Zen Golf

I’m a writer and have been for a long time – and in that time I’ve written about everything from Online Dating to Pina Coladas. But I have yet to write about golf. At least I don’t recall writing about golf (see reference to ‘long time’) and that’s odd, mostly because I’ve been playing the game for decades.

I can’t tell you when first I was exposed to the sport, it could have been with Dad when I was a kid. Or it may have been in phys-ed class at high school. I don’t know, but I do know when I started to develop an actual interest in the game.

I enlisted in the Air Force when I was 18. When I got to my first base I was assigned a room with a kid from Ohio named Troy Ferber. He was a golfer, and a good one. Troy talked about golf a lot – even had his own set of clubs – and he made golf seem cool. I guess that’s because he was cool. And funny. Plus he could drink a lot of whiskey without falling over. He had attributes that I wanted to have. He was a guy I looked up to… and he golfed.

There were the cultural influences too. I could tell you I got interested in golf because it had an air of affluence to it (there was a time I was pretty impressed by that sort of thing) and I guess I aspired to be somehow more than I was?

However the interest got going, the actual playing of golf didn’t happen right away. It was a few years before I took club in hand and tried to hit anything with it. But what I did start doing was watching the sport on TV. Despite the military’s rough and tumble image, what you actually do a lot of is domestic type stuff. There’s lots of laundry and making beds and ironing – oh man is there a lot of ironing – and what I began doing when I ironed my uniforms was turn on a golf match. I’d mute the TV, turn the stereo up, and, as I pressed lapels, creases and collars, I’d watch men hit balls across colossal lawns in search of holes in the ground.

And I liked it.

After my time in the service I moved back to California, started college, joined the reserves and, with the help of a re-enlistment bonus, bought my first set of clubs. The irons were perimeter weighted (a recent innovation) and the woods were, misnomer of all misnomers, ‘metal woods’. And man were they cool! And man was I cool, with my very own set of brand new golf clubs.

Only trouble was, I couldn’t use them very well – which was disconcerting. I mean golf looked so easy on TV. As I ironed my uniforms and watched guys take elegant swings at dimply balls, it all looked so effortless and graceful. But the foul words that jumped from my lips as I thrashed angrily at those tiny wicked balls had very little to do with grace.

If you know what the term ‘slice’ means in golf, then you can guess at my frustration. A slice is when you swing in such a way that the clubface isn’t square to the ball and instead of hitting ‘flush’ it contacts at an angle, thereby ‘slicing’ the ball and imparting a wicked spin on it, sort of like a curveball in baseball.

And I had the slice to end all slices.

The harder I swung (like if I was still a long way from the hole and needed a great shot) the worse my slice would get. I swear, that ball would travel about a hundred yards forward and then, when the spin I’d imparted to it via my crappy technique took over, it’d hang a sharp right turn and head the next hundred yards away from the fairway and into whatever woods or ponds or sand traps were over in that part of the course nobody ever seemed to go but me.

I considered quitting the game.

But after a time (and after my wife bought me golf lessons one Christmas) my swing straightened out and I began to hit pretty well. And golf actually got quite fun there for a while.

I started playing in those insufferable golf tournaments that my, or someone else’s, company would put on. You know the ones, where you’re stuck for hours with three other people you’ve never met. And invariably they hold political, social and whatever other opinions they might have that are in direct contradiction to yours. But, because they are your customers, you bite your tongue just about every time they start flapping theirs.

After a while, I started finding reasons (excuses) to miss those tournaments – seemed all of a sudden I was too busy that day, or I had a family function to attend. I think what happened is the social part of the game didn’t much appeal to me. I get why it works for others, but I know myself well enough to understand why it doesn’t appeal to me: I’m actually a bit of an introvert. That isn’t to say I don’t like people, I do, I just don’t like being with a group of people for four-plus hours at a time.

So I started playing alone.

I was living in the town of Hollister at the time, and Hollister had a golf club named Ridgemark way down the south end of town, where the low rolling hills that surrounded us started. Ridgemark was a semi-private Club, with two separate courses that “alternated”. Here’s what I mean: On one day, the North course may be open to Club members while the South course was open to the public, and on the next day, vice versa. But what I found was that most of the golfers out there were members so that the public course was seldom very crowded. And about the time cocktail hour started that course would just about empty itself of frustrated hackers who gave in and headed to the bar.

Which left me and my clubs out there pretty much alone.

There were times I’d see maybe a handful of golfers my entire round. On those evenings a round of golf, which normally takes upward of 4 hours, would take me 2 ½ – and that was on foot. I’d get up to the tee box, tee up, and send that ball screaming. Then I quickly walk to its landing spot and send it again. Pretty soon I’d be up near the green, and then I’d be in the hole.

I happily, and peacefully, repeated that sequence of events 18 times, then headed into the clubhouse for a beer or two myself. Though often, I’d just walk straight to the car, and drive the 10 minutes to my house. All this was usually on a Friday evening, typically after a long week, and during a time in my life when I was working two jobs (one Monday through Friday and the other on weekends) in order to afford to keep my wife home with our kids. And it was good – and it made me feel good.

You know what was funny? That night, after my solo round of golf, as I lay in bed starting to relax toward sleep, I’d replay each shot in my head – every single one of them. It was like I was getting a second round for free. Then I’d drift off.

I loved those days of my Zen Golf.

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Lifetime Habit

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Do you know what you’re made of?

I don’t mean physically – like your composition. No, what I’m talking about are those experiences from your life that made you the way you are today. You know, like when someone says a certain thing to you – be that “get out of my hair”, or “what lovely eyes you have”.

What shapes the ways we respond to what others say to us?

Is it our original programming; that version of software that came pre-installed in our between-the-ears hard drive? Or is it the way we were conditioned by parents, teachers and life’s hard knocks?

A combination of both?

Here’s why I ask: There are things I’d like to change about myself. I can hear what you’re thinking now: “But John, you’re super great, at writing and probably many other things, so why change?” And trust me, I get your point – but there are still things about me I might want to modify a smidge.

Like how I argue.

Loretta: This ought to be interesting… Continue reading →

He ain’t heavy…

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In honor of National Brother Day I thought I’d write about my brother, Brian.

Brian is two years younger than me, and two inches taller (which doesn’t seem right, but whatever) and is really one of the best guys I know. He’s always ready to help, and is cool under pressure which – if you had a childhood like ours – was a vital skill.

And by “childhood like ours” I don’t mean to imply our childhood wasn’t good, or healthy or loving. It was those things. But it was also dangerous, and daring, and exciting – mostly because we made it that way.

Here’s the sort of stuff I’m talking about:

Our parents were born in Ireland – and because they were they liked to go to Irish events to comingle with other Irish immigrants and do Irishy stuff.

One Saturday when I was about 12 and Brian 10, they piled us in the station wagon and took us to an Irish dancing competition at a local middle school (think Riverdance for 7th graders) so that we could watch the children of other Irish immigrants bounce up and down to really fast Celtic music.

Whatever. Continue reading →

On the same page…

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So the funniest thing happened to Loretta and me the other day – and by funny I mean mysterious.

Loretta and I have been married for the better part of a year – and we were together for over a year before that. So you’d think we’d have the bigger topics sorted out by now. Sure, we know which side of the bed each sleeps on. And who gets the bathroom first (and I’m OK with second, really I am). But there are still some topics we have trouble with.

Like how much time do I get to myself?

Hi, this is Loretta, and I’ve been proofreading John’s columns for over two years now. Sometimes he listens to my advice, sometimes not, so I think it’s time I added my two cents to what he says about us.  First of all, part of the predicament is, after years of being single and on our own, we tend to think in terms of “I” instead of “we”. It’s “how much time do WE get to ourselves?” Not ‘how much time to I get to myself?” Continue reading →

Stormy Sea

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Do you have a memory that has stayed with you over the years?

You know the kind – it’s sort of like an unanswered question that lives in the back of your mind – and every now and then, maybe every month or two – or even every year or two – it resurfaces. It comes back because it’s a puzzle you haven’t solved yet. And if there’s anything that makes us uncomfortable, it’s an unanswered question. Well I’ve got one of those – and I’ve had it since 1989.

It won’t go away because it concerns the death of a man. Continue reading →

Do Mass Murderers Play Sports?

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Do you play a sport?

I play soccer, and last night, on the way home from my game, I called my sister. When I called she was, coincidently, in the middle of viewing a soccer game on TV. She said she was watching the San Jose Earthquakes and was fascinated with the game because one of the Earthquake’s players was a kid she used to teach in school.

Now there was a time when I would have talked about the Earthquakes with her all night long – but that time was 1978. Back then I was a kid who not only played soccer, but watched other people play it too. I was so taken with the sport I filled my life with it. I’d research the best cleats to wear, and the best soccer balls to use – and that was before Google, when we used to have to go to a place called a “library” and look through things called “books” in order to find answers to our questions. Continue reading →

What will I write this week?

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I used to have a phone-phone, but now I have a smart-phone.

And on that smart phone are many apps, widgets and such designed to make life easier. Which is funny, because I pretty much remember life being easier before smart phones. So maybe the phone’s real purpose was not simply to make life easier – but to get life back to as easy as it was before we had smart phones?

No, that can’t be right… Continue reading →

Sabatino’s Review

The latest book review is in…

Thanks to the amazing Sabatino!

Review (as posted on hotcupoflove.com):

In the fall of 2011 my wife left me.

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Little did I know that around that same time, a man from across the country was struggling with the same demons I was encountering in my own life.  Being men, and naturally wired to view relationships a certain way, we both set out to fix what had now come undone the best way we thought we knew how- online dating, though, this is where our paths deviate.

That man was John P. Gavin, and while I was attempting to tirelessly solve the rubik’s cube that I had hoped would reveal some secret understanding of how women view relationships, he was busy living it, documenting it, and putting it in to practice.  John’s book, Online Dating Sucks…but it’s how I fell in love, chronicles his journey from divorce, to dating, and eventually falling in love all the while serving as a Rosetta Stone for women looking to decode the male psyche.

To say this book challenged the way I view my own pursuit of a partner would be an understatement.  John lays out the differences between men and women, bearing no excuse for the natural progression in which our genders approach love, dating, relationships, and marriage. His in-depth and often inward analysis weaves a delicate web, bridging a chasm left void from centuries of disconnect, and unhinging conventional wisdoms, now outdated.

In Online Dating Sucks…but it’s how I fell in love, John allows his readers to spy on his dating adventures and missteps, allowing access to his personal life as he vulnerably relives the experiences that brought him to this enlightened state of love. Oh, and the woman that could finally reel him in? That’s Loretta, who John now proudly boasts as his girlfriend.

Get an inside look at how the opposite sex thinks and acts when searching for a soul mate. Learn simple rules for dating and how to avoid the pitfalls relationships often fall victim to.  Read one man’s journey from a life shattering divorce, to finding the only one who could capture his heart- and for goodness sakes, be fearless in your search for love.

Online dating sucks, but its how John found Loretta.

(Read more on Sabatino’s site hotcupoflove.com)

Don’t Shoot

If you’ve read my column before you probably know that I spent chunks of my childhood in Ireland, where my family is from.

My parents would make the arrangements for my summer trips: where I’d stay, with whom, and for how long — and then take me up to SFO to board an Aer Lingus jet for the long flight to their homeland. Even though pretty young at the time (10 or 14 — or in there somewhere) I’d make the trip alone because, well, that’s what they could afford. But I wouldn’t really be alone. Back in those days you could pull aside a flight attendant and ask her to look after your kid, and she would. Or, she would as well as she was able between making coffee and bringing all the food they used to serve on airplanes to the throngs of hungry/thirsty/needy passengers.

On some flights I’d have an attendant checking on me every hour or two. And on some flights I’d actually have someone my parents knew, or maybe a friend of a friend, who happened to be going back for their summer in Ireland, who could watch over me. It was usually easier when I was actually with someone, especially when we got to New York, where sometimes I’d have to change planes.

But however the trip went, I always loved the part where we broke through the clouds over Ireland and there were green fields as far as the eye could see. It was both weird and wonderful, being from California, to see long green grass growing in the summer time, and it served as a reminder that I was travelling to a very different place that was sort of like a fairy-tale. People there spoke much differently than I did, and the steering wheels were all on the wrong side of the car, and there were donkeys on the roads and roofs made of thatch. It was sort of like being in Oz, only it was all the Emerald City. Continue reading →