'Your wife is on the phone'

Thursday, June 5, 2003

June 5, 2003

Dear Patty,

Late some Sunday afternoons I go to the golf course to play just a few holes by myself in the setting sun. The weekend crowd has gone home to nurse their battered egos and strained backs, leaving the course almost empty. The birds chirping goodbye to the day and the golden light create a kind of magical serenity.

Two golfers with the same idea drove up as I stood on the first tee Sunday afternoon, driver in my hands. Just as I was about to swing, a voice boomed out my name from the door of the clubhouse. "Your wife is on the phone," he yelled.

There are probably only two places on earth where a man doesn't want to hear those six words: a bar and the golf course. It's one of the cardinal rules of the men's club, one women don't know they aren't supposed to break.

This might be an emergency, I thought, loping to the clubhouse while running through the possibilities: trouble with the dogs, illness in the family, gunfire in the neighborhood.

On the other end of the line DC sweetly suggested that instead of getting barbecues at the Pilot House for dinner as we'd agreed, perhaps I should get some steaks and barbecue at home.

When we got married DC asked me to make an informal promise, outside the marriage vows, never to embarrass each other. Why this was important to her I don't know. She wonders if it goes back to the high school boyfriend who said something rude in front of her church group.

I usually break my promise once a week. She had mostly kept hers to that point.

Golf is a gentlemanly game, but beneath the veneer of good sportsmanship we all want to hit the longest drive, shoot the lowest score. Most of all, we hope not to embarrass ourselves in front of other golfers. Ironically, the difficulty of the game ensures that everyone who plays it will do something embarrassing. For most of us this is guaranteed to occur more than once a round.

The lesson, I think, is to rise above the embarrassment or anger or whatever other reaction an appalling shot can provoke. Golfers identify so closely with their games and with how they're shooting that on a bad day it is very easy to walk off the course feeling like you're a miserable human being. You may have been a miserable golfer that day, but the quality of no man's or no woman's playing measures their humanity.

"There is no worse sickness for the soul, o you who are proud, than this pretense of perfection," the poet Rumi says.

Calmly I explained to DC that the Pilot House already had our order.

"OK," she said. "Bye."

Back on the tee, one of the two golfers had teed up his ball. He wasn't sure I would be coming back, he said.

The shake of my head relayed the understanding between golfers everywhere that almost nothing is important enough to interrupt golf.

"She probably was just checking to make sure you were really playing," he said, he-he-he-ing.

That is one thing DC would never do, but I laughed right back. You have to keep your membership in the men's club current.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is a staff writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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