Below is my story, “Low and Left,” which was featured in recently published Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Golf Book.

Low and Left

 

By Robert Bruce

“Do you think I should wait on him to move or go ahead and hit?” I asked my friend Mike.

“I don’t know,” Mike replied. “He’s pretty close.”

“Yeah,” I answered. “But he’s on the left side of the fairway. I never hit it left.”

Just ten years old, my golf skills were still in their embryonic stages—as was my knowledge of the sport’s etiquette. Most of my drives tended to weakly drift high and right. The occasional well-struck tee-shot would start straight, then fade down the right side of the fairway. But low and left? Never.

But with those last few heedless words, I started my backswing. A brief turn of the hips, a subtle rotation of the shoulders, and the ball rocketed off the clubface…low and left.

Rarely in life are we afforded the divine power of foretelling the future, seeing events unfold before they occur. Maybe when the car ahead on the freeway abruptly stops, and no amount of brake pressure will avoid the impending collision. Or when an errant baseball toss plummets from the sky toward a neighbor’s window.

As the small, white missile streaked down the left side of the fairway, I saw the future for an instant. I no longer hoped the ball wouldn’t hit the fellow golfer in front of me—that was a foregone conclusion. No, instead, I hoped it would merely hit him in the thigh, the butt, or at least the upper arm—someplace fleshy with a little padding. Just, please, not directly on bone. And, oh please, not on the head.

I would like to believe I heartily yelled “Fore!” on that summer morning. But, in reality, I barely mustered a weak and reluctant “Hey!” Mike heard me, but the fellow 170 yards down the fairway certainly did not.

Maybe if I just closed my eyes and prayed, I could pretend this never happened, that I never hit a golf ball with this man—possibly a husband, a father, a favorite son—just down the fairway.

But no such luck. The ball continued the seemingly eternal flight toward its human destination. Now just yards away, I realized that my Pinnacle was darting on a beeline toward the center of the man’s back—as if his shoulder blades were goalposts for a descending football.

My heart attempted to force its way out of my chest. And in a matter of milliseconds, my mind feverishly raced through dozens of potential outcomes, each more horrid and life-altering than its predecessor: broken bones, newspaper headlines, prison time, a funeral. What will Dad say? Will I be banned from the course? Will I ever play again? Do juvenile detention centers have golf courses?

And then, with a dull and horrid thump, the ball struck right in the middle of his back. Dead center. The lump in my throat grew two-fold. Though I tried to swallow, every ounce of moisture in my mouth relocated to the palms of my hands. I’m screwed, I thought.

The man halted his stride mid-step. He never fell down. He never slumped over. He hardly even flinched.

As if superhuman, some sort of mythical golfing god, he slowly turned around with his head slightly tilted toward his right shoulder. He stared at me with eyes that seemed to judge my entire brief life with one penetrating stare from 170 yards away.

I wanted to run. I wanted to point at Mike. He’s the one who hit you! I wanted to take some practice swings and nonchalantly act as if nothing happened, as if I were simply warming up for my drive—implying that the reckless offender must be playing on some other hole.

But, instead, I waved.

“Sorry ‘bout that!” I sheepishly hollered, waiting for the man to bolt into a sprint back up the hill.

The brute never said a word. He just continued to stare.

“Is he okay?” Mike asked. “That had to hurt.”

“I think so. What should I do?”

“I don’t know,” Mike replied, turning back toward his golf bag, as if washing his hands of any guilt by association.

“Sorry!” I yelled again, hoping a second apology would render the matter resolved.

We waited a few more seconds, still expecting him to charge back up the fairway, crazily waving a pitching wedge in his hand. You stupid kids! What do you think you are doing!

 

But then, stunningly, he turned back around and began a slow gait toward the first green, leaving my ball lying in the sparsely mown rough behind him.

In silence, I lowered my head and stared at the ground. I’m an idiot, I thought, realizing that I probably deserved this man’s vengeance.

But he didn’t shout. He didn’t throw my ball into the woods. He didn’t offer any animated hand gestures. He didn’t report my actions to the pro shop. He just walked away and continued his round, leaving me to wallow in my guilt and idiocy.

Twenty years later, I have no idea why that man walked away. Maybe he just dismissed me as a stupid kid, a ten-year-old not worth wasting his time on. Or perhaps the ball just didn’t hurt that much—although I can’t imagine how a line-drive tee shot from nearly 200 yards away wouldn’t bring pain.

Whatever the reason, I learned a fundamental rule of golf etiquette that day: don’t dare hit into the group ahead.

And, on the rare occasion when someone hits into me, I don’t yell or throw a fit.

I simply stare.

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