Leader Blues

Friday, March 27, 2009

SPORTS >> Golf hands out rewards, punishments arbitrarily

Leader sports editor

Two weeks ago, 62-year old Norwegian Unni Haskell recorded a hole-in-one on her very first official shot on a golf course.

Let me start by saying, golf is among the cruelest of sports. It is a game that once had my father hopping the fence and heading to a pub after missing a short putt on the fourth hole. It is a vile, pernicious activity, one which directly or indirectly is responsible for the luxurious lifestyles of many a psychologist.

It is a game (though “game” normally connotes joy and frivolity so I use that word reluctantly here) known for arbitrarily handing out punishment and reward without regard to the innate goodness or evil of its practitioners. Sadaam Hussein might have been blessed with a beautiful game while Mother Theresa probably would have suffered though a lifetime of shanks. North Korea maintains that crazed, evil leader Kim Jong Il once made 18 straight holes-in-one. Propaganda? You’d think so, but I’ve seen enough of this game to believe it could be true.

True story: A golfer many strokes my inferior once made a bet with me that he could get up and down in two from 30 yards off the green. I greedily accepted the bet as it required nothing from me or my hopelessly neurotic game.

The fellow chunked the first shot about 15 yards, then turned to me and asked for double-or-nothing on the same bet. Whereupon he holed his chip, winning BOTH bets.

Another true, equally odious story: I came into the 18th hole tied in three Nassaus with a fellow who proceeded to hit the ball way, way out of bounds … or so it seemed. Turns out his ball hit a condo some 50 yards off the fairway and bounded back into play. Shook beyond all hope of recovery, I ended up missing a two-footer to lose all three bets.

Anyway, it got me thinking about Ms. Haskell and the unlikely and, I hasten to add, wholly undeserved result of that first swing of hers.

Especially when I saw that she used a driver on the 75-yard hole and that the ball sprayed across the ground and “bumped, skittered and rolled” into the cup.

“I didn’t know it was that big of a deal,’’ she blithely told the St. Petersburg Times. “I thought all golfers do this.’’

No, Ms. Haskell, we do not. Oh, yeah, we hit shots like that – they just don’t go in the hole. They go into lakes, yes. Out of bounds, certainly. Into sand traps — if we’re lucky.

Anyway, it all got me thinking just how Mrs. Haskell’s husband must have reacted to his wife’s good fortune that day:

“Honey, it’s only 75 yards. Are you really going to use a driver?”

“Bjorn, please, it’s my first shot.”

“Look at that thing scoot! Why, it’s heading for the green! By God, it hit something and kicked right toward the hole … where did it go?”

“Why, I think it went in the hole, dear. Isn’t that the idea? You go ahead and hit. I think I’ll just walk around the rest of the day. This game seems stupid.”

“But … did … it really … go in the … the hole?”

“What’s the big deal, baby? I thought that was the object of the game.”

“But I’ve been playing 37 years. I was a six-handicap at one time. I NEVER got a hole-in one.”

“Maybe you try too hard, Bjorn. Honestly, it just doesn’t seem that difficult to me. Now go ahead and hit … Ooh, in the trap. Why did you hit it there, dear?”

“Well, of course, I didn’t mean to … Unni, do you realize how improbable what you just did is?”

“Really, you’re making too big of a deal of this … Ooh, you missed another one.”

“Missed another one! Why I just hit a sand shot to within a foot! That was a great shot!”

“It’s a miss, dear. But I think your trying to put a happy front on it is charming.”

“So you think every shot is supposed to go in the hole? That’s it! I can’t wait to see your drive on No. 2.”

“No, really, I’m done with this game. I just don’t see the point … Oh, dear, were you trying to miss that putt? Come on, quit joking around.”

“I’m NOT joking. Those are called yips. And I assure you, if you’ll just stick with this game, they’ll soon have you by the throat.”

(Yawning) “I’m sure you’re right, dear. But, really, I think I’ll try some other sport, one that presents a little challenge or has a little higher learning curve.”

“But I assure you, Unni, golf IS the most difficult game you’ll play. It is a vile, ugly, wholly unrewarding activity … Why, see there? See how I just duck- hooked my drive out of bounds? THAT’S what golf is! Now I insist you select a club and hit.”

“That’s sweet of you dear. But I think I’ll pass. Let’s go try to find your ball. If you’d just hit it in the hole, we’d always know where it was ... Try aiming for the green this time ... no, not at me, dear, the GREEN.