I love golf. I wish I was a better player, but then again, who doesn’t? It’s a rare thing days, though. For one, it’s cold and windy, which are my two least favorite outdoor forecasts. For another, golf is expensive and I’m trying to save money right now. But I do love to play when I get the chance, and I’ve been fortunate enough to play quite a bit of golf so far in my life. When I was studying for the bar exam I played golf about two or three times a week at Meadowbrook Golf Course in Lubbock because it was a great stress reliever, I could drink beer in the hot July afternoons, and with a student ID it was something ridiculous like $5 to play 18 with a cart after 1:00 p.m.
In those dozens and dozens of rounds, I have noticed that there are several little things that invariably happen over the course (pardon the pun) of 18 holes. Some have to do with gameplay, such as that moment when someone hits a shot that is way above their skill level. Others have to do with the experience on a holistic level, like that sudden burst of joy careening through your veins when you’re parched and you see the beer cart coming around a bend in the cart path.
I want to make two quick points. First, I’m not talking about good golfers in this article. I don’t know what goes on when Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson or Brooks Koepka or Dustin Johnson play outside the tournaments, so I can’t in good conscience say this happens to them, too. And second, there are hundreds of little moments in golf, but the seven here are the ones that seem to happen more frequently than most in my experience. That said, if you know Tiger or Phil or Brooks or DJ or literally anyone with a PGA card personally, show this to them and see what they think. Maybe ask them if they need a bag sponsor or something. My buddies and I could probably scrounge up the dough for that. Blaze Fyre is one of the biggest golf nuts I know, so I know he’d love it.
But enough about me. Let’s talk golf.
1. The Weirdly Intense Nervousness on the First Tee Box
You’ve been looking forward to this all week. You made sure you had a few sleeves of balls, a handful of tees, and a full flask in your bag. You’re excited because you don’t get to play that often, but you went to the range this week and feel like at the very least you won’t embarrass yourself. You even hit a bucket right after you got to the course, but now you’re on the first tee box and it’s your turn to swing.
But wait. What’s this? What’s this feeling? Nerves? Over a stupid game of golf at a crappy course with people you’ve known your whole life? What’s wrong with you. Okay. Don’t freak out. Just put the ball on the tee…there you go. Alright. Make sure your grip is there, maybe a couple practice hacks—no, wait! No practice hacks! You never do that, so why would you start now? Oh, God. Oh, Lord. Okay. What’s wrong with you? This is like asking a girl to go with you to a seventh grade school dance. Why are you so nervous, numbnuts? Just hit the damn ball. Okay. Alright. It’s time. You have to swing. Don’t think about that pond 250 yards up and to the left. As if you could hit the ball that far right now. Plus, you never go left anyway. And don’t worry about those bunkers. Okay, just swing. Alright.
[Thwap!] Okay. Nicely done. Not the drive. The drive went 165 yards and just barely got past where you saw that old woman’s tee shot go when you were watching the group in front of you. But your ball’s dry, you’re not in the fairway but you’re not in bad rough. Okay. Alright. Crack open a Coors Light at 8:30 in the morning and let’s go.
2. The First Golf Movie Quote of the Day
What’s it gonna be? Caddyshack? Always a crowd pleaser. Happy Gilmore? Sure, that works for people in their 30s because they were in elementary/middle school when that came out. But when playing with folks born in the early 70s or older, that may not work. Or maybe someone’ll reach way down in the hat for a Tin Cup quote?
I always like to see how deep into the round I can make it before this happens. If I’m playing with my friends, who are all Happy Gilmore superfans, we’re unlikely to last to the first green without someone saying, “you can trouble me for a warm glass of shut the hell up.” Personally, I’m a fan of this exchange between Shooter McGavin and Mr. Larson:
But then again, there’s something reassuring about the comfort of one of Bill Murray’s many great lines in Caddyshack. The Dalai Lama story, the “Cinderella story” monologue, or even that somewhat awkward scene with Chevy Chase when he’s talking about his new hybrid grass.
3. When Someone in the Group Gives Up and Just Starts Drinking
That’s not to say people haven’t been drinking already. But you’ve probably been there. You’re 15 over through 9 holes and you’ve decided to try and enjoy as much time as possible being outside in the elements. Since the golf itself isn’t sparking joy, you decided to just have a day of drinking that happens to include a little golf. You might be tempted to start trying hard again if you have a couple of good holes in a row, but do not give into this temptation; you’re playing well because you’re not trying too hard. But now the balance is about keeping your BAC at that sweet spot where you’re enjoying yourself but you’re not actually drunk. That’s where golf’s little moments can be most enjoyable.
4. Search Parties for what Should be Very Findable Balls
There is no shame in losing a ball when you play as infrequently as I do. Sure, it’s still not a great feeling, but it happens. Maybe it’s a slice into the woods, or a hook into a pond. But the other thing that occasionally happens is you hit a good shot that you know should be safe, but because you can’t see where the ball landed from where you hit, you have trouble finding the ball.
This is the worst. It never happens to a bad shot. It’s always a great shot. That shot that was getting you back on track. But there’s a hard dogleg downhill and to the left, and even though your draw plays nicely with that scenario, you still can’t see the landing zone from where you swung, so you’re having to do a lot of guesswork when searching. This would happen to the pros more often if they didn’t have cameras and spectators tracking the shots. Your buddies saw it. They know it was a great shot. And for that reason there’s something vaguely humiliating about having four tipsy yuppies looking for a ball that should, by all accounts, be in the fairway. Sometimes you find this ball eventually. Sometimes you give up and just drop a ball where you think your tee shot should have landed, and most of the time your buddies are cool with this. But still. This can be a real bummer, especially if you had had a few solid shots in a row.
5. Someone Takes a Gimme That Wasn’t a Gimme
Ah, the gimme. Everyone has a slightly different way of determining when it’s okay to pick up a ball that’s close enough to the cup to be a gimme. My granddad always said “in the leather,” but he meant between the bottom part of the grip of the putter and the very bottom of the clubhead. That’s normally at least a couple feet. Some folks say “in the leather” but mean within the confines of the grip, which is normally only about a foot.
But each round there seems to be someone who picks up what would have been a fairly difficult putt. Maybe they picked it up four or five feet out. Maybe it was close but would involve a tricky bit of geography. Whatever the scenario, it always happens. Whether you call someone out on this depends on your relationship with them and the circumstances of the game. If you know them well and you’re just playing for fun, you’ll probably let it slide. Same thing if it’s a rando single that got assigned to your group of three. But if it’s for money, you say something.
One important thing to remember is that the gimme itself is a stroke. I’ve played with lots of people who get on in two, putt twice and still end up about 7 inches out, pick their ball up, and take a 4. That should be a 5. The gimme is a stroke.
6. The Gambling is Proposed and Possibly Agreed To
This is always a funny moment. Sometimes there’s someone in the group who has been gung ho to gamble on the round since several days before the tee time. Sometimes there’s someone who wants to bet but wants to have some game about it like Wolf or Bingo-Bango-Bongo. But there’s always someone who has to broach the subject, and it can shift the tone of play a bit.
Then there’s what you’re playing for. Cash? Drinks? Who pays for the next green fee? In law school my group of friends played Wolf a lot and the loser had to bring a twelve pack of beer next time. The Market Street grocery store at 19th Street and Quaker Avenue in Lubbock had several $16.99 charges from me buying 12ers of Coors because I was always getting my rear end spanked when we’d play Wolf.
But the best gambling fodder is the pranks. These bets are normally on individual holes or even one shot. Loser generally has to do something mildly embarrassing like play the next hole lefthanded or something alcohol-related like shotgun a beer. Or maybe it all starts from something like me saying, “if I can’t outdrive that pissant shot I’ll finish the hole in my boxers.” I lost that one, and everyone in my group learned that I occasionally wore a pair of King of the Hill boxer briefs. I want to assure you that the pair in the photo below are not mine. My story takes place about eight years ago and I’ve moved on to other underwear since then.
7. The Amazing Moment
Every single round of golf has some amazing moment. The degree of amazing can be relative. If you’re Tiger Woods, a run of three consecutive birdies probably isn’t just terribly noteworthy. But if you’re an out of shape lawyer who only plays four times a year, then consecutive birdies will probably be a high you’ll ride for a week.
And the amazing thing that happens isn’t always yours. In fact, it seems to rarely be yours. But something amazing will happen. A 350-yard drive right down the pipe. A ball that was shanked gets a great bounce on the cart path and ends up in the middle of the fairway. A 57-foot par putt goes in. Someone wasn’t paying attention and makes a sharp turn in the golf cart, which momentarily drives on two wheels. I had the great pleasure of witnessing my grandad hit a hole in one once. I still have the clipping out of the Dallas Morning News. Or maybe it’s something as simple as parring 18 when you’ve had a really bad round leading up to that.
But the important thing about this moment is that it’s the moment that keeps you coming back. It’s the moment that silences that little voice saying, “why do you do this to yourself? It’s expensive and you suck at it. You could probably get like $400 for your clubs, maybe. But there are cheaper ways to enjoy a nice day.” Whatever little amazement occurs keeps you coming back for more. Trust me. At some point in almost every single round of golf I’ve ever played I have considered selling my clubs and telling people I have back issues that prevent me from playing anymore. But I never do it because there’s always some silver lining that brings you back.