I’m not a groundhog, so I guess it doesn’t count, according to the rules of Groundhog Day, if I saw my shadow or not a few mornings ago.
I could cheat though. I could say I did not see my shadow on my usual, early-morning walk in hopes of catching some precious vitamin D light from the rising sun breaking through the mid-winter clouds. A shadow is a shadow, after all, so what difference does it make?
Not a good habit to get into, cheating, in big and little things. Like its brother, lying, cheating is a disease that will corrupt the mind and soul completely, ultimately leaving no internal sense at all of moral rightness or truth. The victim is left floundering and sinking in his self-destructive morass of chaos and ignorance with no guiding principle of self-awareness and salvation. Instead, there is an increasingly desperate delusion of quasi-sanity that depends on yet more lies and more cheating to maintain a semblance of control and believability. This is the liar/cheater’s most dangerous, destructive period because many foolish and vulnerable people – perhaps millions – will be taken in by the final and worst, potentially world-ending, big lie.
If that reminds you of anyone, congratulations on your insight.
So, no, as a matter of principle I will not cheat. At my advancing age, when every day could be my last, cheating is also a terrible waste of time that should be devoted, every moment, to being the best person I can possibly be in whatever amount of time I have left.
Let’s just say, spring is coming early this year, and leave it at that.
I even went up to the barn to find that old set of golf clubs I picked up at a yard sale a few years back. I took some practice swings. I might even hit a couple of golf balls out there in the front field off to the right of the big maple. It’s about 150 yards, more or less. A five-iron should do it, even with the winter coat, scarf, gloves and toque on. I’ll tie some fluorescent ribbon-tape around a wooden stake. That’ll have to do for a flag to mark the hole. Fair to say the putt will be a gimme. Under the circumstances, that’s understandable, and not a rule-breaker.
My young friends think it odd. I told them about my youthful obsession with golf, so much so that even one winter day just like this, with a bitterly cold wind blowing snow into my face I ventured onto a rich-folks, private course closed for the season near my home in North York and tried to play a few holes. But it turned out to be not such a good idea: one, two, three red-painted balls disappeared into snow drifts. That must haver made grounds-person wonder come spring.
Only someone who has played the game and managed to stroke a few well-hit golf balls, heard them “sing” off the tee, straight out just over the fairway for a couple of hundred yards before they start to rise, and then gently come down a magical 300 yards out – only someone who has been there and done that, can truly understand the beauty of the game, and the way it can become an obsession.
That was a drive I hit very early one morning about at the Woodbridge Golf Club where, at age 16, a friend and I each had a $50 junior membership that required us to tee-off by 7 am. His father drove us. They were walking up to the tee when I stroked that drive, almost to the green of the par-4, first hole.
They had hit their second, fairway shots when we were still walking to where my ball had come to rest.
“Look at that drive!” my friend exclaimed when I stopped at my ball and took a seven-iron out of my bag to pitch up to the green. The hole was less than 50 yards away.
His father, a small man of few words, made a sound like, “harrumph.” He didn’t believe it. He thought I had somehow cheated. Like, maybe I threw a ball out a rear window as we drove past the first-hole fairway on the way in. I did not. I hit it as honest and true as pure gold, and the memory of it has stayed with me ever since.
I continued to play golf in hopes that every shot off the tee, fairway, rough, sand trap, and out-of-the-woods would be another, perfect, memorable shot.
There were a few, but not so many that I could ever call myself a good golfer. I think I came close to breaking 80 once. As time, and life, went by and circumstances changed I played less and less. I think the last time was about 10 years ago on that course just north of Hepworth. Before that I played the Sauble Golf Club course a few times, and one day in particular hit some good, long drives.
Believe it or not, I told my young friends who have had no experience with the game, golf can tell you a lot about life. You do your best, you keep going, you celebrate the good stuff, accept the not-so-good, and carry on with hope to the last hole. I had a pretty good, natural swing, so I was told often enough, and that’s important.
But eventually, I came to the realization that to play the game well the most important thing was to keep your eye on the ball, which was something I could never do. Practice swings, no problem: I could always see the grass swish as the club-head sped through nicely. But the club actually hitting the ball? Never saw it. I was always too eager to lift my head and see the results, which, more often than not, were not very good.
I’m sure there are a few of you out there who can sympathize.
Golf has its written rules and “etiquette” about how to play the game honestly and respectively, for the sake of the game, yourself, and others on the course. And that too, applies to life as well as the game, if you care enough to learn from it.
Above all, regarding the rules, you “hit the ball where it lies” or you ‘fess up and take a penalty to take another shot off another, better lie.
Here me, my children, wherever you may be: don’t trust anyone who cheats at golf, especially if they play it a lot and claim to be good at it, but after many years still don’t get it.
A version of this post was originally published in The Sun Times in February, 2018