We Were ‘The Dogged Victims of an Inexorable Fate’

ORLANDO, FL – This year, the PGA Tour introduced a pace-of-play policy designed to address the issue of slow play.

According to Tour policy, players generally have 40 to 50 seconds to hit a shot, depending on a number of factors, when it’s their turn. Under the new rule, any golfer who takes more than 120 seconds to execute a shot, absent a good reason, will be assessed an Excessive Shot Time. A second violation could result in penalties and fines. The European Tour has adopted a similar rule, with players being given a one-stroke penalty for exceeding time limits on shots twice in the same tournament.

Two minutes to play a shot? That was nothing for my friend and occasional golfing partner, “Five Time,” or “Five” as we sometimes called him. For “Five,” taking two minutes to execute a shot would be considered speed golf.

His nickname came from an elaborate pre-shot routine, which included a lengthy “visualization” of the shot he wanted to hit, followed by five practice swings. Didn’t matter whether it was a tee shot, an approach shot, from a bunker, or a putt, he always took five practice swings.

When asked about his routine, “Five” replied that he saw on TV a Tour player use visualization, “and if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me.” And the five practice swings? “Because that’s my lucky number.”

His scorecard would beg to differ; breaking 100 was a good day. As with a vast majority of recreational golfers, his practice swings looked nothing like his real one. So, mainly they were a waste of time and effort.

When we tried to explain to “Five” that Tour players hit their pitching wedges farther – and a lot straighter -- than he does his driver, “Five” remained undaunted. Nothing took him out of his pre-shot routine.

Once, “Five” hit a shot that landed right next to an alligator that was sunning by a canal. The gator, which “Five” wisely wanted no part of, had to be a good 10 feet in length.

“Hey, guys,” Five said, “I’m gonna take an unplayable lie.” Which he did – dropping on the other side of the fairway. The USGA rules committee likely would have frowned upon that, but nobody in our group did. I might have done the same.

A Foursome of Friends

“Five” was a part of four friends in South Florida that years ago got together for a round of golf whenever our schedules allowed – which, unfortunately, was all too infrequent. Each of us had a nickname.

Besides “Five,” there was “Putt Putt,” because he couldn’t make a putt to save his life.

There was “Nitro,” the best golfer of the group, but one – to put it politely -- prone to pronounced displays of disappointment over hitting bad shots. And, there was myself, “Way Right,” due to my tendency to hit a slice; as in, “Hey, did you guys see where my shot went?” “Yeah, way right.”

As his nickname suggests, the problems for “Putt Putt” were on the green, particularly short putts. You could give him 10 tries at making the same six-foot putt, and he couldn’t do it to save his life.

There was a scene in the old James Bond movie, Goldfinger, where Bond and villain Goldfinger are playing golf. As Goldfinger stands over a two-foot putt, he asks Bond the reason for their supposedly coincidental golf match. As the gold-obsessed villain prepares to putt, Bond drops a gold bar at Goldfinger’s feet. An obviously distracted Goldfinger misses the cup entirely.

Well, that was “Putt Putt” – minus the gold.

He tried everything: different putters, different stances, books on putting, instructional videos, taking lessons from a golf pro. He even tried the old Sam Snead “croquet-style putting” (in which the player stands facing the cup, similar to a croquet player). Nothing worked. When it came to short putts, “Putt Putt” had a major case of the yips.

What “Putt Putt” needed was a golf partner like Ron Guidry, the former New York Yankees’ pitcher. In a book titled, Driving Mr. Yogi, by Harvey Araton, Guidry talked about his long friendship with the late Yogi Berra, the Yankees’ Hall of Fame catcher, coach, and manager.

In the book, Guidry reminisced about playing golf with his longtime friend. Whenever Berra’s ball reached the green, Guidry recounted, it was understood that the putt automatically was good; no need to take the putter out of the golf bag. Didn’t matter if Yogi’s ball was six inches from the cup or 60 feet, Guidry would yell, “That’s good, Yogi.”

To “Putt Putt’s” credit, he insisted on putting everything out – which is as it should be. Maybe we should have named him “Three Putt” instead. Because rare was the hole he didn’t need at least three putts.

The Volatility of ‘Nitro’

We definitely had the right name for “Nitro,” though. The guy could blow up at any moment following a bad shot. If the International Olympic Committee had made golf-club-throwing an Olympic event, I believe “Nitro” would have been a medal favorite.

“Nitro” would have done the late Tommy Bolt, the 1958 U.S. Open champion and World Golf Hall of Fame member who was known to toss a club or two, proud. (Bolt once said, “Here’s irony for you. The driver goes the shortest distance when you throw it. The putter flies the farthest…”)

As they say, “Nitro” could launch it; most of the time with little consequence – with one notable exception. He had just bought a new driver, and as is common when breaking in a new club, he was getting uneven results. After one disappointing drive, “Nitro” let loose with some choice – if personally motivating -- words. In the violent re-creation of his swing, the club flew out of his hands.

A golf analyst would have said, “Nitro” showed good form – he just held onto the club a little too long with his bottom hand, and the club flew left. Normally, that’s not a problem. Except, on this particular hole, there was a pond to the left of the tee box.

As we watched the new driver helicopter-ing through the air, it took a few seconds to realize that the club was headed for the water. It must have been funny to see four middle-aged, out-of-shape guys chasing after a flying golf club.

Now, one of the features that golf club manufacturers like to tout about their new clubs is their light weight. The reasoning goes that it produces faster clubhead speed, which supposedly translates into greater distance on shots. Light weight? Yes. Floats? No.

We arrived at the side of the pond just in time to see the club sink. We spent the rest of the round teasing “Nitro” about how he was going to explain to his wife why his new $500 driver was at the bottom of a pond. As I recall, we didn’t see him around the golf course for a while after that day.

‘Practice, Practice, Practice’

Speaking of $500 drivers, it’s been said that recreational golfers would be better served spending their money on lessons rather than a new club. So, I signed up for lessons from a pro in South Florida. He preached, “practice, practice, practice. It builds muscle memory.”

So, when I returned for my fifth weekly lesson, the pro asked, “How’d it go? Did you practice?”

“Sure did,” I answered. “And, I think I found my problem.”

“Great,” he replied, enthusiastically. “What do you think it is?”

“I think my muscles have amnesia.”

I’ve never lost a club thrown in anger, but I have lost more than a few golf balls with shots hit off line, generally “way right.”

On occasion, I’ve hit shots so far offline they brought to mind the classic line by golf commentator David Feherty. Once, when asked during a telecast about a golfer’s errant shot, Feherty replied, “That ball is so far left Lassie couldn’t find it even if it was wrapped in bacon.”

Lassie couldn’t help me, either. I’m what might charitably be called a “high-handicap” golfer: enthusiastic, but never a threat to the course record. I’ve even hit a shot that lost distance – I was actually farther from the hole than before I hit it. Sad, but true.

This particular hole called for a tee shot out of a narrow chute of trees onto a fairway that widens and doglegs to the right. As advised in instructional books, to compensate for my slice, I set up on the far right side of the tee box and aimed at the left side of the fairway, so that my shot would work itself back into the short grass.

Good strategy, poor execution. Instead of starting out left, my drive shot out to the right – much like a right-handed batter hitting a line drive to the opposite field. My ball struck a tree and bounced back, stopping about seven years behind and slightly to the right of the tee box. The scorecard said the hole measured 425 yards; I was about 432 yards away after my drive.

Once my playing partners stopped laughing, one chortled, “Uh, Dennis, I think you’re away!” As I recall, I did not par that hole.

Our foursome was what the late great Bobby Jones would call “The Dogged Victims of An Inexorable Fate.” Even with all our misadventures, though, I miss our group’s all-too-infrequent golf outings. I miss the camaraderie, the good-natured trash talking, and the friendship. Through all the bad shots, missed putts, lost balls, and tossed clubs, we had fun. Sadly, “Five” and “Putt Putt” have passed away.

Former Masters champion Sergio Garcia once said, “Golf can be best described as an endless series of tragedies obscured by the occasional miracle.”

Pretty much sounds like our group’s rounds, with the miracles being all too occasional. And, as for Tour players taking more than two minutes to play a shot? Somewhere, “Five Time” probably is smiling.

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Dennis Richardson is a writer/editor with Words Matter. He has an extensive background as a reporter, copy editor, sportswriter, sports copy editor, and Senior Special Sections Writer with newspapers in Missouri and Florida. He lives outside of Orlando, FL.

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