Sunday, April 28, 2019


The most beautiful golf shot I’ve seen in years came at last Sunday’s Masters tournament. It was, oddly enough, a putt. A long putt, early in the final day. The fact it brought tears to my eyes says as much about me, I guess, as the putt itself, and its author, Tiger Woods.

We’ve been Woods fans for decades. And why not? He has always been a story in motion, a narrative packed with drama, every swing: “Triumph or disaster,” as Kipling said, and “treat those two imposters just the same.”  

When the man Woods self-destructed in a personal way, it was really more a sad extension of the narrative fascination than a departure.

And then he began the long road back, painfully reassembling himself. His physical obstacles included a broken leg, crushed knee, four back surgeries, including a fusion. For a time, he could barely walk.

We do love a story of second chances. Most of us have transgressed, sometimes spectacularly, sometimes tragically--or just tragicomically--in our lives. When a sports great struggles back from disaster, and seems to have done so successfully, we feel a personal connection. We pull for him.

Yes, we do.

But then there is the golf.  The two came together on Sunday in the beauty of that putt, one of many extraordinary shots he made that day. Looking relaxed, focused, through it all.

It was an unusually long putt on the eighth green. A downhill putt with a necessary break.

Any golfer knows the interior trembling induced in contemplating such a putt. The pull of gravity adds the element of dire consequences to the already daunting combination of distance and direction. I think of the challenge as an adventure in imagination.

Woods stood for a long time before he struck it. Calculating. Visualizing. I stood there with him, then. Many did.

We knew what was coming next.

Golf is a series of existential moments. Every part of the golfer must execute in perfect sequence before connecting with a stationary sphere barely wider than a quarter. It requires faultless concentration. You set up, you pause, swing—and you’ve stepped off a ledge, suspended in air until the ball drops.

You are not in control. At no point are what we think of as “you” in control. “You” may contemplate, estimate, and you should. Then something else about you takes over. Muscle memory, training—and if you can sustain it, over and over again, character.

Out there on the course, your truest opponent is yourself. Your rhythms, your nerves. The temptation to cut a corner in a friendly game is strong. Winter rules. Gimme putts. Mulligans. Who doesn’t long for a mulligan in daily life? Who doesn’t long for a do-over?

I said I stood with Tiger Woods as he imagined that long putt I found so beautiful.

I began to play golf at thirteen. A natural, the pro said of me. I even loved to practice, and the practice paid off, tee to green.

But I never became adept at putting. Faced with a putt as long as Tiger’s on Sunday, I would see my day’s score doubling. I would have far preferred to be the same distance from the cup off the green, where I could chip.

That’s why I was there with him when he struck the ball. Holding my breath as it rolled, and rolled and rolled—perfectly calibrated, hewing to its invisible track as it yearned toward the hole and Tiger’s eagle.

And missed.

Tears arrived in my eyes--for its almost perfection.

For the unimaginable quantity of work required for its author to rebound from so much personal mess and injury. The months of mental, emotional and painful physical labor necessary to miss by only inches while within a stroke or two of the lead in the Masters.

And then, quite calmly, to go on and win.

Redemption, perhaps, is part of the greatest comeback story in golf, since Ben Hogan’s.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Springing, Sprung

Spring, at last, is airborne. We feel it on our skin, outdoors.

We see it, from car windows, colors pooling faintly in the greening fields. The flood of blue, orange, red and yellow will come soon. Invasive rapistrum rugosum, whose common name seems harsh for these pages, has made a good start, already, the tall, appealing spray of pale yellow disguising its ruthlessness.

Ah, but close up, the little things. Under our feet in the yard, tiny yellow starbursts, dots of periwinkle blue. The suspended layer of onion grass brings white to sunny spaces. Oak shade shelters the five petaled snowy cups of dewberry blooms.

Much of the ground is a dappled carpet of dropped leaves, beige and dark gold, implying the variegated hues of a copperhead. We walk with attention to where we step.

Here is a black jack oak, leaves of puckered green silk trailing chartreuse beards of bloom. More oaks in the woods, brushing our shoulder along the path—the translucent green at the end of a post oak branch, tenderest leaf to have so much responsibility, for life, for breath.

A fallen limb from seasons past wears a velvet coverlet, moss of the most brilliant green.

And, of course, there is the vigor of new briars yearning up the stalky trunks of yaupon, reaching for the sky. Sprigs of bright poison ivy, newly juiced, look to their important task, despite our inconvenience.

Across the pasture, trees exhale a green fog that lifts the heart in celebration. We see it and feel that hope is possible, even certain, if only we could renew ourselves in the way trees do. Live slowly, tasting every current of air, valuing the fall of daylight every moment upon us.

The pasture sprouts many things other than grass: Expectations of bluebonnets, coreopsis, the first paintbrush, its tip dipped in orange. Low growing clover competes with prickly pear, four inches tall to puncture tires and paws. Our dog finds thorns everywhere she goes.

There is more than one variety of clover, probably, but how do we really learn to name the plants we live with? Most of us just use the names we learned in childhood from our families and friends. Thus, the mis-named buttercup which turned out to be pink evening primrose.

I watch a mystery beginning under the live oak, a plant that looks like arugula, but sprouts a central succulent stalk, lightly fuzzed. The tiny independent flowers that will make its bloom, but haven’t yet, may reveal its identity tomorrow. A dandelion? Wild lettuce?

Naming things is fundamental to a human being, but does it help us see them more clearly? Or does it allow us to abstract them, to categorize wonder?

Butterflies have arrived, black ones, yellow ones, mixed orange and black that are not Monarchs, although we wish they were. Here, too, we lack the nomenclature.

But names don’t mitigate the buzzing of other small insects that accompany this riot of green. Instead of winter’s sere clarity only a week or two ago, the air is plaited now with gnats and other translucent insects. They fly under your visor, tickling earlobes, tasting you to see if you’re worth further exploration. No mosquitoes, though.

It’s early still.