I golfed for about two decades, and all of that time spent in frustration yielded perhaps a total of two anecdotes. That’s my only low score in relation to that fiendish and addicting game.
(I am no one’s father, but the “dad jokes” are growing stronger as I age. Perhaps they are better thought of as “Jokes When You’re Fifty.”)
Golf is a frustration because it is perhaps the one human endeavor which a person whose expertise consists of watching quite successful professional golfers ply their trade on television plunk a ball on a tee, swing a club, hit the ball any distance, and grow angry when the results are not the same as what he or she has seen on television. And I shared in that frustration.
I do not watch tennis and think I can play like tennis players do. I know that if and when I ever perform at a karaoke night (this happened most recently about twenty-five years ago) that I will sound like what I am: a person who does not sing in a way that makes any one want to hear me sing again. But golf? Anyone can swing a golf club, and I’m anyone, aren’t I?
Once, perhaps the very first time I played golf, I hit a ball with a four-iron and watched it sail straight and true and far and land exactly where I believed it was supposed to land. I felt the sensation of a perfect connection between the club face and the ball, that moment in which one does not perceive the moment of contact. Like any good addict, I wanted that sensation again and again and I never felt it again or again.
Soon after that moment, my true swing emerged: an approach about the same speed as a second hand on a clock, a moment in which the club face appears to blindly grope for the ball, a slash when it finds the ball, and then the ball is pushed off to the right, sometimes in a dribble that ends close enough for me to simply lean forward and pick it up and sometimes in a ferocious launch—to the right, especially when the right side of the fairway is not where one wants to land. If there is water on that side of the fairway, the ball will fly there far more quickly than my swing should have sent it off, as if to return to the source of all life, as if to avoid another one of my swings.
I have scored par precisely once. Not par for a course, mind you. Par on a hole. One single hole in eighteen or nineteen summers of sometimes regular rounds of golf. Never a birdie.
This litany of un-success even came with golf friends who employed the Mulligan rule.
The Mulligan is a very specific rule in golf—of course, it is a rule that does not exist in a place we might refer to as Reality—which states that do-overs ought to exist in the universe. In the real world, there is no such thing as an unofficial swing in competitive golf. If one swings one’s club at the ball, even playfully, that’s a swing, and it counts against one’s score. Even professionals make this mistake at times, and that is where the comparison between my golf and professional golf begins and ends: I can make a mistake, too. In informal golf, in friendly noncompetitive golf between noncompetitors, if one hits an egregious drive (if? it was when, in my case, especially on holes with ponds or streams nearby), a drive that everyone agrees there can be no recovery from, everyone might also agree to grant that player a do-over. That is a Mulligan shot.
The golfer does not get another one for the remainder of the day, even if the Mulligan, that second-chance replacement shot, was worse, or even if an even more disastrous shot came off their club later on. “One golfer, one Mulligan,” would be the slogan.
Of course, my friends and I found this non-rule to be far too rigorous and stringent. My friends came up with the “retro Mulligan,” in which a player can keep his or her Mulligan in the golf bag if the Mulligan had turned out to be a worse shot. (My Mulligan shots often made my terrible, misfired, first shots look great.) The golfer could go collect that terrible Mulligan (unless, of course, water) and attempt to play the first ball, which looked like a brilliant shot in comparison. The player needed to simply cry out, “Retro,” and it was understood.
The “retro Mulligan” was the only Mulligan that a player truly had only one of, and its use, on either the first hole or the last, erased it and the Mulligan in one swing. One could not play a retro again and again; for someone like me, such play would have amounted to two rounds of golf for the price of one.
That was our contribution to the world of golf and the world of do-overs, and it was super-secret, I think. Once upon a time, the pro shop added a solo golfer to our trio—a common practice—and we explained the “retro” rule. Our new companion thought it was brilliant, and I hope he has continued to find it useful in golf and in life.
As an idea, the Mulligan is forgiveness from the universe, a creative admission that there is a better version of what you just did still available in you. It is the thought that there is a better version of you. The retro Mulligan concedes that sometimes we grab a do-over prematurely in life. It is the thought that there is a saner version of a better version of you.
Even with the rule, I’ve never scored below par.
The WordPress Daily Prompt for April 7 asks us to reflect on the word, “Below.”
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