In my darkest golfing moments, which inevitably involve hacking my way through thick boreal undergrowth as I look for my sixth shot on a par-four hole, I often wonder how life would have turned out had I followed my instincts the first time I walked into a golf shop.
It was 12 years ago and, for reasons I will no doubt someday explain to a psychiatrist, I had just decided to take up golf. Why a 48-year-old guy whose only brush with golf almost three decades before had ended in the kind of public humiliation normally reserved for philandering politicians had made such a decision will also be part of that psychiatrist’s thick file.
What I’ll have to explain to him is why someone who spent most of his life believing golf was for those who couldn’t play real sports or for those who had suffered serious damage to the part of the brain that controls fashion sense had made such a decision.
Regardless, there I stood among a shimmering forest of new clubs that bore price tags I had previously associated with cars, excitedly explaining to a sales clerk that my accommodating wife had given me a gift certificate in celebration of my life-altering decision.
"So you’ve just started golfing," the clerk said, with a smile that conjured up images of the mechanical shark in Jaws, or possibly Dick Cheney. "Welcome to hell."
I’m still not sure what sales manual this guy had read, but there have been many times when I’ve thought that I should have run as fast and as far away as I could, instead using that gift certificate for a nifty pair of plaid golf pants that might match my hounds-tooth sports jacket.
It’s not that I don’t love the game. In fact, there’s nothing that stirs my blood more than a well-hit drive off the tee. (This, too, will be noted by the aforementioned psychiatrist.)
It’s just that the game doesn’t love me.
If it were a benign neglect, I could live with the rejection. But she positively hates me, taking sadistic pleasure in teasing me with the occasional glimpse of 80 only to pitilessly snatch it away with back-to-back 105s.
She is a cruel mistress, so evil and heartlessly cunning you’d think her last name was Borgia, or Kardashian.
But I have not given up on my conniving bitch-goddess. Even when those dark thoughts cloud my mind as I make my fifth attempt to exit a pot bunker, I know that I will not stop loving her.
But like many hackers I have hit a wall – with a thud.
After seeing my scores drop annually, and with them the inevitable dreams of playing on the seniors tour, I have seen them start to rise again. When breaking 80 once seemed only an outing or two away, I am now praying to avoid triple figures.
I’m also lighting candles in hopes of avoiding another drive into the snack bar, an issue that may or may not be settled without lawyers.
Now I have to decide how I’m going to turn things around.
I could get to the practice range more often. I could if I had any idea of what I was doing wrong. But since I have no clue as to why I made a great shot and why a drive travelled 90 degrees in the wrong direction, whacking balls at a driving range won’t produce much more than blisters and a perfection of my slice.
I could play more often, but I’m pretty sure that doing something over and over again and expecting better results was Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity. And who am I to argue with Einstein, even if he did have a 25 handicap.
No, this is a job for the golf experts – mainly because there is not one exorcist listed in the Yellow Pages and trips to Lourdes are out of my price range.
So, I’m turning my crumbling game over to Golf Canada. Over this golf season, I will report on their suggestions, tips and instruction and, if there is a God, my improvement.
I’ll report weekly on my progress – now there’s some positive thinking – and by season’s end hopefully provide inspiration for all who get along with their clubs the way Newt Gingrich gets along with Castro.
It should be fun and productive. If not, I’ll have entered the seventh stage of golf hell.
Chris Zelkovich has accomplished many things in a journalism career that has spanned almost 40 years. He has worked as a reporter, editor and columnist for a variety of newspapers and his work has appeared in several magazines. His 12 years in golf have been somewhat less distinguished.
Follow us on Twitter: