Letter from St. Andrews: You Never Walk Alone

There are some big advantages to playing golf as a single. When you play alone, your missed shots aren’t embarrassing, your cusswords go unheard, and you always finish in first place. Besides, if you’re like me, you’re really never at a loss for companionship. Every time I play golf I’m joined by at least eight other individuals. They don’t actually play with me—they play within me. Yes, coalition forces have taken control my game.

Max is a white-whiskered little man of about sixty, clad in olive lederhosen. He lives in a fourth-floor walkup at the top of my backswing. Max came to me about twenty years ago, direct from the spleen of a Prussian colonel. He speaks only two words—“kill” and “schnell”—which he shouts at threshold-of-pain volume into my right ear just as I make the transition to my downswing.

Polly pops onto the bridge of my nose each time I step to the first tee. Perky as a brand-new flight attendant, she straddles my nostrils, hands on her hips, looks me straight in the eye, and reminds me what a natural athlete I am. She assures me the string of double bogeys last week was a mere aberration, that I absolutely do not have the yips, and that I’m about to play the best round of my life. I love that girl, love the way she makes me feel. I just wish I could spend more time with her. Sadly, she tends to disappear by about the third green. However, I will say this—Miss Polly Anna (that’s her full name) is the only one of my playing companions I consistently beat.

Stanley sits in front of a small desk at the base of my medulla, staring intently into the screen of a laptop. Bespectacled, disheveled, and eternally in need of a bath, he’s a science geek with little interest and zero ability in golf. In fact, he hates the very thought of exercise, and thus joins me only when I take a cart. Stanley’s passion pit is the practice tee, where he pursues his research. As I attempt to hit a series of mindless pre-round warm-up shots, he brain-mails me a barrage of swing keys: “Tuck the elbows!” “Make a full turn!” “Stay behind the ball!” “Belt buckle toward the target!” If one of them happens to click, he forces me to put it through an immediate five-ball trial, carefully recording and graphing the flight and roll of each shot. If it passes that test—works on at least three out of five—he screams “Latch !,” his signal for me to cease warming-up and take the tip immediately to the course. I am Stanley’s latch-key child.

Lance is my idol—tall, tan, buff, and brimming with self-love. Roughly fifteen years ago, shortly after I co-authored an instruction book with Greg Norman, Lance took up residence in my cervix. He spends most of the day pumping iron, but the moment I encounter a tough situation, he surfs an adrenaline wave straight to my pituitary and gives me a chalk talk. “Sure you’re looking at 230 over water to a green the size and firmness of a manhole cover, but hey mate, you’ve got that shot! You hit it on the 12th hole of that high school tournament, remember? Go ahead, bud—no guts, no glory!” As much as I respect Lance and enjoy harboring him, I sort of hope he’ll get the gig he’s been gunning for, as advisor to one of the boy toys on the next run of “The Bachelorette.”

Jesus, in contrast to his eminent namesake, is the most obscure and inscrutable of my golf companions.  He never speaks, and I’m not even sure where he lives in my body, although I suspect it’s somewhere in the lung-and-throat area. All I know is he’s a solid guy, always there for me. Whenever I miss a short putt, whenever my opponent holes a long one, and most of all, whenever I’m held up by the damnable slowpokes in front of me, all I have to do is scream out his name, and I instantly feel a bit better.

Marty is balding, 40-ish, and given to loud sportcoats and garlic breath. We don’t talk much about his background, but the rumor being spread by Stanley is that Marty hails from the heart of a used-car salesman. That doesn’t surprise me a bit, given his behavior on the golf course. Typically, when my opponent strokes a putt within gimme range, Marty wraps his arms around my windpipe so that I can’t say “That’s good, pick it up.” When my opponent flubs a shot, Marty tickles my ribs so that I burst out in laughter. And one sad day last week, on the 18th hole just as my opponent took the putter back for a six-footer to tie our match, Marty leapt into my cough-control center and set off a hacking fit that secured me victory. Although, there’s undeniably something engaging about Marty, he’s still a hard guy to stomach. Happily, he doesn’t hang out anywhere near there. He lives in my left armpit, and that’s exactly what he deserves.

Cosmo owns a modest houseboat that courses the synapses of my central nervous system. The smartest, most worldly guy I know—in or outside my body—he consistently captivates me with perorations on everything from fractal geometry to Italian cuisine to the film career of Pamela Anderson. Cosmos’ only problem is that he doesn’t know when to shut up. At least three or four times a round, just as I’m setting up to a shot, he takes me on a mental excursion from which there is no return. Jack or Tiger would have sunk Cosmo’s boat years ago, but I can’t seem to shake him.

Lily, my final friend, is a sweet but timid young thing, a refugee from the liver of an indicted member of the Boston archdiocese. She cowers deep in the gelatinous flesh of my right buttock, and I must say she is a pain in the ass. It is her trembling voice that I hear when I face a tee shot through a tight tunnel of trees or a pitch over a bunker to a tight pin or a short putt on 18 to break 80—a voice of fear, foreboding, and doubt—and she always uses the same seven words:  “I don’t think you can do this.”

Hey, as a modern man, I realize it’s important for me to be in touch with my feminine side, but why couldn’t I get a dame with some guts—someone like Annika—or even Martha Burke!