Writer’s Block

It’s the first tee and the honor is yours. You take your driver, step onto the tee box and push your red tee into the turf, balancing your ball in the cup with a single motion. You look good, feel confident. You step back and line up your shot. You’ll want to stay just left of the trees and roll out onto the fat part of the fairway where it doglegs to the right. That way, you won’t have to hit over the sand on your approach.

You address the ball. The sun casts a shadow, the shadow ball forward of the real ball and about 15 degrees, you estimate, to the left of the line you’ve chosen. You look up to make sure your clubface is square to your target. You look back down. Don’t look at the shadow ball, you tell yourself, but at the ball. In fact, don’t look at the ball. Look at the rear-most dimple on the ball.

Or, look at the blade of grass just peeking out from under the rear-most dimple. You want to sweep that blade of grass. Not at a downward angle, or you could sky the ball. In fact, now that you think of it, have you set the tee too high? You consider pushing it in a bit further, but you’ve already been taking your time. The rest of your foursome is waiting. The next foursome is already arriving. Watching. Just take your shot. Sweep that blade of grass. No, forget the grass and focus on the dimple instead.

Which dimple was it? There doesn’t seem to be one that’s in line with your shot, not directly. You were taught to set the ball on the tee with Titleist at the rear, giving you something to focus on. But it never seemed quite square so you stopped doing that. Now you choose a dimple, but that doesn’t seem to work much better. Your eyes water and the dimples swim. You blink three times.

You remember playing this hole before. You dipped your left shoulder and ended up slicing into the rough, not even making it as far as the trees. You can still feel that swing in your bones. You can feel every wrong swing, every duffed ball, but you need to summon the feeling of a grooved swing, hips and shoulders and wrists all releasing at just the right time. You remember it feels good, but you need to remember just how it feels. Does it feel like a certain kind of commitment?

What if you commit, and your shot goes wrong? What if the wrongness of that one shot infects your whole game?

It’s happened before. It’s bad enough breaking down in front of all those strangers. The people trying to play the other fairway you mistakenly hit into. The foursomes stacking up behind, then playing through rank by rank. You feel their eyes on you, following each bad shot, rolling in derision.

It’s even worse breaking down in front of your own people. They see where you’re going wrong. They’re polite about it. They offer words of encouragement. As things get worse, they offer tips. Shorter backswing. Get your hips through. Rhythm. Don’t push it. Don’t worry. Later, those words will keep you awake in bed. You will imagine swings impossibly akimbo. They will subsume the muscle memory you earned at the driving range. You will not know what to do next.

You could hit a perfect shot right now. Fat part of the fairway, 120 yards from the pin. Then what? The green is in full shadow. The pin seems hardly there. The tall rough keeps growing. The sand is poorly raked.

If you could only pick which piece to move, but not where it lands, would chess still be a game? What if someone picks up your ball, thinking it’s lost, or theirs? It could end up anywhere. A fly bothers you. You wave and it moves on. The clubhouse has a screened porch. What time does it close?

You have a thousand things to do. This is not going well. The dimples are the least of your problems. A person could get hurt out here.

You step back from your ball for a practice swing. When you address it again, you remember it’s too dark to see.

Your friends have gone. The fairways are quiet. No one is watching. You’re alone.

You’ll tell yourself stories and never write them down.

—For Donna Toland Smart