If there is such a phenomenon as muscle memory, should we allow for any deterioration over time and perhaps call it muscle dementia?
Any perceived mastery of the game initially came as a result of being self-taught. As luck would have it, however, the core curriculum of the university I attended required two half-semesters of physical education every year, worth about one credit. I gladly obliged, and one particular winter quarter I sought to try and excel at that hard-to-perfect game of hitting a little stationary white ball innocently poised atop an extensively manicured lawn.
Instructed by, of all people, the university’s head football coach, potential for improvement loomed large. He was a big guy, too! Under his watchful eye and tutelage, class was held in the school’s gymnasium. Regularly, I and a collection of fellow students would gather to hit literally thousands of wiffle golf balls off a rubber tee which had been inserted into “welcome mats.” We all kept whacking away simultaneously, attempting to psychologically convince ourselves that if we could hit a wiffle ball straight across a basketball court, anything would be possible out there on the green pastures of a random golf course.
Beyond a few instructions regarding grip, position and posture, the bulk of the “wisdom” from our “swing coach” came in the form of his oft-repeated mantra of, “Just imagine some fishing line with a hook at the end stretching from your head to your groin. Then imagine the pain whenever you pick your head up and fail to keep your eye on the ball!” If I learned nothing else, I learned to keep my head down!
The “final exam” was to play a round of golf outdoors, when the weather improved, and submit our scores to the “professor” for an appropriate grade. In all humility, I never hit a golf ball as straight and as far as I did the spring of 1978.
Fast-forward about 40 years and sadly, if I don the spikes and make it onto a golf course even twice in a year, it’s been an exceptional year for golf! These days, resigned to almost only agreeing to play if it’s a scramble format, I am most definitely “in” when someone is kind and generous enough to pick up the tab. Such was the case recently, and as a result, my annual pilgrimage to the links awaits this coming Monday. Collectively, we’ll be helping benefit the newly constructed “Living Wisdom Center” at Hubbard Hill in Elkhart, Indiana, where a good friend of mine serves as one of the administrators.
Poised to get my game on, last Monday I went to the attic and rediscovered my clubs, dusted off the cleats, unzipped the bag to insure I had more than enough golf balls to spray and lose, uncrumpled the remains of a deteriorating and well-worn golf glove and headed off to confidently “find” my illusive swing. It was Steve, behind the counter, who warmly welcomed me and sent me off to the back nine at the supremely-saturated yet equally satisfying course called Pike Run.
Prohibited, as were all, from using the overgrown driving range due to the relentless driving rains, I was forced to head straight for the tee box at No. 10. Rest assured, there was nothing “straight” about what happened shortly after I arrived.
If the typical Major League Baseball position player has a batting average of about .250, then why can’t we have that same margin for error in the game of golf?
There was only one of us in my “foursome,” and since the real golfers were playing in their league on the front nine, I had tees, fairways and greens all to myself and decided to play my own personal “four-man scramble.” With barely a warmup, I almost found one of the four balls I put in play on the first tee. In my book, even if it’s out of bounds, I still made contact and put the ball in play!
I quickly determined how difficult it was to keep an eye on four directionless golf balls at one time. There was only one of me, but even with that, I was hardly ever playing what’s known as “cart golf”! The PGA-like rough, due mostly to the waterlogged terrain, devoured my errant shots both left and right, and even at times, though rarely, down the middle.
What I positioned myself to make into a draw turned into a fish hook. Those projectiles I hoped might gently bend into a soft fade instead slid and arced into a buttery slice of whole wheat bread. Not wanting to play favorites with any body of water on the course, I managed to “feed the fish” on every occasion possible. One minor bright spot, and it was a sunny day, I never found myself in any sandy beaches that dotted this local course.
In case you’re wondering, the competition was pathetically weak that day and, to no surprise, I had the low-round for the tournament! With nine holes in the rear-view mirror, I parked my cart and headed for home. There, after a quick change of clothes and shoes, I mounted my bike for a short 25-mile ride with friends.
Nearing the ride’s end, the route home took me right by the golf course. As I looked to my left at the lush and plush fairways and greens, I couldn’t help but reflect. It wasn’t all that long ago a rudderless golf shot of mine sailed left-of-center, caromed off the parallel pavement and took a leisurely roll down the road. In fact, it was the very county road upon which I was now pedaling.
Once more, I am convinced: “Golf! It’s like riding a bike!”
Ken Pollitz moved to Ottawa in 1991 as mission-developer/pastor of New Creation Lutheran Church. His biweekly column provides insights and viewpoints from Putnam County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org