Play the ball as it lies...or with creative lies

‘Golf is the cruelest of sports. Like life, it’s inherently unfair. It’s a harlot. A trollop. It leads you on. It never lives up to its promises…it’s a boulevard of broken dreams. It plays with men. And runs off with the butcher.’ --Jim MurrayOkay. I admit it. Golf is my out of body, masochistic muse and amusement when I’m not working as Jimmy Olson, occasionally mild-mannered editor, reporter, publisher and cleaner of toilets for the Statesman-Examiner and occasional trimmer of floribunda in the yard that has no conscience. Golf may be a four-letter word that, somewhat ironically, spells f-l-o-g backwards. That’s my game these day’s, a disjointed series of spastic flogs and twitches heading inexorably and far too rapidly toward a stationary ball that’s ill-suited to the task. Yes, as noted on-course television funny man and Golf Channel host David Feherty has intoned, “His swing looks like an octopus that just fell out of a tree.”Quickly.Guilty as charged. I don’t play often enough any more to attack the game competently or competitively, but there’s something about a game played outdoors, on green grass (okay, it’s August and some of that green is brown) and mostly without the aid of text messaging, tweeting and email that appeals. The game is both simple and complex. It’s easily the most difficult sporting exercise I’ve ever attempted. No, it isn’t even close. Yes, marriage is a distant second on the Degree of Difficulty meter. It’s a confounding game played mostly within the vast five-inch space between your ears. Yes, it could be described as an endless series of tragedies obscured by the occasional miracle. It’s a game of minimizing the negative impacts of all your mistakes and realizing that if you can’t afford to lose an occasional golf ball you shouldn’t be playing in the first place.(Editor’s note: Bowling would have been a cheaper sport. After all, you don’t have to buy clothes that clash and on the ma¬jority of occasions with bowling, you are going to finish with the same ball you started with.) I’m a former proponent of winter rules in the dog days of summer and the one-time owner of the best wood in the game, my trusty pencil. I once owned a low single digit handicap that got me into a lot of club championship drop flights and an admonition from a former Colville golf professional who advised me after a lesson in futility, “Cowb, your swing looks like a five-car pile-up on 395… I can’t even slow it down here with my slow motion camera…I strongly suggest you take two weeks off and then quit.”‘If you want to take long walks, take long walks. If you want to hit things with sticks, hit things with sticks. But there is no excuse for combining the two and putting the results on television. Golf is not so much a sport as an insult to oversized lawns. --National LampoonGolf is also an exercise that brings into play its practitioners’ sense of fair play and ethical qualities. Okay, I am a little naïve at times. Played at its purist levels, that is, by rank amateurs of the realm, the game offers no arbiters and no instant replay. There are no whistles, unless your partner in the Mixed Two-Ball Texas Hold-em’ is wearing a tight little number that only Natalie Gulbis could wriggle into. There are no referees or umpires to oversee the game. And therein lies the conundrum and the problem. There are lies…and lies…and lies. Like life, not everyone plays the game of golf as it was in¬tended to be played. Unless you’ve worked the swollen banks of a rapidly rising river, filling and laying sandbags out of desperation or community service, this column may be for you, Mr. Sandbagger.Take this mashie over the side of your noggin’ and listen up. You know the guy we’re talking about here—the fellow who lies about his true playing ability and tends to make himself worse than he is. After all, there’s a big tournament coming up and that usual Sunday afternoon money game. Cash is on the line and that double-digit handicap is just fine, thank you very much.We all know the culprit(s) here. These guys tend to register a bit low on the Moral Compass Meter. They understand the USGA’s handicap system, its nuances and how it can work for them. Maybe they enter only high numbers into the computer, or maybe it’s just a handful of numbers before the big tournament or game. Okay, even I (hard to believe it) was unjustly accused (more than once) of being a Sandbagger at one time. But that was back when plaid was cool and so was persimmon. (Editor’s note: Since I haven’t packed a handicap other than my golf game for at least 14 years and don’t even take a scorecard with me on my appointed rounds, you’re going to have to call me something else besides Sandbagger these days.)Give me music on the course and a swing entirely bereft of tempo and timing…well, I’m all over it, Chivas Irons. Time and perspective change. I don’t like math on a good day. As far as I’m concerned, golf at this AARP juncture of life is about smelling the fertilizer and chasing those $5 a dozen Ti-Techs down the first cut of clay at Dominion Meadows. Personally, I never play money games against guys with double-digit handicaps. Period. No exceptions, even when I had one of those USGA-approved GHIN and Tonic numbers. It’s either play straight up…or play for the sheer enjoyment and pleasure of the best game that was ever created by Scottish folks.If we’re all playing by the same rules, count me in. Otherwise, son, you might want to think about changing your shoes. You’re tracking sand all over the Poa Annua. Playing against some hack that gets two strokes on a hole makes absolutely no sense to me.Sam Snead had some advice for those who opt to play a friendly little game against somebody with a fraudulent handicap.To wit: “You should never gamble with a stranger, and consider everyone a stranger until you’ve played with him at least a dozen times.”‘Golf gives you an insight into human nature, your own as well as your opponent’s.’ --Grantland RiceMy esteemed sister, the Senior Director, Handicapping and Course Rating for the Oregon Golf Association, weighs in on the subject of USGA/GHIN handicaps in a companion story in this edition. After many years of work with the OGA, she has heard more than her share of laments from golfers who have chosen to not post his or her scores.Here are a few heard from OGA staff members:*I was playing with my husband/my kids/my grandkids*I was on vacation.*I didn’t know the Course/Slope Rating.*I’m just a beginner and was playing with a beginner.*I was too embarrassed and I just wanted to go home.*I wasn’t playing my home course.*I was in another state and they’re not on GHIN.*The clubhouse was closed.*I didn’t play all nine (or 18) holes.*I was playing alone.*My score was too low/too high.*I finished in the dark.*I forgot.*I lost my scorecard.*We were allowed mulligans in the tournament.*The weather was really bad.*There was a temporary green in play.*I forgot my GHIN card and I don’t know my number.*I’ve got 20 scores posted—I thought I could stop there.*I was playing in a Best-Ball.*I played a different set of tees.*I was using new clubs.*I was just practicing…I practice a lot.*I don’t play in tournaments anyway.*I was drinking beer while I was playing.*I was just playing for fun.*I was in a hurry.*I haven’t played in a long time.*I was playing Winter Rules in July.*The course was a Cow Pasture.*My ball went in the water and a fish ate it.*I don’t want my handicap to go up/down.*I didn’t keep score…I don’t have to post every score, do I?*Our group doesn’t start playing for another week/stopped playing last week.*I don’t understand handicapping. I just signed up and paid my money because we have great card games after we play.*”So and so” doesn’t post—why should I?