August 18, 2006
Some of us should admit to ourselves that we’re unlikely to ever be better than bogey golfers.
For some, that’s the absolute limit of their actual talents. For others, that’s the limit that they can reach unless they devote far more time to playing and practicing.
Nearly every teaching professional will admit that it’s just about impossible to improve your game by playing one round a week.
A few amateur golfers have either far better innate skill at the sport, or have practiced to a point where they are far better than the national average handicap, which for men tends to hover around 15 or so.
Many bogey golfers aren’t really jealous of these better-skilled players. We actually appreciate watching these golfers play so well.
That’s not always true, of course. Some low-handicappers seem to enjoy berating themselves when they shoot 77, while most bogey golfers would give their eyeteeth to experience that level of scoring just once. We’re mystified why they’re so upset, and conclude that perhaps they suffer from some kind of personality disorder.
Fortunately, most good golfers aren’t like that. Instead, they are usually delightful playing companions.
There are several such players at Shawnee Country Club. I played with three of them during the last week’s golf league competition.
Jim Lingo is an 11-handicap, and under the contest rules he had to give me four strokes for the nine holes. Bob Burd and former Cape High golfer Mark Johnson are both 5-handicappers, and they played each other straight up.
We had a great time and a close match.
Lingo is pretty quiet, but he has a quick wit and an appreciation for the absurdity of the sport. He’s better able than most to laugh off his rare bad shots and focus his energies on the recovery.
Burd retired from the Air Force several years ago, and is in constant demand as a substitute for golf league regulars who have to miss a match. He’s a top-level player in MISGA, and actively supports charity tournaments for such groups as the American Cancer Society.
It’s also a lot of fun just to watch him play. He wastes very little time over the ball, and takes a decisive swing. If you ask, he’ll show you what he sees you doing, because he also truly enjoys watching others play.
After one bad shot, I looked over at him and Burd pointed to his right foot, with his toes pointed high up. He said simply, “You had the toe of the club up, and you came in from the inside. That’s why it went so right and so short.”
During a round with Burd, there’s a constant chorus from his playing companions, usually expressed in three parts: “Nice drive, Bob. Nice approach, Bob. Nice putt, Bob.”
During the match, however, the commentary varied a little bit, thanks to my presence in the foursome. That time it went more like this: “Nice drive, Bob—and we’ll help you find yours, Fritz.”
Johnson is a very long driver, but he also has a deft touch. For example, he hit a 300-yard drive on the 365-yard 15th hole. His next shot came in low and fast, and checked up about a foot and a half from the hole for a tap-in birdie.
His best shot of the night, however, was from deep in the trees on the right side of the 18th fairway, about 170 yards from the green. He hit a low runner that snaked through the tree trunks and rolled to a stop in the greenside fringe in front—just amazing.
We’ve known each other since Johnson was 14 and a young Cape Viking golfer, and I was just starting this column. After earning his bachelor’s degree and completing a year’s worth of graduate studies, he’s now settling in as a staff accountant for Lank, Johnson and Tull, and enjoying his new membership at Shawnee.
We figured out that this league match was the first time we’d ever played together, which surprised us both at the realization.
With any luck, it certainly won’t be the last.