By R.L. Kehoe

Golf is an afternoon walk spoiled. Many people believe that Mark Twain coined this phrase, but he didn’t. Research shows the phrase appeared in print about 40 years before Twain was born. I’m guessing it was more than 40 years. A lot more. Like maybe five minutes after the game was invented by whatever nut sack ended up frustrating the bejesus out of so many people. And it really doesn’t matter who came up with the saying because it’s true. Oh, it’s damn true.

Ask anyone who has ever taken up this game created by someone who clearly had too much time, money and manners on his hands and just had to tell the world about it. They’ll all tell you. Oh, you might have to ply them with booze or catch them coming off the course cursing like a sailor, but they’ll all tell you.

Sometimes you don’t even have to ask them. They’re the ones you see staring off into space in public places and muttering to themselves, making wild hand gestures like they just got cut off in traffic. Trust me, these people are not homeless and they don’t have any psychoses. Nine times out of 10, these people just finished another round of golf.

I learned my lesson about golf, like most of the few meaningful lessons I’ve learned in life — the painful way. I was enjoying my life. I had more than enough things to occupy my time. I was active. Enjoyed playing softball, running and other activities. I even came to enjoy watching golf on television.

But I had no earthly reason to ever try to play the game. I take that back. The only time as a kid I ever thought about playing golf was when I picked up a golf ball and clubbed it with a Dick Allen model baseball bat we used in our pickup baseball games. The ball literally disappeared from sight. And I apologize now to the owner of whatever house or person I hit with the ball.

Not until I was well into adulthood, however, did I contemplate playing golf on a course. That’s when my brother John started asking me to learn the game so that we could play together. That was a dead giveaway. I should have known better. After all, what were his motives?

  • He wanted to humiliate me.
  • He wanted to take cash from me playing Nassau and other gambling games those who show any ability at the “sport” immediately take to so they can hustle their friends and business acquaintances.
  • He wanted to turn me into one of those frustrated lunatics I described earlier.

Unfortunately, I fell for it. It wasn’t long before I was at a driving range hacking away as my shots sailed errantly in all directions. John and I would sometimes go together and he’d offer pointers to help me straighten my pulls and slices. After a month or two went by, I was starting to hit the ball straight. And then he lowered the boom.

“Let’s play on a par three course. You’ll be able to do it,” he smirked.

A week or two later, there we were at our local park district course. It was a beautiful day. Greenery everywhere. And I was hitting projectiles everywhere but straight. I was quickly running out of balls. (And, for the record, I’m glad I never phrased it like that or we might not have completed the round.)

After five or six holes, I was already babbling to myself and ready to end this charade. But it was my turn to tee off and I figured I’d stick it out for one last hole. I teed the ball up and off in the distance I could see the foursome ahead of us tapping in their putts. And since I hadn’t hit a ball straight the entire day, I figured it wouldn’t harm anything to let my tee shot fly.

Well, and this is where my memory goes into slow motion, I crushed the ball and it was soaring and it was going straight. It was going straight! It was going straight…toward that foursome. John and I looked at each other and started snickering. After all, it was too late to stop the ball now. Pretty much nothing we could do. Except yell, “Fore!” But we didn’t.

Just as the last member of the foursome was tapping in his final putt my ball landed about 20 feet from the cup and bounced ever so gently and was rolling straight toward the cup. Now maybe it’s just the optimist in me, but I think there was a chance that ball could’ve rolled into the hole. Only it never got the chance. The big guy that was making his final putt was furious that my ball landed while he was putting.

Ordinarily, it would be kind of hard to tell if someone is furious when they’re 280 yards away from you. But we could see how animated he and his buddies were about this egregious breach of golf etiquette. They were gesturing wildly. Then one of the guys pulled out his fairway wood and smashed my ball back toward us.

John and I were laughing so hard we almost fell to the ground. As the foursome was making its way to the next hole, and after John had teed off and we approached the green, we had to walk past the irate duffers. They were staring us down big time and screaming at the top of their lungs, “Fore! Fore! Fore!” I could see the veins bulging in one of the guys’ forehead as he was losing it. His face wasn’t so much red as it was purple.

As we got to just a few feet from them, John looked over at them, calmed himself and in a one-word statement that completely lacked any human emotion, said, “Five.” That’s when the compound expletives started flying. Luckily, cooler heads prevailed and our sudden adversaries went on their way.

That was my first and last round of golf. Looking back on it, maybe it wasn’t an afternoon spoiled.