When Tiger won his first Masters, I was watching on that historic Easter Sunday along with at least ten other people, most of whom were avid golfers. Until then, like anybody else who had been excluded from fairways and greens across the country because of gender or color, I never really cared which out of shape white guy won the latest PGA tournament.
But that day, when Tiger rewrote the record book, I became a believer. It was the very first time I remember watching every single hole from tee to green and never lost interest.
Now I wanted to play golf myself. Forced to retire from my other, supposedly more demanding, sports, I thought I would finally take up this lazy weekend activity. But after only one trip to the driving range for my first and only round of practice balls, it became apparent that I needed too many new body parts to play. For one brief, shining moment, I did enjoy smacking the poop out of the ball, swinging the club like a ballplayer reaching for a low outside pitch, until my back started sending cease and desist orders.
Disappointed that my plan for old age had come unraveled, I became a spectator and began to follow the fortunes of my college roommate's nephew instead. "Bubba" [a nickname bestowed on him by his brother's toddler] was amused to find that his adopted aunt read Sports Illustrated and preferred talking smack about formations and lineups, rather than following fashion and Jimmy Choos. Despite our huge age difference and obvious gender disparity, we found common ground in sports.
I shot his senior football season in high school, when he quarterbacked his team to the state championships. Vacationing with his family over the years at the Jersey Shore, we all played tennis and spent hours in endless beach paddle battles interrupted only by the incoming tide. At the end of the day at an empty ball field a block from the beach, I often caught his sister so she could practice pitching for her high school team.
But there were also several days when he and his father and brother plus several other male cousins would disappear for hours to play golf. Once, years ago, I asked if I could ride in the cart just to watch a round of golf up close and personal. But there was never an extra seat available, or they were going out too early. So it never happened.
This year, finally, I got my chance. "Do you want to go with us tomorrow when we play golf?" Bubba asked at the end of a day at the beach. You bet.
So, the next morning, on what turned out to be the most perfect day of the summer, we set out at eight in the morning for the Cape May National Course.
Over the years, as Bubba graduated from college and went to work for a consulting group, then went back to school for his MBA, it became apparent to me that, despite his infrequent play, he might have the skills and the work ethic to try making the tour. I was not very subtle about it either, giving him names of people to contact and generally bugging him to follow his heart.
I even enlisted Troy Aikman in my attempts to encourage him to play. A few years ago, I did a video with Troy, who is almost a scratch golfer himself. Like many pro athletes I got the feeling that if he could, he might have preferred golf to football.
In one of my efforts to get the Bub Boy to think about golf as a profession instead of a hobby, I asked Troy to autograph a book he wrote with an inscription to Bubba. "What do you want me to say?" he asked. How about "Bubba -- play golf. Troy Aikman."
So here we were several years later, on this beautiful day in southern New Jersey, Bubba and me in one cart, his dad and brother in the other. He had just received an offer to work for a big investment firm, which would seem to preclude any hope of a future on the tour. But, at least I would finally get to see him play instead of hear about it from other people. His brother also brought a video camera, so I could record this auspicious occasion.
He double bogied the first three holes.
Needless to say, most of what I videotaped up to that point were shots of him looking for his ball in the high grass, disappearing behind berms and reappearing several yards later. Finally, as he walked off the third green toward the cart, he announced that I was bad luck. He was only half kidding.
We weren't allowed to bring the carts up on the tees or greens so I often didn't get a good angle on the distance of their tee shots or the finesse of their putts. I watched a beautiful chip shot by Bubba's dad, but the camera was out of juice by that time.
I couldn't see how well they were hitting because I was usually sitting down and off to the side of the tees and greens. I could see the balls take off on their drives, but mostly they would disappear before I could track them on the fairway.
In all the years I've known him I've never seen Bubba lose his temper. But I lost track of how many times he blew up on the golf course. After he muffed a shot, he would get into the cart, take off like Tony Stewart and grumble until he found his ball.
That was pretty much how every hole seemed to go: a tee shot he hated, a second shot that landed badly, and yet, the ball was on the green I noticed, followed by two putts. I was surprised to learn that there are yard markers on the course. Hey, you can tell how far you've hit a ball. Who knew?
I looked over at Bubba's scorecard on the wheel of the cart and saw that after his terrible start, he was now playing par golf. Most of the time I saw him reach the green in two shots, so he even had some birdie opportunities too. Not that he made them.
After nine holes -- ta-da! we were back where we started. I had no idea that a golf course was set up so that the ninth hole led back to food and toilets. What a clever idea. I got a hotdog, a candy bar and a drink. I also asked someone to please put some teepee in the ladies room. Except for the women who worked there I was the only female around so the ladies' room was fairly neglected.
Meanwhile, the weather stayed as pretty as any day you could imagine, so I was having a great time. Bubba, not so much. He lost his temper a few more times as we began negotiating the back nine. Nothing serious mind you, just a primal scream or too. But I learned firsthand that golf can enrage even the most even tempered person.
The guys played very quickly. They would have played even faster if the people ahead of them didn't take forever to line up their shots. Normally they can play a round in under four hours. But we were out there for five and a half.
On the eighteenth tee Bubba drove the cart into forbidden territory, so I could finally get a better look at their drives. At that very moment the golf cart police happened to be driving by and we were chastised for not obeying the rules of the road. As it turned out I ended up with a great view of the fairway anyway.
I watched Bubba's dad and his older brother take their monster drivers and each of them easily hit their shots at least 240 yards down the fairway. [FYI, Remo, the average duffer hits a drive about 195 yards].
Then I finally got a real appreciation of what Bubba could do to a golf ball. Instead of using a driver he took a three iron and launched a missile that began with a long, low trajectory, which, instead of dipping down, started to rise like a rocket, lofting higher and higher, then farther and farther, right down the middle of the fairway. Easily 250 yards. Yep, he coulda been a contender.
Even better, all three of them made par on that hole. Afterward, Bubba's dad said the 18th was pretty tough, so all three making par was a nice way for them to end the day.
Nice for me, too.