The Fifth Hole: The way it should be

On the fifth hole, a dogleg right, Phillip’s tee shot hooked far and left. It lay trapped maybe forty yards behind some tall pine trees. On the other side of the trees a hundred yards of water stretched to an isthmus of fairway that climbed another fifty yards to an elevated green. He would have to chip out to the fairway. There was no other reasonable shot.

There was one very unreasonable shot, more than unreasonable for his abilities. There was a fade around the tops of the trees, over the water, up the isthmus, onto the green. If he chipped out he would not feel like a wuss. He would feel smart, mature, prudent. A golfer. If he tried the impossible shot he would likely flail a weak shot into the trees and have to chip out anyway. Or he would get it past the trees into the water. Or he would somehow make it over the water and lose it in some hazard he could not even see from his dark enclosure behind the pines.

He reached for his three wood. His big club. Why do we do these things? When Rosemary, a girl way out of his league, momentarily stood apart from her circle of intimidating friends, why did he approach her, with no line, or plan, or prayer? Maybe he should ask her later if he could tear her away from their youngest. There is no romance without the courage to risk humiliation. In Tin Cup, they mock the lay up. Rene Russo wants a man who will go for it. The world-weary stripper x-girlfriend says, “Well honey, he’s your man.”

Phillip put the three wood back in the bag and took out the pitching wedge. He had a good score going. Why blow it now? Play for score or play for glory? Isn’t the whole point that, in the artificial world of a game, it is possible to take risks that would be irresponsible to take in life? Why did he offer to make the presentation in Chicago? He was totally in over his head and knew it. It was his greatest success and made his career such as it was. He took back the three wood. The practice swing brushed the grass with a comforting swoosh. He could not see the other golfers. Whatever happened would happen in private. In the quiet behind the trees he hit the ball just so and watched it fade high over the trees, long over the water, up the isthmus of fairway. Later he would find the ball lying six feet from the cup.

How do we describe this feeling? It is not an exclamation. There is no whoop or dance. It is a full body release of the warm quiet joy that is with us as a rarely filled potential every minute of every day and, when it finally comes, against all odds, we are like a spectator to our own satisfaction. We do not experience these moments as exceptional. We experience them as the rare moments when we are finally successfully ourselves. We are home, dear. Our loved ones greet us. The illusion is made real. It’s a wonderful life.

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