A bucket of tiny balls and one big mistake

For late April, the stifling mist and general sogginess of the weather was somewhat uncharacteristic. So naturally, when my friend Asa asked if I wanted to go to the driving range, I said “Sure!”

Past golf experiences have not exactly motivated me to take up the sport again. However, Asa turns out to be the kind of friend who, when he decides he wants to do something, he does it, no matter what anyone says. As his friend and therefore accomplice on most of those activities, I was lucky that he was also the kind of friend who can make even the most mundane activities entertaining, such as hitting a tiny ball a hundred feet or more into a vast expanse of grass.

We roll into Royal Oaks Golf Course parking lot and head into the pro shop. Since we’re just high school students, neither very serious about the game, we don’t have clubs, but Royal Oaks has a nice little deal where you give them your driver’s license and they let you test drive up to three different clubs. The idea, I think, was that if you like the club you’re using, you come back and purchase it. We never liked that idea because we didn't have $200 to throw away on a stick of titanium.

Asa would go for the drivers and the woods, most likely because he has some kind of small man syndrome, always hitting as far as possible. That’s also probably why he has such a lousy short game, but that’s neither here nor there. I enjoyed grabbing random clubs and picking them by how cool their names were. Ping was a favorite. So was Cobra. We grabbed our respective favorites—he with three of the biggest drivers he could find, me with a wedge, 7-iron and 5-wood—and headed out to the open range.

Now I’m not exactly Tom Lehman out on the grassy knolls, so I’m usually asking a few questions about the best way to use the tiny stick to hit the tiny ball more than a tiny distance. First swing: 5-wood – swing – THWACK – Plop – right in the mud, 15 feet Northeast of my current position.

“Choke up a little bit on it,” Asa tells me, then hauls off and whacks one a mile and a half. “And don’t choke this time.”

“Don’t choke up on it?”

“Choke up on the club.”

“But you just said not to.”

“No, I said don’t choke.”

“That’s what I said you said.”

Hesitation, then a long sigh, then “Man, do I hate you.” Then – WHACK – another four miles.

I did a little stretching, a few windmills to loosen up, then I did some shoulder rolls, let my head do a few circles around my neck, put the club out in front, took a wider stance, did one last little shimmy shake, and went into deep focus mode. Since it mostly just involved closing my eyes, taking a couple deep breaths, and staring fiercely at the ball then at the 400 yard sign in the distance, deep focus mode didn’t really do anything other than delay the inevitable. But what the heck, I had time to kill.

After a lot of breathing and staring, I brought the 5-wood back, paused for just a moment, and then swung it mightily forward with the strength of ten Tigers.

And boy would that ball have launched out of there if I had hit it.

“Swing and a miss, strike two,” said the older gentleman to my right.

“Yeah, I’ll get it though,” I explained to him, as though he cared or believed me.

“Oh I know you will,” he said, grinning back, a knowing spark in his eye. I could tell he was one of those guys that if you prompted him, he would go on for hours with stories about golf, or war, or sales. The kind of guy you’ve met a million times and places before, with a million different faces. The kind of guy you wouldn’t mind meeting another million times. I had started to get a bit of a confidence boost from the friendly old guy, until—

“Except you won’t, because you suck.” Then – WHACK – and Asa’s ball was gone, halfway around the world in three seconds.

“Whatever dude, I’m gonna get a good one before the day is done,” I told Asa, defiantly. “Just watch.”

I got another ball from the bucket and teed it up. “This is it. This is the one. I can feel it.” I squared up to it, took a deep breath, and swung that club like I had something to prove.

“Daaaaammmmnnn!” I heard from Asa, and if my hands weren’t still vibrating with the club, I would have been swelling with pride. As it was, I could tell something went slightly awry, because my hands have never vibrated like this, and the club suddenly felt a lot lighter. I saw, not quite to the 100 yard sign, my ball coming down for a landing. Then, shortly after, a stumpy brown thing landed with a splash in the mud, about 120 yards out.

“Oh man, you are so busted! Do you know how much those things cost?” Asa was incredulous, but still laughing hysterically. All I could do was stare at the end of my club, where instead of a 5-wood there was a splintered shaft. “That was so awesome! The club went farther than the ball. Nice hit, bro!”

Seeing as how it was a fairly expensive club borrowed from the Royal Oaks Clubhouse, I wasn’t finding this funny just yet.

In between spurts of Asa’s laughter, I’m running through options in my head. I could just jet out of there; no, they have my driver’s license. Well, I could always get a new license; no, they take a couple weeks, and I’ve got to drive myself to school every day. I could blame Asa...

That’s a possibility.

I finally just decided to be a man and tell them what happened. Luckily, the attractive clubhouse girl smiled and said that this sort of thing “happens all the time.” Somehow I doubt that, but was too happy not to have to pay for the club to realize that she might have been flirting a bit. She sent out one of the groundskeepers in a caged cart to look for the club head, but after driving around for about 20 minutes, he came back with the conclusion that it had been lost in the mud, and they’d find it eventually.

After it was resolved and I had my license back, I took a seat behind Asa and watched him hit a couple more into the clouds.

“You’re not going to hit any more?” he asked.

“Well, it’s clear that I don’t know my own strength, so for the safety of myself and those around me, I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

He shook his head at me. “Please.” As always, in true Asa fashion, our mundane rainy April afternoon activity had turned into something quite a bit more exciting than it ever should have been.

Then – CRACK – and Asa’s last ball was headed out of the galaxy.
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