Golf Writing


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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chicken-soup1Can I market myself for one moment?

Today is a bit of a cool day for me. One of my golf short stories is featured in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Golf Book, sponsored by Golf Digest. The book, in bookstores today, can also be found on Amazon.com.

I feel blessed that I’ve been getting paid to do something I love–write–for more than eight years now. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been published on many a magazine and website during that time–some credited, most ghostwritten.

For the most part, my work has had a spiritual, Christian theme. But I grew a bit burned out on that genre a year ago. So I decided to branch out and stretch my writing muscles a bit. After all, who wants to get pigeonholed into one genre?  That’s when the idea of this blog came about.

Having always loved sports, especially golf, I’d love nothing more than to write freelance sports articles one day. So I submitted a short 800 word article to the Chicken Soup people after seeing a writeup in Golf Digest.

Who knew that a few months later I would be getting my first book credit? It’s humbling to see my name alongside some notable golfers and journalists. I really didn’t think I had much of chance, to be honest.

Bottom line: check out the book. Hope you like it.

Maybe I’ll post the story here later this week.

I’ve always been a fan of John Feinstein’s writing. In fact, A Good Walk Spoiled was one of my first introductions to true sports writing—the personal profiles and portraits of professional athletes, the “other” side of the sports we love, not just the AP-style canned articles that appear in newspapers across the country every day.

I picked up The Open (published 2003) over the summer, with expectations to read the entire book over an extended weekend vacation around July 4th. Well, I just finished. Truth is, The Open is another wonderful book by Feinstein, but it wasn’t exactly what I expected—and that’s my fault.

In A Good Walk Spoiled and Tales From Q School—another of Feinstein’s notable golf works—he focuses on the players themselves, the intricacies of their lives, how they interact with the sport they love, tying in personal stories of successes and failures throughout.

With The Open, Feinstein’s focus is squared on the USGA (United States Golf Association), and the enormous task of planning, implementing, and conducting a major championship. The story centers on the 2002 Open–the first U.S. Open ever conducted on a municipal course, Bethpage Black.

Beginning with USGA head David Fay’s impromptu, late evening visit to the poorly maintained, unkempt Black course in 1994 (a visit in which Fay first dreamed of massively renovating the Black course to U.S. Open standards) Feinstein details the incredibly involved process of the 2002 Open, from the planning phase to Tiger Woods‘ trophy presentation.

You don’t really understand the magnitude of planning an event like the Open until you read about it–and I’m sure Feinstein really can only hit the high points in just a few hundred pages.

The Open does ocassionally dive into the player’s stories, and their unique perspective on the event. But, no doubt, this book is about the men behind the scenes, those who make the US Open tick–the greenskeepers, the tournament directors, the volunteers, and the hundreds of USGA employees who make this event happen every June.

One story that stands out to me is Tiger Woods secretive visit to Bethpage Black in the weeks before the Open began. Short of the President visiting the course (which he almost did during the 2002 Open), nothing sets off security alerts like a notification that Tiger will be visiting a public course.

Bethpage was closed to the public in the weeks before the tournament started, but Woods, along with his buddy Mark O’ Meara, were escorted off a side road to the third tee, so as not to cause a stir among staff members and USGA employees on-site. Two men, however, were quite fortunate. Two of the Black’s greenskeepers were given the privilege of caddying for Woods and O’Meara during the round.

Both men were told the day before that they would be “looping” for some high-profile guests, they were required to wear “nice clothes,” but neither knew who would be visiting until Woods and his entourage pulled up to the tee. Quite a pleasant shock, I’m sure.

In all, The Open is another great read offered by John Feinstein. But, as a golfer and sports enthusiast, I’m still drawn to the stories of the players themselves, not the tournament organizers. Great read. But, in this man’s opinion, not quite up to the level of A Good Walk Spoiled, Tales from Q School, and The Majors.