From Golf to Skiing in Several Segués
I don’t read that many golf books because I am in the “keen about the game but not zealous” category.
The apex of my golf zeal was a father-son trip to Bandon Dunes with my oldest, who was, at the time, uber zealous. We played 36 holes a day—two rounds on each of three courses—on consecutive days. At the end, we even added an “emergency nine” in which we carried our own bags and finished in the dark.
A key element of the trip was a caddy, who looped for us all of the six rounds, and he might have been the reason I read one of my few golf books. The caddy, who also invented a waterproof scorecard, gave me a piece of lifelong advice. I wish I could remember his name.
If you walk that many rounds in that few days, there is bound to be a bad one and, sure enough, I was having mine. I couldn’t do anything right and, as we got to one of the later holes, the three of us were walking down the fairway, him with a bag on each shoulder and my son and I on either side.
I said, “you have been doing this for a long time and you must’ve seen lots of players have rounds like this. When does it get better?”
He didn’t miss a step or even alter his gaze from straight ahead as he replied, “when they stop trying.”
Suddenly, several major life assumptions became suspect.
Maybe that experience led me to read “Who’s your Caddy?” by eleven-time National Sportswriter of the Year, Rick Reilly.
The theme of the book is that caddies know the most about the golfers they loop for, so Reilly could learn some lessons by caddying for famous people like Jack Nicklaus Deepak Chopra and Donald Trump (yup, it’s true he cheats).
For me, the key part of the book was the final chapter (there must have been 18 of them). Reilly learned that blind people also play golf and—far from surprisingly—have to rely even more on the advice of their sighted caddies.
Fun fact: blind golfers wear slip on shoes rather than lace-ups because they read the putts with their bare feet.
Of course, Reilly caddies for a blind golfer and, naturally, he is wretched at it, just as he was for all of the others in the previous chapters.
Then comes the twist. He decides to blindfold himself and to try to play blind. This too goes horribly badly, and he abandons the effort after nine holes.
The final page of the book describes the back nine in which he discovers what he really loves about golf: the blue of the sky; the contrasting greens of the grass and trees; the tan of the bunkers; and the brightly colored flags on the pins. There is also the sound and feel of the breeze and the warmth of the sun, but he would have noticed those blindfolded.
Rick Reilly, if you are out there somewhere reading this, I hope I got your story more or less right. Whether I did or did not, that was the impression you made on me so thank you.
Why write about golf in January?
Segué alert. One of the most frequent observations I hear about some of my stories relates to sudden changes in direction that readers can’t follow. Dare I use the word criticism?
In a few hundred words, we have gone from father-son golf trip to excellent life lesson to a book about caddying to a touching revelation about a feeling for a game.
By segué standards, those were about 30- , 45- or 60-degree turns compared to the next one which is about a 270.
Fasten your seat belt, we are going skiing.
We will be skiing for this story in the next two as I wander through the similarities and differences between two sports that, on the surface, have little in common.
Here is the Rick Reilly un-blindfolded back nine revelation for skiing—at least for me.
In 2018, I was at Big Sky, Montana late in an afternoon. It was near the bottom of the mountain on what skiers call a catwalk.
Catwalks are very important to navigation and their sole function is to get you from here to there—usually from some carefully chosen slope to the next one or back to the lift.
Important though catwalks may be, skiers don’t like them much because they are entirely unchallenging, and you can’t even go very fast. Snowboarders hate them even more because, lacking poles to push with, they often have to unbuckle a binding and scoot themselves to the end.
I was on this catwalk. There were tall trees on either side leaving only a sliver of sky to be seen above and a ribbon of snow ahead.
My skis made a pleasant whooshing sound against the snow. The day had been gray and besides it was late so there was no direct sunlight. A few flakes were falling and there were no other skiers nearby.
At that instant—by skiing standards an utterly nondescript instant–I thought there was no place else on earth that I would rather have been.
And it reminded me of Rick Reilly taking off his blindfold.