July 29, 2014 - Ralph Cissne
What has my life become? That’s an existential question my close friends and I may discuss over a proper beverage. For fifty years many of my most memorable moments have involved golf, the great friends I have made and the personal triumphs I have realized. Triumphs? Yes, because golf is a test of will and character. Golf is a play to overcome the self-imposed limitations of the reactive brain. “Whatever you do,” the fearful primitive brain whispers. “Don’t hit it left.” You either commit to play the shot or you don’t. Just like life.
My first hands-on golf instruction was in June of 1964. I recall with reverence that early morning at Lincoln Park Golf Club, remnants of shimmering dew clinging to the practice green, the sun on my face and the smell of fresh cut grass. The junior golfers assembled were attentive as the instructor demonstrated proper etiquette, grip and swing mechanics. I was prepared for this moment as I had taken my share of divots from my mother’s Bermuda grass lawn, deeds that would have extracted severe punishment except she loved golf and understood the promise the game would bring to my life. I recall the clutch of fear on that first tee box and how it evaporated with the sweet and certain satisfaction of a solid strike reverberating in my young hands.
Last weekend, in the second round of the Lake Hefner Club Championship, I stood on the first tee reflecting on my golf life. The attending starter helped a player load his equipment on my cart. When my name was called I hit my drive down the middle. The rest of the group followed. When we reached the fairway my cart mate connected a mini speaker and turned on classic rock loud enough you could hear it a hundred feet away. He was my age and, judging from his game, had played as long. I asked myself: on what parallel universe would 60s pool party music be appropriate in tournament golf? The situation was so absurd I laughed to myself. I tuned it out, hit my approach shot fifteen feet and birdied the hole. The music played. The next hole I hit it twelve feet and made the putt center cut. I had a vision. Now I’m two under.
On the next tee the breeze freshened. The mini speaker belched Kentucky Woman by Neil Diamond – a song I happen to love. I had a 60s flashback and knew I have to say something, but I did not. I blocked my drive, pulled my second shot and missed a putt for par. On the next tee I waited until my musical cart mate hit his drive then asked – politely – to please kill the music. He seemed stunned, but complied. A chill fell over the group. We played on. I made another bogey. On the following hole I settled down and the rocker called the clubhouse to bring a second cart. They did and through the remainder of the round, we went about our business. At the end I removed my cap and shook everyone’s hand. I considered asking the music man, “What were you thinking?” But I let it go. I’m sure there were underlying issues. Everyone has them. All I wanted was quiet.
I share this story because the sanctity and consciousness of the game has shifted. Consciousness? Yes, an awareness of your self and others, and the collective experience we share doing what the anarchists and unenlightened consider too difficult. The equipment has evolved, the balls fly farther and yet I find myself laying up to a comfortable yardage on par fives. The temptation to go for it every time passed years ago. In this my 50th golf anniversary summer I frequently play alone late in the afternoon when shadows grow long. I pause with the Oklahoma sunset understanding that quiet reflective moment is all I have. It is the promise the game held for me fifty years ago, the promise that continues as long as I play. While I have tasted my share of victory and defeat I have also come to know myself, something I am certain my mother wanted most for me.