Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Why I Play

I blame Allie for this.

Every once in a great long while, a person appears in your life who
makes you...not question what you're doing, but makes you want to
understand it better. Tear the guts out and lay 'em on the ground for
all to see. Get *it*, whatever it is.
My it is golf. Has been for the last six years. A game where you
smash a small white ball around a field with implements ill-suited for
the purpose, to steal wholesale from Twain (I think). And as much as
has been written about the what of golf, the challenges, the
disappointment, the dedication it takes to play at the highest level
you're personally capable of...well, it's been a long time since I
really tried to figure out what I'm doing this for. Or more properly,
what drove me to turn my life upside-down and rededicate it to a thing
few respect or understand.
The only answer I seem to be able to come up with is that I owe it to the game.

In the beginning - when I was a younger Reverend, scrapin' for a shot
here and a putt there - I know I golfed for solace. I went to the
golf course for the same reason people drink, do drugs, sleep around,
thump bibles or any of the other activities people get into to help
ignore that voice in the head. You know the one. You're not good
enough, you're not smart enough, you're not anywhere near the person
you wish you could be.
One of my first breakthroughs in golf was the realization that I
don't use swing thoughts when I play. I can't. I have, and I suspect
I always will, hit my best shots when thought wasn't present. When I
danced with the girl that brung me. When I believed that my swing,
flat, shut and past parallel, worked.
And to do that, I need internal silence.
Golf allows me to shut the fuck up. To stop beating on myself. To
not use something random I see remind me of another failure, another
embarrassment, one more time where I didn't live up to whatever I keep
thinking I need to live up to. I can't explain it, which,
unsuprisingly, bothers me a bit. But in a way, I don't feel like I
need to. It's enough to know that it works. And there's a lot of
comfort in knowing that there's a place I can go whenever I need to
remember that I can be who I want to be. For an hour of practice or a
45-hole day, I have a place where I feel sane.
Maybe that's why I never want to leave.

My second big breakthrough came a lot later. I suspect it was
prompted from the three seasons I spent at Tor Hill in Regina without
a regular game. I'd just show up at the course and go out with
whoever I found. I wasn't interested in playing with the same three
guys over and over again; I wanted exposure. I wanted to compare my
game to everyone else I played with. I wanted to learn. If you're
looking through the right eyes, the 36 handicap can teach you more
about your own game than the plus-two - even if it's just recognizing
your own flaws in someone else.
Around that time, I finally made the mental leap that's made
everything make sense since: that golf is inseparable from life. At
least it is to me, anyway. It's a tool that allows you to see your
life as it is, as it was, and as it could be.
On the golf course, I failed, time and time again. That's golf,
though. The game itself has sweet fuck all to do with what you do
right - it's how you manage what you do wrong. What I discovered was
that I could accept my failure there, because the next shot is always
a chance to put things right. Blow one out of bounds? Fine.
Fairway, green, one-putt. Miss a green? Fine. Chip it in. Top it
six yards? Fine. Pound the next one. You can't do a single goddamn
thing on a golf course you can't put right - or at least learn from,
if you're paying attention.
You're bright enough to see where this correlates to life, I think.

Not long after, three people who I love very dearly took me to a
place I love very dearly: Bandon, Oregon. Just walking onto the
property releases something inside me, this amazing feeling of
personal acceptance. Cellphones don't work there, and neither do the
voices in my head.
It's a good place to think, I guess is what I'm saying.
I've talked about The Walk, the five AM stagger to the twelfth green,
on more than one occasion. I've talked about the moment of
self-discovery I found there, too, the nudge from above, below,
whereever. I understood myself for the first time with my feet
dangling in a pot bunker/urinal, Marly Red in one hand, flask of
Highland Park in another...or accepted myself, maybe. I know I walked
back after kissing my fingers and touching the flagstick a different
person. No more pretense. No more acting for someone else.
It really is all about me.

People play this game for a million reasons. They want to feel that
perfect shot, shot after shot. They want to take two bucks off their
buddies. They want to look good. They want to accomplish something.
They're all valid. They're all not why I'm out there, though.
I play because I fuck things up. I play because I set things right.
I play because it's one of the hardest things you can do. I play
because it's scary. I play because it's beautiful. I play because it
makes me remember that being alive is the greatest gift you've ever
been given.
More than anything else, I play because it makes me believe that one
day I'm gonna see Grandpa again. Because he taught me to play that
ball down and where it lies. Because he got it, whatever it is.
Because he gave me the greatest gift I've ever received. Because he
set me right.
I play because someday, I get to say thank you.

And if you're reading this, I'm thanking you, too.