Sports

Will Rogers said income tax turned more people into liars than golf. It’s debatable

John Robertson July 11 1977
Sports

Will Rogers said income tax turned more people into liars than golf. It’s debatable

John Robertson July 11 1977

Will Rogers said income tax turned more people into liars than golf. It’s debatable

Sports

John Robertson

Another Canadian Open Golf Championship is upon us, but if we pretend not to notice it maybe it will go away. I plan to miss this one (in Oakville, Ontario, July 18-24), but I can vividly remember covering several opens. I trudged over hill and dale for endless hours at a stretch—wedged in among the cursing, sweating hordes— afraid even to cough or expel gas, for fear of being shot on the spot by some indignant marshal wearing a pith helmet.

“Would you mind not farting while Mr. Nicklaus is putting, Sir?”

“I didn’t do it by choice, Old Boy.”

No other sport treats its spectators more shabbily than they are treated by the royal and ancient Colonel Blimps who run these tournaments. They force you to park your car at least a mile away from the front gate. They herd you behind ropes into elongated corrals of jostling humanity craning to see over one another’s heads, while former U-boat commanders weave through the crowd, brandishing portable periscopes, whispering, “Fire one, Arnie.” They expect you to behave as if you were at the graveside of a relative, watching the reverend try to sink old Charlie from 30 feet out.

But you don’t know what pressure is until you’ve followed Jack Nicklaus for four hours in the broiling sun, only to find yourself at the fifteenth tee, folded over like a clam with ruptured kidneys, and not a Johnny on the Spot in sight. Jack’s only playing for $40,000, but you are running for your life ... toward the nearest bush.

There is a deeply rooted reason why I despise pro golfers: they make it look so ■ easy it is disgusting. Also, they are among the most pampered athletes in all of creation. Could you imagine Guy Lafleur complaining that he missed the net on a breakaway because someone in the stands coughed just as he was about to shoot? Still, 1 do have an all-time favorite touring pro—a guy named Jim Ferree. I watched him take a 10 on a par three hole at Winnipeg’s Niakwa Country Club during the Canadian Open one year, and he didn’t even bat an eye. He just strode purposefully across this big footbridge toward the clubhouse, stopped in the middle, seized his clubs from his caddy, and dropped them over the side into the water. He then seized his caddy by the armpits, and was just hoisting him up over the rail when he was restrained by cooler folk.

My favorite players, though, are the untold thousands of uncoordinated stiffs like me who have grown to love that agonizing sensation of having our wrists vibrate like tuning forks, all the way up to our shoul-

ders, every time we bury a club head in the turf, several inches behind the ball.

I lost eight balls on my first 18 holes this year, and I barely missed losing a ninth when (oh hernia!) I tried to pick up a divot the size of a beaver pelt, withjust one hand. Last fall I bought a new driver and the clerk asked me how I wanted it wrapped. “Don’t worry about that,” 1 said. “Fve already picked out the perfect sapling. I figured it should go around maybe two and a half times.” The old wooden-shafted clubs were the best, because you could hear the satisfying crunch of wood upon wood.

I am sometimes consoled by the story about a player in the qualifying round of the Shawnee Invitational for Ladies in Delaware, Pennsylvania, back in 1912. On the sixteenth hole, she put her tee-shot into the Binniekill River and the ball began to float downstream. She set out in a boat in hot pursuit, her husband manning the oars. When they finally caught up to the ball a mile and a half downstream, she chipped it onto dry land, and then had to play through a mile and a half of forest before finishing the hole in 166 strokes. She made the Guinness Book Of Records.

Golf is the only sport, with the possible exception of sex, in which the cheaters usually prosper. I have almost perfected the art of swinging my club in dense bush with one hand, while lobbing the ball artfully out onto the green with the other hand. 1 always improve my lie with a flick of the club or a kick of the shoe, and I will not hesitate to step accidentally on my opponent’s ball, if we’re playing for money. I

once saw a grown man jump a fence and calmly chip a ball off a grave onto a nearby green—after first shushing some people who were tending flowers at another grave. I don’t really break the rules; I just make up my own as I go along. It reached a point one day where one of my opponents said to me: “I know one thing, Robertson. You’ll never die of a stroke on the golf course. If you have one, you just won’t count it.”

Actually, I used to play some of my best golf after dark, in the city. We had this big dog that used to leave unsightly souvenirs all over our back lawn. In the dead of night I used to creep stealthily out back, brandishing an old wedge I kept in the basement, and calmly chip the dog dirt over the fence into the neighbors’ yards, or sometimes even into their pools. That would teach them for having a pool. The high point came one evening when, under the influence of the grape, I unerringly chipped one into a neighboring bedroom window. Minutes later the man appeared at his back door and hurled his own dog off the porch, amid a stream of epithets.

Why do I keep playing golf, perhaps 50 times a year? Because of my undaunted conviction that just one time I’m going to hit a ball cleanly and watch it rise straight and true toward yonder flag. It happened once last year. There was this flag on our clubhouse, see, and I kind of overclubbed, and... well, anything in the eaves trough is a gimme, isn’t it?

Oh by the way, I forgot to tell you my handicap. It’s flat feet and a consumptive cough.