Here’s an experiment: find a couple strangers, perhaps on the street, anywhere really. Tell them you will be spending five or six hours together. You will be isolated and will spend your time in an impressive replica of nature, with rolling hills and pristine grass. Your partners will see you pissed off, vulnerable, maybe even whiny. You will see them in a similar light from time to time, as they experience their share of triumph and failure. They may tell you weird anecdotes or personal beliefs along the way. Also, there’s a good chance that after the six hours have elapsed, you will never see them again.
Sound strange? This is college golf. And, to an extent, high school golf. It is absurd, often frustrating, and, not often enough, rewarding. It can be, of course: I was part of the conference championship team in 2008, a participant at the NCAA Division III National Championship. Still though, something’s missing.
Tiger Woods won the Masters in 1997. I was eight. Immediately after Tiger put on his first green jacket, I went outside. Dug a hole in this patch of dirt in our yard underneath some trees, obscured enough from sunlight that no grass would grow. Found a Folgers can in the recycling and put it in the hole; filled the space around the rim with dirt. Went to the fire hydrant in my yard and took this little orange flag, there probably to signify utility work, and put it in the hole. It was my own golf course.
Par fives, threes, and fours: fives began in the front yard and crossed the driveway (considered a hazard, in case you were wondering); fours began in the same part of the yard as the dirt green, with an imposing tee shot through the Y in a white birch tree; threes were a little simpler, beginning in the backyard, with only a small chain-link fence between green and tee. Armed with a plastic golf ball and my junior Chi-Chi Rodriguez nine-iron, I played that course every day for years.
Even when I was old enough to practice at a public golf course, I longed for my own course. I took care of the dirt green, watered it when it got too dry in late summer heat and swept it when leaves blanketed it in fall. The winter was lost, of course, but spring always began with a trip around the links. Every time I watched any of the four majors — the Masters, the U.S. Open, the Open Championship (commonly referred to as the British Open), or the PGA Championship — I felt inspired enough to run outside and recreate some drama on my course. It wasn’t Lee Janzen vs. Payne Stewart, it was Kevin Morris vs., well, Lee Janzen. I could never stand that guy.
But it isn’t like that anymore. My heroes are either dead or ruined: Stewart the former, Tiger the latter. My once proud dirt green is now covered by the new tenant’s speedboat, parked curiously in the yard. I’m not recognized at my course back home, either because of new employees or the erosion of time. The only tournaments I play in are for college and the pressure of team golf can be overbearing.
It’s not easy falling out of love with the one constant in my life. No matter how much tumult there was, I could always golf. If my parents were fighting, I went outside, nine-iron in hand. It is just not that easy these days. I suppose I’m not so young anymore. I can’t place myself at Augusta, perhaps pinned against Tiger, needing a downhill right-to-left slider to take home the green jacket. Eh, who am I kidding? I’d go up against Lee Janzen.