Thursday, August 16, 2012

Storm Clouds

The clouds were getting darker and closer, seemingly by the second. It was one of those "it looks like the end of the world" weather patterns nearly upon us. And yet, one of my oldest and closest friends was basically holding me against my will and mandating that I remain where I was, in the direct path of the oncoming fury.

I have been playing golf for almost 55 years. I began with near greatness but have long since settled, uncomfortably, unhappily but unquestionably, into many decades of something less.  My friend came to this sport much later in life. Whatever muscle memory I had incorporated given my early start, was not an attribute that he possessed. Progress came haltingly. It arrived and disappeared. Glimpses of what could be soon turned into images much more desultory.

And so, I have pounded on him relentlessly over all the years we have played together. The universe is made up of many things. One is that I was, and would always be, a better golfer than my dear friend. I had faced a similar ugly fate in tennis. Many years back, I took up that sport with a regularity that had been missing in my early days. I ended up in an ongoing contest with a buddy of mine who had been a high school and college tennis standout and whose life basically revolved around his tennis matches.  After many years of losses, many racquets thrown in anger and disgust, and not one victory to show for all my effort, I quit.  I could not face the prospect of a lifetime record of 0 and infinity. And so my racquet, beaten and bruised by my batterings, went into the closet and never emerged. Not so with my friend and golf.

As the storm clouds gathered, there was a cataclysmic event unfolding. My friend was clearly outplaying me and even more than that, he was outscoring me. After 9 holes, I was one shot behind on the scorecard, and miles behind in my enthusiasm for remaining on the course to face the hell that was descending from above and right in front of me. And I had a dinner date that I had to get to. And my toes itched. And I wanted to leave.

When we got to the 10th tee we were very near the clubhouse. Now, it seemed, was the perfect time for the horn to sound calling everyone off the course. Only it didn't. And my friend was absolutely not going to let a little thing like a monsoon get in the way of what had eluded him for the better part of 3 decades.

On the 10th hole he scored a par, with a wonderful chip and putt. I stood over a 3 foot par putt waiting for the obligatory "that's good" that has saved me, and those with whom I play,  from much aggravation and many strokes. Silence. This was his day, his time, and he was not going to let me off easily (I would have done the same had I been in a similar situation with my old tennis buddy). My putt inevitably did not come close to the hole. 2 strokes behind.

By the 11th hole it was getting so dark from the cloud cover that I wanted the course to turn on non-existent lights. Thunder rumbled in the distance. But for my friend, all he could see was the brighter weather that was was off in a remote corner of the sky. "That is the weather that is heading our way" he announced.

An errant drive by my friend, the first of the day, and I retrieved one of the strokes from him. 1 down and 7 holes left.

As we approached the 12th tee, another cart suddenly pulled up behind us.  "Too much bad weather coming." He passed us, accelerator depressed,  for the shelter of the clubhouse and refuge from what was moving ever closer. We began to see lightning. But that was of no moment. Not today. Not yet at least.

We have been the closest of friends for almost 50 years. My teenage summers were spent, in very large part, at his parents' summer home by the beach. I was one of the best men at his wedding. We announced the pregnancy of our wives with our second children in consecutive sentences while unloading the cars on a ski trip in Vermont. We have each other's back in every crisis. But this was something different.

And then my friend played his first sloppy hole of the round and found himself one shot  behind after 12. The 13th hole did not change our position relative to each other.

The storm was now clearly almost close enough to reach out and touch. This was becoming something between foolish and dangerous. As we headed off the 14th green, the lightning now more frequent, the thunder ever more ominous, my friend finally relented. While our cart took us to safety (only seconds before the sky almost exploded with torrents of rain) he had one parting comment. "We come back next week and continue the round from exactly where we left off". 

No comments: