This happens every few family get togethers, usually in my brother in law Dave’s backyard, and it’s fantastic in its subtle variety and fundamental consistency.
Dave, must, at some point, peer out of window that opens into his backyard.
He sees me and his son Andy, marking out a shot. There’s a (real) golf ball on the ground and a 60 degree sand wedge on the scene.
A cold chill slides down Dave’s spine…
Andy and I can play, so there’s little chance of breakage.
Plus, we’re hitting a doable shot.
“I’m thinking just short of the bird feeder. If it clears the lawn border it’s OB.”
“Got it, I’m in…you go first.”
“Gotta give me a tough lie.”
Andy settles in after putting the ball in a low spot of turf. It’s not an easy lie, but it’s not impossible either.
He takes the 60 back and catches the ball just a little heavy. But, the slight miss-hit works great; the ball hits short and bounds toward the target, stopping within three feet.
I shake my head. “I can’t beat that one.”
The wedge is unfamiliar in my hand and the lie is dicey. I’m not sure where to land the ball and how it might release. I, too, catch the big ball before the little ball but my shot lands at the target line before hopping over the OB boundary.
“Tough bounce,” says Andy.
Now we move the target further across the yard and we leave ourselves a tricky side hill lie from inconsistent turf.
We both walk forward to get a look at what the landing area around the hole looks like, trying to gauge whether the ball will release or hold.
Andy goes first. He makes better contact this time, too good in fact, and the ball runs well past the hole.
Ah, an opening!
I settle in, now getting a feel for the 60 and the shot. I catch the ball perfectly. It hits the up slope and grabs four feet right of the target.
Andy looks across the yard.
“OK, big boy shot. Mandatory flop and it has to stop short of the OB and closest to the line of the bird feeder.”
“Yeow, tough one…show me, stud.”
Andy perches his ball in the fluffy grass until the lie looks like the type that will allow an open-faced wedge to slide under the ball and loft it into the air before it lands with all of the forward momentum of a sand bag tossed by a four-year old girl.
He takes a huge swing. If he were to hit the ball flush it would fly well over ninety yards but here Andy was trying to make the ball fly no further than thirty feet.
He strikes the ball with near perfection. There’s no sound of impact, just the slicing of the club through the damp spring grass and the subtle foof sound of the grass being caught between the club face and the ball.
The ball stops three feet from the bird feeder!
I think to myself, you can hit this shot, but I know I can’t or at least I won’t.
I decide to up the difficulty rating by giving myself a thin lie, the kind of lie poor players fear…the kind of lie that demands perfect impact. I open the face of the 60 and take a decent swing, but I lacked the courage to bring the club into the ball with the kind of authority that would cause the ball to travel a lesser distance than many people would believe possible. The result is a semi-flop that never gains full elevation and thuds harmlessly into the ivy.
“You da man, Andis.”
About then, Tom and John emerge from the slider. They’re ready to join the game and me and Andy encourage them to take a turn at the shots.
This gets Dave’s attention immediately. In his yard were twin retirees holding golf club but what he saw was a pair of identical seven year olds playing with matches surrounded by dry grass. He had to make his move quickly.
He came into the yard smiling the smile of a man who could imagine a battle scarred Titleist driven through a window or into the forehead of the retired municipal court judge who lived next door and likes to enjoy his back porch swing on just this kind of perfect spring afternoon.
“John can hit this shot,” Tom said confidently.
John stepped forward, examining the wedge and the balls for signs of imperfection that could spoil the expert precision of the coming shot.
He raked the ball into a clean lie and swung.
It was a toed and screeched hard right, catching the edge of the swimming pool. The old ball yawned into a high arching flight before splashing into the middle of the pool.
John was undeterred. “Bad lie,” he muttered.
Dave’s desperation crept into his voice. “Hey, let’s try that shot again but let’s use one of these old tennis balls!” He stood there while his dog leaped excitedly in anticipation of a rousing game of fetch.
By then, John was back over the ball. He never heard a word Dave said.
Andy and I wisely stepped to the rear. Barring the most amazing bounce, we were determined not to wind up as collateral damage in Dave’s backyard.
John was taking dead aim now. Harvey Penick would be proud.
Andy couldn’t resist. “Dad, your BBQ is a goner!”
As Dave held up the tennis ball John lashed at the ball and caught it squarely. The ball whistled past the bird feeder and missed the glimmering BBQ by mere inches.
Now Tom and John are taking turns taking practice swings while the family dog darts between them. Only their feckless swings and amazing canine reflexes prevent disaster.
“Now it’s my turn,” says Tom.
Andy and I step back another step trying to triangulate the path a cruel but perfect mishit could create. We call for the dog and hold on to her as Tom takes his shot.
The club face is shut at address and there can only be one result. The ball is bladed and hurtles toward the chain link fence. It nails the fence post dead center and streaks back at the hapless Tom, catching him right on the shin.
“Nice,” says John.
No one goes to see if Tom is OK but he limps back toward the ping pong table under his own power so all must be well.
But now the juices are flowing now; blood has been shed.
Andy looks at me and says, “One full swing…8-iron?”
I nod. “Do it!”
Seconds later Andy’s got his father’s 8-iron and is it aiming up the steep hill behind his parent’s house.
“Think you can get to the ridge?”
“Don’t think so…”
John’s got his phone out by now and is wondering how far the nearest houses are.
No way is worried… he’s just curious.
Dave’s calmer now. He knows Andy won’t hit it sideways and he knows the houses past the ridge line are well out of reach.
Still, though, there’s a glorious moment of dread and fascination as all of Andy’s six foot three inch frame lashes at the ball.
The ball is pured and it soars on the penetrating flight only a fine player can create. It streaks effortlessly toward the ridge line as we all wonder where it will land.