PAR 32: A SPACE ODDITY by Lee Gruenfeld *
Aside from the first sentence, every word of this is absolutely true, I swear. It happened on the par-4 second hole at Indian Wells in Palm Springs, just north of the (out of bounds) Indian burial grounds separating the second and first holes. The cruelly undulating rough to the right of the fairway is the worst place to put your tee shot so I hit right into it. The good news is, I was playing alone, since it was not yet 6:00 AM. The early hour is a great way to beat the heat, and also spares me the profound humiliation of having to announce my scores to the rest of a foursome. But I digress As I hunted around for my ball I almost fainted at the sight of two slightly blue, multi-armed bipeds clearly not of this star system, and I was too shocked to ask them to give up my ball which they were examining with an intensity so ferocious they barely noticed my arrival. Seeing that they were as startled as I when they finally noticed me, I relaxed a bit, and discovered that they were named Molitor and Surlyn, from the planet Zorp. Their mission was to explore strange new worlds and discover novel games, Zorp apparently being the most sports-happy place in the universe, or at least this galaxy. They wanted to know about golf, being near delirious to realize I was engaged in a sport the likes of which they had not encountered in over three hundred (earth) years of travel. I was only too happy to tell them, I said, after informing them that I was one of the planets most erstwhile practitioners, an assertion only slightly (i.e., 42 strokes) hyperbolic. I explained first that the object was to put the ball I pointed to the one Molitor was holding in a hole with as few strokes as possible. Surlyn nodded with the impatience of the truly jaded: one who has personally witnessed over 400,000 varieties of sports does not suffer fools or trivia gladly. Yes, yes, of course, he snarled, so you throw it in the air, and ? No, not exactly, I replied, not wanting him to get too far ahead of my description. You set it on the ground first. Ah, I see, said Molitor. You run up to it and strike it how? I shook my head. You dont run up to it, you just well, you just stand there. Surlyn stared at me in disbelief. Youre kidding. Nobody even throws it at you? No. You set it down and you hit it. How much time do you have? As much as you want. Molitor and Surlyn stole covert glances at each other. No clock? Surlyn asked. No. So then you strike the ball While it sits on the ground, okay, interrupted Molitor. Then? Hold it a second, I said, growing uncomfortable. Not exactly on the ground. Before they could react I said, For the first shot, you rest it on top of a small stick. After a moments hesitation, Surlyn asked warily, Why? I wiped a bead of sweat from my upper lip. It gets hot early in the desert. Uh, to make it easier to hit...? It came out more lame than I had intended. They only stared at me. After that, you hit it from the ground until you reach the hole. And you play from the ground from that point on? No, I mumbled. You put it back on the stick again for the next hole. They pretended not to hear that. How does your opponent detrimentally affect your play? Molitor asked. I explained that he doesnt. In fact, your opponent can be smoking a cigar or talking on his cellular phone while you play, or could go to the clubhouse for a beer. He cant block your shot? asked Molitor. Nope. Nor the path of your ball after it is struck? I was forced to admit that, not only could he not block your ball, he had to stand quietly to one side while you hit, completely out of your line of sight while you putted, and couldnt even step on the grass that lay between your ball and the hole, said grass being cut to within a micrometer of the ground so as to minimize wayward deflection of the ball, and if his ball inadvertently blocked your path to the hole, he had to remove it while it was your turn, making sure his ball marker was well out of your line. It was at that point that I noticed the two of them starting to back away from me, which I assumed was in reaction to a foursome coming up from behind. I turned back towards the tee box to see that this was not the case. When I turned back, they had moved off at least ten feet and were smiling sheepishly and I decided it would not be prudent to tell them that if a ball came to rest within casual water or was buried in its own pitchmark or up against a man-made obstruction or if it caused your stance to be on the cart path or pretty flowers or a garden hose, you could move the ball without penalty. You hit it with that striking implement? Molitor asked politely, pointing to the 5-iron in my hand. Actually, there are fourteen different striking implements, I whispered ashamedly, hoping he wouldnt hear me but failing to account for the aliens acute sense of hearing. Fourteen! Surlyn exclaimed. What on Zorp for? Depends, I muttered disconsolately, and explained how you needed a huge bag just to hold all the different striking implements for tee shots, grass, rough, sand, long hits and short, lob shots, bump-and-runs when I suddenly thought of something: But you can only use one ball! I cried in triumph. Splendid! Surlyn answered in delight, walking rapidly toward me, grasping desperately at this isolated restriction, then his face seemed to drop as he noticed four other balls nestled comfortably in a sleeve mounted on my cart. He halted about two feet away from me. Of course, I said weakly, you can change the ball on every hole. Oh. The look of hopeless dejection on his face was truly pathetic. He didnt even see fit to comment on the apparent fact that a player has the option of driving a motorized vehicle around the playing field. Just to keep his record complete, I suppose, Molitor asked me how the game is scored. I told him that there was one point awarded each time the ball was struck, and the lowest score wins. He seemed to perk up slightly at this unusual, lowest-score-wins angle. Care to take a guess at a typical score? I asked slyly, poking a spot that would have been Molitors chest, had he had one. They conferred for a few moments in a strange tongue consisting of various clicks, pops and whistles that put me in mind of dolphins, all the while punching buttons on what looked like a cross between a pocket calculator and an egg-beater. Molitor looked up to ask how many holes were in a round, then they huddled again until Surlyn looked up and asked me about clubs. Titanium or graphite composite shafts, I sighed, perimeter weighted contact surfaces, U-shaped grooves, aerodynamically contoured sole plates, concave-backed epoxy foam inserts and embedded hosels, all custom constructed according to Surlyn held up a hand (or whatever), his pale blue skin taking on a distinctly greenish hue, and returned to his discussion with Molitor. After another minute, they turned back to me and announced their guess of a typical score. Perhaps thirty or thirty-one? Surlyn ventured. I thought about that for a few seconds. You got it, I replied, and watched them slink back onto their ship after making me swear never to tell anyone they had ever set foot on this planet.
* © 1995 by Steeplechase Run, Inc - All Rights Reserved
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