My Perfect Round of Golf (Part One)

by John Delach

Any pleasure I ever took from my prowess on a golf course was overwhelmed by failure, frustration and  embarrassment. There is nothing worse for any serious golfer than being forced to play with an incompetent partner. My only saving grace was that I did know most of the important rules of golf.

These, I learned from my father, especially the unwritten rules pertaining to golf etiquette. A no nonsense taskmaster, he decided that my understanding the nuances of golf etiquette outweighed  how I played the game. I realized early on that regardless how horrible I was as a golfer; I didn’t compound my sins with violations of golf etiquette.

Despite my obvious incompetence, I struggled with golf’s frustration for many years beginning when I started playing while in high school until I finally walked away from the game when I  turned sixty.

No matter how many lessons I took, or how many different golf clubs I tried, one overwhelming truth willed out for as long as I swung a golf club. “On any given swing, with any given club, I was capable of striking the ball in a manner that it would react as it damn well pleased and 90% of those results were horrible.”

I could miss it completely, hit it backwards, hit a grounder, a ball that skimmed along, a pop up like a mortar shell or a line drive that could go left, right or right down the middle. If you counted correctly, this menu contains eight alternates and only one, a line drive right down the middle, would lead to a satisfactory result. One chance in in eight produces lousy odds.

Fortunately, I played many a golf game with fellow hackers out to play as best we could without embarrassment. Our solution, agree on a maximum number of strokes we would take on each  hole before we picked up our ball. Usually, that number was eight. If our ball disappeared into the woods or submerged after landing in a water hazard, we’d declare an eight and walk the rest of the hole. Free and clear of failure, we’d  walk with our buddies to the tee to try again on the next hole with the understanding that everything was six, two and even.

Customer golf was an essential part of the social-business experience in the world of insurance. Many of our clients prided in their golfing prowess and looked forward to playing prestigious courses otherwise unavailable to them. Of course, we gladly accommodated them using our members’ clout, the prestige of our firm, or as a last resort financial incentives so they could fulfill their golfing dream. This was neither unseemly nor unethical. Rather, we considered it as client entertainment, or business as usual.

To guarantee that clients had a great round, it was common for the senior broker to tell his client that his last shot was so remarkable that the broker conceded the hole, and the client should pick up his ball.

Legend has it that one of our over-eager Client Executives became overly generous during a round of golf with his client. Let’s call him George. George,  seeking to ingratiate himself with a difficult client declared that, lets call him Charles, had earned multiple “gimmes” each one further and further from the hole. Finally, George became so generous that after Charles had teed off on the next hole, a Par 5, one of George’s mates declared: “That’s a gimme, Charles, pick up the ball.”  As ludicrous as it sounds, Charles gladly picked up the ball and took a one on that Par 5!

I avoided participating in these client outings as much as I could. Fortunately, we had a great stable of excellent golfers in our Marine and Energy Department, golfers all who could hold their own on the course, carry on conversationally with the client and trade triumphs and frustrations at the bar on the 19th hole at the end of the round.

Sooner or later, my luck and guile had to run out. My Waterloo  caught up to me in Finlay, Ohio at the Hillcrest Golf Club. We had achieved an amazing success with Marathon Oil, our newly acquired client. To celebrate this victory, their risk manager, Bill N, invited us to Finlay for a dinner and a found of golf at his club.

I had no place to run and no place to hide. Damn, Bill N even stepped up to supply me with clubs. How bad was it? Let me give you the low lights:

Everybody knows the traditional American ballad: Down by The Old Mill Stream. But did you know the Old Mill Stream meanders through Finlay?

In fact, it crosses through four different holes on the Hillcrest Golf Club. Four chances to put a golf ball into the Old Mill Stream. Correct answer, I went four for four drowning four different innocent and terrified golf balls into this watery grave.

If that wasn’t bad enough, stupidly, I left one of Bill’s pitching wedges on the apron of one of the greens. The golfer who found it turned it in to Bill who sarcastically returned it to me so I could return a full set to him.\

Thankfully, he had his wife with him at that night’s dinner providing the atmosphere for a pleasant affair.

Subsequent events eliminated any negative repercussions, Marathon was merged out of existence and Bill took early retirement.

Life went on. I avoided playing customer golf as much as I could until circumstances offered me the opportunity to experience a perfect round of golf.

(To be continued.)    .