Friday, May 2, 2014

a story I wrote in 2006 about the first time I played The Old Course in St Andrews

I recently had the need to look for something on my external hard drive. During that process, I stumbled on a folder of old writings I did back in college. Naturally, I read through a lot of them. My reactions varied: I shook my head in shame, I laughed out loud at stupid memories, I chuckled at the combination of my naivete and insight, and I smirked whenever I found something that was actually interesting and readable. I hope that the ensuing short (quite short, indeed) story falls into the latter category, for you.

“My first tee shot on the Old Course”

The starter announced over his loudspeaker, “7:10 game, play away.” I yawned and looked out to the beach, just a few hundred yards away. The sun was just peeking over the horizon, reluctantly sprouting upwards from the glistening water. It had been light out for only two hours. I had been up for one and a half.

“That’s us! Yahoo!” chirped Darrell, a squat, brutish man who I had met only five minutes before. He slapped me on the back mid-yawn, rocketing me into a spasming hiccough. Our playing partner, Daniel, walked by as I half-choked, smiling brightly for absolutely no reason. I didn’t see him frown all day. It frightened me.

I was supposed to be excited. This was St Andrews, the home, the cradle, the birthplace of golf—where it all began! And here I was about to tee off. I should have been brimming with anticipation. I should have been nervous. I should have been shaking. I was only tired.

That was while I was waiting. Darrell started us off, whipping out an extra long wooden tee, painted green. “Luck o’ the Irish, eh?” he laughed, before shoving the tee into the dewy grass. “Ahhhhh, let’s see.” He waggled his oversized driver. “Let’s see if I can’t spank this down the short grass.” I couldn’t help thinking whether he was compensating for something, even though it was a clichéd phrase, and I hate clichés.

His swing was jerky, nowhere near as smooth as his drawl, but every bit as jolting. I almost fell over during his backswing. It was so quick and spasmodic that even though I was nearly thirty feet away, I was afraid the club might slip out of his hands and smack me square across the forehead before I had time to duck. The result was impressively beautiful for such an ugly motion—roughly 250 yards down the right side of the fairway. That’s what always intrigued me about golf: artfulness was never truly rewarded. “Hee hee! And they’re off!”

Daniel was next. He told us loudly he was from Switzerland. This was his first visit to Scotland. He was very excited. His swing was slightly more graceful than Darrell’s, and a hell of a lot more rhythmic. He posed for a few seconds at the conclusion of his swing, watching the ball trace a mesmerizing arc across the morning sky. The ball bounced in the middle of the fairway, 260 yards out, and he leaned down to pluck his tee from the ground. He bounced back up and smiled at me like a happy child. “Your turn!”

I suppressed a yawn. For some reason, now the nerves set in. I cursed the fact that I had stayed up until 1:30 am chatting on the internet. The five hour time difference with the US was ruining my daily schedule. I had selected a three-wood. The Swilkan burn crossed the fairway at roughly 300 yards. A driver could reach that with a healthy bounce if I really connected with it.

After shoving my tee into the ground and balancing my fresh Titleist on top, I glanced back at the clubhouse clock: 7:12 am. Seagulls screeched on the dunes. Grown men leaned on the fence of the practice putting green, watching. A single car passed by on the neighboring road. I saw my breath in the early chill. The fingers of my left hand clutched the grip while my right hand stretched outwards and upwards, lifting the sleeve of my collared shirt more comfortably onto my shoulder.

I approached the shining white ball in the center of the tee box, aligned my clubface and stared down the fairway. I could see the group ahead just teeing off on the second hole. A man on a riding mower cut the grass of the 17th green in the distance. The car that had passed by pulled into the parking lot of the hotel just beyond the 17th fairway. It was still 7:12 am.

I remember making contact. I remember watching the ball rise, peak and descend. I smiled and plucked my tee from the ground. My shoes slipped on the wet grass. Darrell gave me a high five and Daniel smiled. “Let us go play some golf, my friend!”

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