We gather like day laborers waiting for the truck. Murmured conversations, cold coffee, an occasional burst of laughter, and every once in a while a silent pause to watch the latest group go off, their triumphs and failures viewed from a distance, like anonymous surfers viewed from the beach. The man with the clipboard, the starter, takes our slips. We exchange some words, careful not to suggest more than the baseline urgency of the wish to have our turn. When it comes, we gather, four of us, at the back of a cramped plot, the tee box.
For Michael and me, this is a precious opportunity, time stolen from the day to day. We have been friends since we were in our twenties. That was more than thirty years ago. The other two are strangers–Sean, a construction supervisor who will spend the round fending off calls and crises from the field, and Bill, a more or less retired stockbroker.
Much of the next four or five hours will be revealed in these first few moments of making introductions, determining the order of play and taking the first shots. But these revelations have no audience, as each player is already lost in a private world. When I first took up the game, I remember my confusion about words spoken on the tee box. A big hitter was ruing his hook in a series of loud self-denunciations. I reflexively offered a reassurance. He looked at me quizzically. It occurred to me that he was unaware that his exclamations could be heard out loud.
We made our introductions. For each player in turn the other three names were repeated only to be forgotten immediately unless they were already known. Sean was ready to hit. He whipped his driver through a series of increasingly violent practice swings. We stepped back. He hit a top spin line drive that struck the ground ten feet in front of him and shot right into the base of a fir tree on the margin of the tee box where it came to rest in some wood chips. Shooting us a quick, embarrassed, shy glance, he muttered, “I’ll try that again,” and walked over, teed up another one, and quickly hit it. The second try landed in the neighboring fairway one hundred yards right. “That’s playable,” one of us said. Sean avoided eye contact and went straight to his bag.
Bill hit a solid single one hundred and fifty yards down the middle of the fairway. He would hit the same shot on every hole that offered a fairway to hit. Michael groaned as he placed the tee in the ground. He turned to me.
“I had no sleep at all,” I replied.
“Pain down both legs.”
“Nausea. Light headed.”
“Acute interstitial nephritis.”
“Henoch Schoenlein Purpura.”
“I just went to the doctor. I’ll tell you later.”
“She’s leaving me.”
He hit a huge drive that drew gently over the treetops into the fairway. “Shot” or some portion of the word from various directions. “Gay”, I added. You cannot be incorrect enough in golf.
My shot started long and straight then abruptly turned left skidded off the fairway and found a deep hole between two large roots of the only tree within a quarter mile.
We walked toward our bags as if nothing had happened at all.