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Smell the Coffee: Golf is playing fetch with yourself

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It was on one of those perfect summer days a month or so back that my boyfriend suggested we run to the driving range and hit a bucket of balls.

That bucket of balls opened a big can of worms.

Although I was raised by a golfer and played a bit growing up, the only times I've played as an adult have been on courses with windmills and the occasional dinosaur.

I have to give Didier credit. He managed me just right. Pulled out that one phrase I've longed to hear all my life with regard to me and a sport. He said, "You're a natural."

During my school years, the only organized team sport I played was track. I was once told that my stride was that of a "born runner" and I latched on. Thought I'd found my sport. Yet no matter how much I ran, I could never manage the hurdles.

The simple act of running and jumping overwhelmed the substandard staff of my Cerebral Center for Coordination Control. They were forever yanking a lever too early, causing me to land on top of the hurdle, or they'd pull it too late and I'd go somersaulting to the ground with my ankles tangled around the upper bar.

So, considering that I couldn't navigate something as simple as running in a circle while occasionally jumping, I abandoned the idea of golf before I ever picked up a club. Golf required far too much coordination. You had to bend your arm for a while, keep it straight for a while. Keep your head down. Knees bent. Back straight. Not too much of a lean. Feet so far apart for certain clubs, closer together for others.

It seemed silly for someone like me to consider.

Still, if there's one thing in this life to which I've grown accustomed, it's looking like an idiot, so when Didier suggested the driving range, I figured, what the heck. It wasn't like jumping out of a plane or swooshing down a frozen mountain with sticks strapped to my feet. The only danger would be to those around me and, as it turned out, they would've had to stand awfully close even then to get hurt.

At first, I was whacking at the same ball so furiously and frequently without actually hitting it that it sounded like a helicopter was trying to land. But then I made contact. And man, it felt good.

I kept at it. Started hitting more than I was missing. Got faster at working my way through the mental checklist prior to swinging the club. Feet. Knees. Elbows. Head. Eyes. Swing. I even managed to occasionally work in a few of those muttered expletives like the other golfers were doing.

In no time, I'd gone through my first bucket of balls and went back for another. By the time Didier threw in a few more words of encouragement, the hook was firmly set. I was smitten with golf.

I'd never given the game much thought before, but it's perfect for me. Other sports, they generally have sleek or sexy-looking clothes -- but golf seems to pretty much celebrate ugly pants. Plus you get to wear these special shoes that make the coolest noise when you walk on concrete.

The part that surprised me most is, not only is it expected that you're going to drink beer while you play, but some courses will actually drive the beer right out to you. It's the grown-ups' version of ice cream trucks. I doubt nongolfers even know these exist. I'm not even a big beer drinker, but still -- how tough and frustrating must a sport be that its participants need alcohol while playing in order to deaden the pain? Clearly it's only for the most dedicated and resilient of athletes.

Oddly, most of the golfers we've run across the times we've played haven't hit very well. It seems like they get the occasional good shot, while the rest of the time they're squinting as they wander around the edges of the fairway or poke through deep grass, looking for their ball. Those occasional good shots seem like the outdoor version of a gambling joint where, once in a blue moon, the machine dumps out some coins. Golf is like that. You get just enough long putts or straight drives to keep you coming back.

Since I'm so new to the game, I'm not all that embarrassed that I once lost a Titleist in the ball washer or that I'm probably going to need to have my ball retriever regripped before any of my clubs.

I've heard the challenge with golf is to find people to play with who are worse than you in order that you can feel like a better player than you actually are. To that end, I expect many impending invitations to golf. A service I will happily provide.

My email address is provided below.

Reach Karin Fuller via email at karinfuller@gmail.com.


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