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Clippings: Golf? Just call me the ‘bogeyman’

Being a fairly competitive person, it’s rare that I turn down a challenge; and that’s a shame, because my bravado is turning into a hideous liability as I get older.
Case in point: My brother-in-law Peeker asked me a week ago if I’d like to join his team for an upcoming tournament.
He could’ve picked virtually any sport, ranging from soccer to flag football to ping pong.
Nope.
He had to pick golf.
My exposure to golf had been confined to some caddying gigs as a teenager and “hitting” a couple buckets of balls at the driving range in Ferrisburgh during some father-son outings. And no matter how ferociously I swung my driver, I topped most of those balls off the tee, watching them roll harmlessly down the bank of the driving range, far short of the kiddie flag. Those that I accidentally hit flush veered wildly into uncharted regions. I’m sure the guy who drives the golf ball harvester wanted to kneecap me for making his work a living hell. It took all my self-restraint not to yell a four-letter word after every swing. And I am not talking about “fore.”
So when Peeker asked me to play an 18-hole round on an actual course, against other people, my first response was, “Thanks, but surely you have better prospects.”
Unfortunately not. He recited his list of usual golf partners and revealed their legitimate excuses for not being able to play in the Sept. 20 event, the annual Addison County Firefighters Association benefit tourney at the Basin Harbor Club. Peeker’s girlfriend Heather, sitting nearby, chimed in that she, too, had to work the day of the tournament, but offered these words of encouragement to a fellow golf hack: “I played in the tournament last year and it was the first time I had ever played golf. We came in last, but we still won a prize!”
So hey, just like back in kindergarten, I could still get a gold star even if I couldn’t color inside the lines (or in this case, get the golf ball within a country mile of the fairway).
Not wanting to be a wet blanket, I agreed to fill out Peeker’s golfing dance card. After all, I reasoned, it was for a great cause — to raise money to help train our local volunteer firefighters to be prepared for emergency calls, many of them occurring late at night when the rest of us are tucked safely in bed.
I also reasoned that Peeker would have another week to find someone who knew the difference between a 9-iron and a pitching wedge.
I spent that week imagining how my teammates would be rolling their eyes and glancing at their watches as I hacked away in vain at a little white ball in a performance that would surely require the addition of new terminology to the golfing vernacular. “Bogey”? How about “booger.”
When Saturday morning arrived and Peeker hadn’t called to grant me a reprieve, I started breaking out in sweats — until our son, Mark, showed up at the house. Mark is a decent golfer and was willing to take my place. So I called Peeker and told him about a potential substitute who, unlike me, wouldn’t get arrested for excavating the Basin Harbor Club’s fairways.
But I could tell from Peeker’s voice that this was about more than golf. I love my brothers-in-law dearly, but we don’t get a chance to hang out a lot. This was an opportunity to do a little bonding while setting records of athletic futility. I grabbed Mark’s clubs and headed for the door.
I must say it didn’t put my mind at ease when I saw some of the golfers who had assembled for the event. Some I knew to be good athletes. Most were shod in cleats, dressed in fancy golf clothes and sported that single glove, a la Michael Jackson. Their clubs were shiny and had fancy covers. Meanwhile, I was sporting a St. Mike’s hoodie, Carhartt pants and a $30 pair of sneakers. Mark had picked up his pitted clubs at one of Bristol’s truly incredible Cystic Fibrosis Stampede yard sales. Like the Old Testament David, I was bringing a metaphorical sling to face Goliath and his large sword. Only my story wouldn’t have the Biblical ending.
So Peeker, Ross, Josh and I loaded our clubs into our golf cart and proceeded to our first hole. I started to feel a little better when Peeker explained that this tourney would be a “scramble.” Essentially, each team would use their best drive, ensuing strokes and final putt to make their best score. In this manner, a team could soften the impact of its worst player(s) and therefore return to the 19th hole in less than a day and a half. They wouldn’t be putting my face on a milk carton after all.
We teed off at the 14th, and my Keystone Cops version of golf began.
Just about every ball I struck went a short distance, and in every direction except the one I wanted. Our team’s two competent golfers, Peeker (in spite of his torn rotator cuff) and Ross (when he wasn’t chasing the beer cart) thankfully negated a lot of the nasty shots Josh and I distributed into the rough or surrounding trees.
Hitting bad shots wasn’t the worst of my humiliation. Peeker drove our cart to retrieve the balls that didn’t make the cut. I thought I was pretty slick leaning out of the cart to pick them up while the cart was still moving — until one time when I leaned a little too far and fell out. Fortunately, the cart was moving slowly; unfortunately, several people saw me tumble. I did the old tuck-and-roll, popped up as fast as I could and trotted back to the cart, but there was no way to look suave after that.
Still, not all of my shots were disgraceful. I sank two or three putts for our team, hit a nice approach shot to one of the greens and redeemed myself with my best drive of the day on one of the most difficult holes. This particular hole featured a tee-shot just behind a steep gully. So sure was Peeker that I would find the gully (can’t blame him), that he gave me an inferior, expendable range ball he had found to use for my tee-shot. I promptly drove it more than 150 yards over the gully. As they say, even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while.
I wish I could tell you we were competitive. I wish I could tell you that I nailed a hole-in-one to claim a new truck that Tom Denecker had generously put up as a prize. I wish I could tell you I won the closest-to-the-pin competition.
Nope. But I can tell you that I helped Peeker’s team repeat as last-place finisher. Our reward: Gift certificates for Misty Knoll Farm products. I’m calling it the “golden turkey award.” How deliciously appropriate!
In the end, I must admit it was a fun time. Will I do it again? Too soon to tell. If I do, I’ll first make sure to take a lesson or two. Then again, maybe the firefighters’ association will switch to another sport. With my luck, it will be water polo.

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