Whenever anybody I know expresses an interest in learning how to golf – “It seems like a fun hobby that I could pick up easily!” – I tell them to try heroin instead, because at least heroin will give you something. Golf gives you nothing. If it even thinks of giving you something, it immediately stops thinking about doing so, and then takes something back as retribution.
I’ve been golfing since I was eight. My grandfather’s clubs were sitting in the barn and I thought swinging them seemed like fun, so I’d pound shots out into a hayfield, fetch them, and do it all again. He and my grandmother liked watching me do this. I was the golfer their sons weren’t. I played until I was fifteen. My playing partner was my best friend, and he was getting very good, very quickly, and one day I hit the ball onto a green and he hit the ball into the woods and the hole was going to be mine and then, he hit the ball out of the woods and onto the green and across the green and into the hole and I thought, “You know what? He’s going places and I’m not. I’m done with this.” (He ended up playing college golf.)
I quit until I was 22. Then I got a job working an afternoon shift, and with nothing to do in the mornings, I went back to the golf course and forced myself to get better. So now I’m a competent golfer. I can shoot in the 80s on good courses, and if I’m really playing well, I can shoot in the very-high 70s. At my home course, I can play even better, but mostly because I’ve played there twenty-five thousand million billion times.
Before we go further, here’s some evidence that I at least know how to swing a golf club – please note, it includes commentary from my teenager who is studying for a career in motivational speaking.
But you’re not here for that. You’re here for how I hit myself in the face with a golf ball. That’s fine. I understand that.
Step 1: Have Absurd Ideas About Golf
Without getting buried too deeply in the game’s arcane nature, just know that there are certain clubs called long irons. They’re designed to hit the ball a longer way that the game’s short irons. The longer irons are given lower numbers (like 2, 3, 4) and the shorter irons are given higher numbers (like 7, 8, 9). Longer irons keep the ball low to the ground, so that it can go a good distance and roll after making contact with the ground. Shorter irons keep the ball very high, so that it stops soon after making contact with the ground. “Just switch the numbers!” you’re saying, and I agree that it seems like there’s an easy fix to all of this, but, if it hasn’t happened yet, it ain’t gonna.
Anyway, longer irons are difficult to hit, and they’ve been replaced by clubs called hybrids. But I don’t like hybrids, so I still try to hit long irons, even though I can’t hit them very well. In my head, I’ll one day fix this, but in reality, I’ve got three children and a wife and a job, so by the time I’ve got the 25 hours a day it would take to get good at hitting long irons, I’ll be too old to do so. So instead, I just keep trying.
The hardest of the long irons to hit is the 1 iron. Lee Trevino, who won six major tournaments, said that you can hold a 1 iron aloft in a lightning storm and remain perfectly safe, because even God can’t hit a 1 iron. Golf club manufacturers long ago got wise to the 1 iron’s reputation, and started released clubs called driving irons. These were just 1 irons, but they had ‘Driving Iron’ written on the bottom, and because golfers are universally stupid, this was briefly accepted as a substitute. These clubs remained popular until they weren’t anymore because golfers eventually realized they had the same problems that 1 irons did: they’re impossible to hit.
But surely I can figure it out, I reasoned, as I trolled around EBay looking for cheap thrills. So I bought one and waited for it to arrive. And it did. And it was beautiful. And after dinner, I was going to hit a few.
Step 2: Choose A Spot To Hit From That Is Very Obviously Dangerous In Retrospect
I have a two-tiered yard built into a gentle hillside. There are trees above my house, and then yard, then a driveway with a retaining wall, and then a flower bed with a raised rock wall, and then more yard. The woods are deep enough to hit into safely, so if you’re looking at that description of my yard, and if you are thinking, “So you just hit it from the yard that’s between the woods and the driveway, right?” then you are mistaken, because that is the obvious choice. The reasonable one. The safe one.
I, on the other hand, went with the yard below the retaining wall, the driveway, and the raised rock wall. I did this because I am not any of those things. I am an idiot.
Step 3: Do Not Realize That There Is A Problem
I put a ball down and took a half-swing at it, assuming that I would get the ball into the air. It cleared the rock wall, hit the retaining wall, and skittered far well away from me. It hadn’t gone more than 20 feet, and got no more than a foot off the ground. I stared at this and thought, “Woah, I really had better focus on getting the ball up into the air on this next one.”
Do you see what I did there? I ignored the evidence. This was the warning to me that what I was about to do was monumentally stupid. None of that registered.
Step 4: Swing Much, Much Harder
I did what one does – I tufted the ball up on some grass so I’d get under it, thus lofting it above the rock wall and the retaining wall, and then, it would disappear harmlessly into the woods, and it would do this especially well if I took a full-swing. Which I did.
Step 5: The Human Head Contains A Lot Of Blood
The time it takes a golf ball to travel from its place of rest to a rock and then directly back between my own eyes is instantaneous apparently. From there I went immediately to the ground, where a quick check revealed that my head hurt quite a lot and, oh my goodness, there is blood on my face. And then more blood. Like, a handful’s worth of blood. And then another handful. I call for my wife, who comes outside cautiously. “What happened?” she says, and because I am a medical professional, I say, “I think I broke my nose,” and because she is actually a medical professional, she says, “Let me see!” and I look up at her and she says very calmly that I have not only misdiagnosed myself, but that we are headed to the hospital immediately.
Step 6: Makes Jokes, Get Stitches, Be Very Relieved
A funny thing happens when you walk into an emergency room holding a towel to your bloody face: people want to know what happened. Then, when they find out, they do their best to stifle their laughter, and then they can’t, and then they’re laughing very heartily, because it is funny. I realized this as soon as the blood had stopped. I spent ten minutes stewing about what I was going to have to put up with before I got over this absurdity and made jokes too.
“What hurts the most?” a simultaneously concerned and laughing nurse asked me.
“My pride,” I said.
It went on like this for the entire visit. And then there was work the next day. And the golf course that weekend.
While I was at the hospital, I got a facial CT scan to check for breaks. I passed a concussion examination. I got four stitches. This is what I looked like. (Be warned, the image is a bit grisly, and also, the injury itself is gross too.)
Occasionally, I stop and think about how bad this could have been and then I stop doing that because it could have been really, really bad. What I conclude is this: if you’re going to hit yourself in the face with a golf ball because you are an idiot incapable of risk management, do it how I did it and get damned lucky that it was not any worse than it was, and then never do anything so goddamned stupid ever again.
Step 7: Redemption
One last thing. The next day, I took the same club to a safer location (the yard between the woods and the driveway), put a ball down, and pured it into the woods. To pure a ball is to catch it on the club’s sweetspot, a situation in which everything is maximized. This is something you might do several times in a round if you are lucky, although you can also go an entire round without it happening. The ball I hit flew into the woods like a laser beam. It hit a tree dead center, maybe 60 yards away from me. This ball then flew straight back out of the woods, bouncing several times and then rolling to a stop. It was sitting directly in front of me, at my feet, in the very spot that I had hit it from.