudge to the 17th tee. "Admit it, you're having fun."

Maybe I am. One hundred strokes into this thing, and it's sort of fun. My pocket change has melted. My wallet is laminated to my hip. My back is spaghetti. But I'm having fun, thanks mostly to the fine camaraderie of our little group.

"Hey Arnie, what'd you have on that last hole?" my father-in-law asks.

"A six," I say.

"I think he's shaving strokes," the father-in-law tells the boy.

"Me too," the boy says.

The boy pulls his driver from the bag and stares down the 17th fairway. He tugs at his sleeve. He takes a practice swing. Then another. Finally, he lunges at the ball, as if lancing a boil.

The ball sails 150 yards straight down the fairway, a beautiful drive, true as a Sunday sermon.

One great shot.

Just my luck. I ask for one great shot, and God gives it to him.

"Next time, I'm being more specific," I mumble to myself.

"What Dad?"

"I said 'Nice tee shot,' " I tell him.

"Thanks," the boy says.


Chris Erskine's column is published on Wednesdays. His e-mail address is

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