On the cold, green and brownish hilly slopes of Scotland, there walks a shepherd. His chequered kilt flutters like a flag as the gusts of wind blow by.
He is bored. He finds a smoothened, round pebble and kicks it. It goes no further than a few feet. He walks over and swings the bent portion of his inverted staff on to the pebble. The pebble rises, steers through the cold dry air and lands about 25 feet away. The elemental golf action is born.
Golf is said to have originated in Scotland but there are claims that it was the Dutch who did it first, as also there are claims of first tee-offs by the French and Chinese. We can also stake claim that golf originated in Tamil Nadu - kol means stick and kolpanthu (stick-ball) became golf!
Today, golf is one of the serious sports pursuits of the modern man. The sophistication, skill, sporting support and prize monies of modern day golf is probably the highest in comparison with any other sport such as Formula racing, boxing or tennis. Golf has a strong representation from both genders. It is, indeed, an expensive game and as you play more, you will spend more. The better you become in the game, you will require better equipment also.
The objective and layout of the game are pretty simple. There are balls, clubs and holes in the ground. The objective: Put the ball into the holes. Procedure: Hit the ball with the club from a place far way from the hole, hit again and again till you are close to the hole. Now hit the ball slowly into the hole. There are normally 18 holes and you progress from one hole to another. You keep a count of how many times you had to hit the ball to put into each hole. In the end, you add up all the hits. Whoever has the least number of hits, wins. Sounds simple, but doing it is difficult.
Difficulty lies in the green terrains where the game is played. There are hazards like water, sand dunes, rough grass, bordering wild growth, etc. Then there are the clubs with which you hit the balls… the woods and the irons… different drivers for reaching specific distances. There is a pitching wedge to chip the ball over a short distance and sand wedge to get the ball out of sand. All these require a certain amount of mastery and control to play the game to a somewhat enjoyable level.
The Malayan peninsula has lots of sun, sand and stretch of forests. The topography suits golf and so there are golf clubs spotted all over the country. Golf Gale hit me some time after I arrived in Malaysia. It came in the form of Razman, an IT/computer-savvy colleague of mine. An ardent devotee of the Golf Goddess, he had won quite a few championships. Strangely, there were no other golfers around and he was hungry for company. My arrival enthused him to cajole me, tempt me and force me into the game. After a couple of visits to the golf range, temptation was leaning on the doorbell. The expanse of the greens, the metallic sound of the clubs when they contacted the balls and the birdy flight of the white balls high up in the air… All these were sucking me into the golf galaxy. Razman arranged for a golf set through one of his friends. He said the clubs were Chinese Taylormade… I though it was made by Chinese tailors till I realised that Taylormade was a famous brand for golf equipment. I bought the set (for a price of a bomb without the fuse) and other accessories (gloves, balls, tees, shoes, cap, T-shirt…). Razman went around the office proudly proclaiming that he has a disciple. My female colleagues gathered around me with serious, stern looks on their faces and warned me of calamitous consequences.
‘You will get addicted so much that you won’t eat, drink or sleep unless you hit the white ball on green grass…’
‘My husband never stays at home on holidays… he is always at the golf course… You can get into this game but you can never get out… your wife will divorce you…’
That did it. And there I was, at the driving range every day, swinging. While the balls leapt in the air only a few hundred feet, the grass got chopped deeper! Over time, my golf swings started settling. Razman honed them with advises and tips, as also he videographed my actions/swings for corrections. After two to three weeks of swings and putts, he declared that it was time to get the feel of the real course.
The following weekend, with excitement and morning dew dense in the air, I stood at Hole #1, Par 5. I donned the single glove on my left hand and swung from hole to hole. The morning descended into the noon after we had done half the course of nine holes. I had managed to land only four balls in water, lost two in the bushes and had managed to put the ball into every hole. Razman beamed and said this was brilliant performance for a beginner. He introduced me to other golf pros in the club and they all ruffled my hair (as one would do to kids) with their all-knowing looks of golf gyan.
Then came the day when I had to face the world on my own - Razman left for another job but not before a formal tee-off party. Over food we discussed from Bobby Jones/Tiger Woods/Vijay Singh to Annika Sorenstam/Paula Creamer/Natalie Gulbis. He presented me with a driver and parted with a vow that we shall meet again at St. Andrews (The Mecca of Golf).
My golf fever reached a high. I practised putting (tap and roll the ball into the glass tumbler) in our drawing room carpet and short pitchings at my backyard. I started doing imaginary swings in bed before sleeping and in sleep, I started dreaming of descending numbers from 72 (the generally considered number of strokes one should take to complete 18 holes in golf). I bought a new golf set and dwelt in the driving range till everyone was gone and mosquitoes and locusts buzzed around.
Then I hit the golfer’s block - My game just stayed where it was… it refused to improve… the balls flew in every other direction than where I intended. My game frustrations met a stronger enemy - My wife’s pent-up anger. But things got under control as I pleaded and begged that I cannot live without the game. With reluctance and pity, she agreed to support my passion. So, every day we were at the range - my wife with some books to read and me with my bagful of golf. She became my guide and critic! We started watching hour-long golf tournaments on TV and followed Mickelson to Michelle Wie. We hoorayed the eagles, birdies and the hole-in-ones!
But nature had other plans. One morning, I woke up with two fingers of my left hand bent. I straightened them with my right hand. The clicks were painful. I changed my glove and referred to books on golf. I bought soft synthetic balls and exercised my hand by squeezing them. My fingers were still settling into a beckoning gesture every morning.
So, during my India-visit, I stood in front of an ortho (recommended by my doctor friend, Vidya). He stroked my hand patronisingly and said, “Oh, this happens to all golfers. Due to stress, the mechanical anchor points of your fingers have shifted. We call this ‘Trigger Finger’… Requires a small operation to correct this…” I withdrew my fingers from his hand and backed out mumbling my thanks.
Back from the vacation, my fingers had become normal (with no golf swings during the vacation). With a sense of sadness, I relegated my golf bag to a corner. My better-half felt bitterer.
I explained to her: ‘Giving fingers to golf is most disrespectful. So, let it be.’