Shanks for the Memories

From humble beginnings to a humbling present, this golfer’s game just keeps getting, um, different.

I learned to play golf on a little course called the Midway Par 3. It was called Midway because it was midway between Gulfport and Biloxi, Mississippi, which means it could just as easily been called the Where Exactly Are We Par 3. I would get to spend the day there whenever my family packed us up in St. Bernard for what was expansively called a “trip to the coast.”

Technically, Mississippi doesn’t have a coast. The “Gulf Coast” there is man-made, a perfect 26-mile ribbon of sand that had been trucked in to create a beach where only the Bay of Biloxi existed before. There was no sandy bottom, just a greasy ooze of black, bottom-of-the-bay mire that stretched all the way to the distant barrier islands that prevented the coast from actually being one. I preferred the sand of a bunker to that of the beach, which is why I spent my weekends at the Midway Par 3. (I took my youngest daughter to the “coast” some years back. She pronounced it “the yucky pool.”)

My father and uncle would  drive deep into the piney woods of Harrison County, where the mosquitoes were as big as Cessnas, then drop me off at the course, sometimes before it had opened for the day. I killed time on the practice green until the golf shop opened, then paid for the day and bought one of what I called a “putting ball.”

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A putting ball differed from the others in my golf bag in that it lacked any cuts and “smiles.” You couldn’t get a true putt with a ball whose cover had been cut by repeated shanks, tops and duffs. Of course, when hit off the tee, the damaged pellets didn’t fly true, but the swing I put on them wasn’t going to send even a perfect ball straight anyway.

You might think that this is the start of a story of a young lad whose modest beginnings and talents were honed by an obsessive dedication to a game that ultimately would lead to fame and fortune on the pro tour. In my story, only the obsessive part is accurate. I started off stinking at golf, and 40 years later, I have managed to maintain a brain-numbing consistency with that initial level of play.

From 8 in the morning to sometimes 5 in the evening, I negotiated my cut golf balls around that course, making use of those swaying pines like I was playing pinball instead of golf. Finally, with my hands rubbed raw from crushing golf clubs in a death grip for nine hours, my father and uncle showed up to get me. Having spent their nine hours in the cooling confines of the Elks Club, they were in no condition to see straight, much less give me a lesson in how to hit straight.

But that didn’t stop them, and I believe those little swing tips added up over the years to make me the confounded hacker that I am today. The best lessons my father had provided me generally meant doing just the opposite of what he had done in his life. Why I couldn’t apply that principle to his swing tips is one of the sweet mysteries of mine.

The philosopher Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them.”

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Well, I recall perfectly the mistakes of the past made on that little par-3 golf course. And it hasn’t helped one bit.

But as my golf skills continue to diminish over time, the memories of how I acquired them happily grow deeper and richer.

As he is a frequent contributor, we can’t help wishing Reid Champagne’s memories of deadlines would also grow richer and deeper.

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