Maintaining dignity while golfing is hard enough without bringing politics onto the tee box.
For instance, whenever I pull-hook my tee shot on a short par 4 and can't find the ball and have to walk back to the tee box only to slice the next out of bounds and then top my third drive into the rough short of the ladies' tee box (suddenly lying five), my first impulse is to helicopter that good-for-nothing, $399 driver — WHUMP whump whump — toward the dumpster in the parking lot.
But instead, I'm learning to be more dignified. I'm learning to take a deep breath, slide the big club back into my bag while realizing the error of my ways — should've used the 3 hybrid — wisdom I can now pass down, because isn't that the ultimate gift of golf and the secret to living a useful life?
Then came the day this summer when my golf buddy Tim and I got paired up with two other golfers. I knew at once my dignity would be tested.
Tim and I are golf-compatible. We know and respect each other's game. Case in point: I know that when Tim questions his game out loud, as in, "Why did I just do that?" he really doesn't want an answer. And when I chunk a chip, Tim knows it's OK to say, "That's not like you, Tony," but only after I putt out.
Anyway, we were on the first tee when two guys in a cart motored up to the box. We had already hit our drives. "Mind if we join you?" said the guy at the wheel as he got out and pulled his driver.
"I guess that was one of those rhetorical questions," I whispered to Tim.
There were the quick introductions and small talk, dominated by this guy who maintained that Oregon's golf courses are much better than Alaska's. Who could argue? His buddy said nothing. I liked that guy.
The talker laughed at his own jokes, like, "Better bring your weed whacker in there with you, ha, ha, ha." Then he did worse. He kept talking to Tim's ball, as in, "Don't go in there, ball! Don't. DON'T. Oops." I could see Tim's face redden. Tim would rather people not offer unsolicited advice to him or to his golf ball. But Tim maintained his dignity, as I did mine.
That is, until the 15th hole. We were waiting for the group ahead to clear the green. Pace of play had been slow all day. Tim knows I can get testy when groups ahead show little to no course awareness. My patience was stretched thinner because I had to listen to the talker while waiting. Fortunately, by the third hole or so I had begun to block out that noise. "Blah blah blah, Oregon." "Blah blah blah, ha, ha, ha." "Blah Blah Blah, Obama."
OK. That's e-freakin'-nuff!
"Hey, no politics on the tee box," I said, interrupting the talker.
"Ha ha. … Huh?" he said.
"No politics on the tee box. What, you don't already know that?"
I would not go as far as to say it's an unwritten rule. But in the hundreds of rounds of golf I've played with people I don't know very well, politics rarely pops up in conversation, and when it does, the topic quickly dies in awkward silence. Not so with the talker.
"I'll say my opinion wherever I please," he said. "What did Obama do? Nothing. In eight years, Nothing! Trump is doing something!"
I lost it. "Yeah, your boy is doing something, alright. He's turning America into a horse's ass!"
The talker just laughed. He knew he had me.
"You Trumpers!" I said. "I have to golf with you now?"
The quiet old man began to stir. "Hey, I voted for Trump too, by God. And I'm proud to say it."
I looked to Tim. He seemed to be embarrassed. "Can't we just golf, guys?" he said.
But the old man did not want to golf with us anymore. So Tim and I hit and walked off without them.
It occurred to me that I did not know much about Tim's politics. Did I offend Tim, too? It's funny that golf buddies can go years without knowing such things about each other.
"I'm sorry, Tim."
"Tony, I admire you for standing up to that guy."
"Well, I feel bad," I said. "I lost my dignity. And I like that old man!"
Suddenly, I walked off the 17th tee box toward the two Trumpers, driver in fist.
"Tony, don't!" Tim said.
"It's OK," I said.
I did not say anything until I got right up to them. They looked at me, ready to fight again. But I laid down my guns. Indeed, I leaned on my driver as if it were a crutch. "I'm sorry guys. I was out of line. Golf can bring out the worst in me sometimes."
The talker laughed. "Hey, we've all been there, ha ha ha." We shook hands.
Then I turned to the old man. He was the reason I came over. "Hey, I like some of what Trump is doing. But I also like some of what Obama did — or didn't do," I said. "Can we have both?"
I reached out my hand. He shook. Not very firmly. But he shook.
I returned to the tee box, twirling my driver like a baton.
"What did you say?" Tim asked.
"Why? What you said needed to be said."
"Maybe, but not by me — and not on the tee box."
Tim absolutely crushed his drive.
"Go ball, go!" I said.
Tim gave me the stink eye.
Tony Bickert is a former Alaska journalist, current teacher and avid golfer.
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