Four days have passed since Kevin Na posted a 16 on the par-four, 474-yard ninth hole during the first round of the Valero Texas Open. His madcap adventure in the woods at the AT&T Oaks course in San Antonio made the front page of the New York Times. It was shown on the Jumbotron during an Oakland A's and Detroit Tigers ballgame. Last I checked, the YouTube video was viewed more than 648,000 times.
Why is Na's hockey-sticking the golf ball around in the woods so popular? I think the answer is simple: He became "every" golfer. Which of us hasn't whacked the ball into a place from which there is no escape, at least not without more whacks, bounces off tree limbs (and in Na's case, even off his own body), swipes that send the ball backwards and sideways and every which way but out of trouble?
At this point, I should add that I attended the 1965 Canadian Open at the Mississaugua Golf and Country Club with my father. We were at the 18th green when the professional Ernie Nerlich, from Richmond Hill, hit his second shot into the woods to the right of the green. Those woods are dark and deep, but Nerlich ventured down there. Soon my dad and I, along with the spectators around the green, heard a ball smack into a tree. This kept happening. Smack, whack, ricochet.
Finally the ball came out, followed by Nerlich. He made a 14, and from then on a score of seven on the 18th at the course became known as a Half-Nerlich. Beautiful. Nerlich was a courtly fellow who eventually got into the golf travel business with his wife. He took his experience well. It did not break him.
Now, every golfer has had such an experience. The Yiddish word "tsouris" is perfect for what happened to Na. Perhaps the word occurs to me because I am writing this on the afternoon of the evening when Jews all over the world will celebrate Passover. "Tsouris" means "distress, trouble, problems." Na got himself into a situation that was tsouris, tsouris, and more tsouris.
Now, this isn't to compare the events that families will discuss at the Seder tonight ( I'm leading ours in Ossining, New York with family members who have gathered from Toronto, Palo Alto, Manhattan and Brooklyn). The story is all about an exodus, but I won't go into details. I'm writing about Na's exodus from the woods. He finally did escape to the promised land of the green, and what a time he had. Good for him for laughing about it when he emerged from the forest.
Na's moment in the sun - whoops - woods, has provided all golfers the opportunity to recall their own golfing tsouris. For me, two immediately came to mind. It pains me to bring them to the light of print. Doing so will probably give me a classic symptom of tsouris, heartburn, that is.
I was playing the first round of the Canadian Junior at the most excellent Brantford Golf and Country Club, deep in the last century. I hit a fine tee shot on the first hole, a par-five, and elected to go for the green with my second shot. I came off a 2-iron just slightly, and found a greenside bunker. My lie was good. The shot was conventional.
But I bladed my sand wedge over the green and out of bounds. I watched as it soared high and not so mighty, but way too far. Perhaps it landed on a nearby rail line. Now I had to drop under penalty of stroke and distance in the same bunker. Playing my fifth shot after having taken not a grain of sand with my first attempt to exit the bunker, I took so much sand that I didn't extricate the ball from the bunker.
Now I was playing my sixth shot, which I managed to get on the green, just. The hole was cut on the other side of the green, so naturally, I three-putted. I opened the Canadian Junior with a nine.
Need I say that I was unsettled? I was all a'twitter with anxiety, shaken to my golfing foundations. I don't recall my score for the round, but it was nothing to write home about. It is, however, something to write about now. Thank you, Kevin Na.
Many, many years later, I was playing the club championship at the National Golf Club in Woodbridge, Ontario. I reached the difficult par-four seventh hole in decent shape during the first round. There's a deep, dark gully full of nasty vegetation between the fairway and the green, and woods left of the green.
Adopting my usual attitude of fear of what might happen with a bad shot, I hit a bad shot. My ball sailed into the bunker right of the green. More than 30 years had passed since I hit my second shot into that bunker right of the first green at Brantford. Suddenly I was flooded with vivid memories of that experience.
Lying two, and facing an almost exact duplicate of the shot when I was a teenager, I bladed my sand wedge across the green and into the forest. I knew the ball was gone. Playing my fifth, with the same penalty, I bladed that into the woods again. I knew the ball was gone. I slashed my seventh over the green into the forest. I knew that ball was also gone.
Now I was playing my ninth shot. I took too much sand and just got it on the green, maybe 50' from the hole. Three putts later, I'd made a twelve.
My double-figure score was the talk of the club that day. After I finished my round, I think I was able to laugh through my tsouris. My heartburn settled down some time later. It has returned as I have written this account. Tsouris, thy name is golf.
ALSO FROM LORNE RUBENSTEIN:
Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association's first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada's Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and, most recently, he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 11 books, including The Natural Golf Swing, with George Knudson (1988); Links: An Insider's Tour Through the World of Golf (1990); The Swing, with Nick Price (1997); The Fundamentals of Hogan, with David Leadbetter (2000); A Season in Dornoch: Golf and Life in the Scottish Highlands (2001); Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); and his latest, This Round's on Me (2009). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein