I opened the birthday card from St. Pauli Girl and stared at the certificate for golf lessons. “You always said you needed them, but I figured you’d never do it on your own,” she said.
Once again, foiled by my own words. She was right. But she didn’t understand my fear of lessons. Not a fear of getting worse or better, or a line of golfers laughing at me on the range. It was the scrutiny. I couldn’t handle the inspection. Kind of like my fear of doctors—I don’t dread disease or pain (well maybe just a little), it’s more that I’m worried the doctor will yell at me for my love of pepperoni pizza and extra MSG.
After spending weeks debating how to cash in the certificate and pretend like I had taken lessons, I finally got the courage to see Archie, our club pro. Archie looked me over head to toe then nodded as if my appearance alone marked me as a plus-twenty handicap. He told me to go warm up, and he’d be right out.
Ten minutes later, he came out to the range and said, “I already know what you’re doing wrong. I could see it from the pro shop.”
Great, I thought. This will be short and painless, like a trip to the dentist with no cavities (except for the hygienist gouging your gums with that poker).
Archie walked around my golf bag and looked it up and down. I’d bought it for two dollars at an estate sale several years ago. The ancient, beat-up, black leather bag had a rusty cart welded to it. The wheels barely turned, and I mostly dragged it behind me when I played. Friends referred to it as a body bag because it could probably hold a corpse or two.
“Nice antique,” Archie said. “You’d be surprised at the technological advance of golf bags since 1950.”
I pretended to ignore him while practicing my arm swing like I’d seen pros do.
“Let’s start with the 8 iron,” said Archie. He searched through the bag. “There’s no 8-iron.”
“Yeah, I lost it a couple of years ago. I can hit a fat 7 to make up for it.”
He pulled out a club and gripped it. “Hmmm.” He grabbed another and stared at the grip. “You know your grips are all on different. Some are backwards, some okay, some sideways?”
“Yeah, see they have these memory points. Who gripped these?”
I thought back to the previous summer when I locked myself in the shed with my clubs. I spent seven hours sweating and swearing, ripping off the old grips with a dull knife then sliding on the new grips through sheer brutal strength in a strange circular hopping dance around the shed.
“Um, I don’t know. Some guy. I won’t go back to him. Might ask for my money back.”
“You should get these re-gripped.” He held the 5-iron in his stance. “This one’s gripped right.”
“Five iron. Yeah, I hit that club good.”
“Let’s try the 9-iron.” He pulled it from the bag. “Wait a second. It’s different from the rest.”
“Yeah, broke the 9 iron on a tree root in January.” Since the root is technically part of a tree, I wasn’t actually lying. Although tree trunk would have been more accurate. “I found that one in the garage.”
Archie continued to take inventory of my clubs. “Different sand wedge too.”
“I think my old wedge was stolen.” And in a sense it was, since no one turned it into the pro shop after I left it near the seventh green last year.
“It’s bent too?” He held the club straight up and pointed out the curving shaft.
“No wonder my sand shots never go in!”
“This is a nice one,” he said, holding my 3 iron.
I’d found that one in the garage as well. “Bought that one. In the pro shop, I believe,” I lied.
“We don’t sell this model.”
“Oh, must have been my other country club.”
“Let’s try the driver.” He looked around for it.
“I don’t carry a driver.”
“What?” He counted the clubs. “You only have eleven clubs? Two from a garage sale? Do you know how many you’re allowed to carry?”
“Twenty or something?”
Archie looked at his watch. He took some swings while explaining, so I then hit a few 9 irons, trying to follow his instructions.
“I want you to try and not make a divot,” Archie said.
“Yeah, I’m sorry for digging graves on the driving range and course for the last four years.”
“Oh, that’s okay. I take huge divots.”
“But you don’t want me to?”
“So divots aren’t necessarily bad?”
After he gouged out a few more beaver pelts, Archie turned away from me and I saw him set the time on his watch a few minutes ahead.
“Okay, I’m going to stand behind you. Take a normal swing. When you get to the top, I’m going to grab the club and stop you to show you how far back you’re taking it.”
I wanted to impress him, so I really reared back and let it rip. He grabbed the club, and I managed to yank him around, tossing him to the ground.
“Ow! I didn’t think you were going to swing so hard,” he said, clutching his shoulder.
I puffed out my chest. “I’ve been working out a lot.”
Once again, Archie checked his watch. There was an awkward moment of silence. I wanted Archie to like me, jabber with me when I walked into the pro shop, tell him about my great new scores after the lessons, inquire about his game, check out the sweaters and rain gear, pretend I might buy some.
I settled down into my stance, Archie still on the ground. “I’ve been thinking a lot about my equipment. Think I might buy some new clubs soon.”
Archie smiled, stood up, then slapped me on the back. “I think that’s the solution to fixing your ridiculous swing plane. Let me show you what we got.”
We walked back to the pro shop, Archie’s arm around my shoulder.