Once a year I play a round of golf with my three oldest pals, the only lifelong friends I have.
We played junior high football and drove cross-country together. We were groomsmen at one another's weddings. A few years ago we almost literally killed each other during an oncourse argument.
"That's my ball in the fairway!" one of my buddies shouted.
"But you're playing Maxfli," replied another.
"No, I'm playing Precept!"
"But I'm playing Precept!!"
It caused us to reevaluate our friendship and got me started writing a play about four buddies who wonder why they still get together to play.
The plot goes to the primal heart of the sport, which is what makes golf so dramatic to start with. It's a dangerous combination: men with years' worth of grudges and metal weapons in remote forests with few witnesses.
What other game could conjure such drama?
Sure, a free throw or field goal to win the game can tighten the throat, and the bottom of the ninth or the final lap can rile the stomach acids, but every shot in a round of golf can cut a 41.4-inch hole down to one's essence. It places an unmatched level of pressure on the player; there are no refs, teammates or coaches to blame, no early exit to the dugout, no helmet or windshield to hide behind. The scrutiny can force people into revealing extremely personal, often ugly, character traits.
Remember when Woody Austin attacked a putter with his own head? When Davis Love III smashed a sprinkler head with his club? Or when Sergio spit into a cup after missing a putt?
Golf's truth serum causes even more unpredictable reactions from amateurs. I was 10 years old the first time I played with my dad. It took only two holes for me to realize that this mild-mannered M.D. was one angry s.o.b. (I learned the term "self-loathing" later. from a golfer.)
My friends and I live thousands of miles away from one another, we have less and less in common with each passing year, and, despite our attachment, all we seem to do is argue.
When we play, the nostalgic niceties fall away by the time we reach the 1st green. We remain fathers and husbands with respectable careers, but on the course the bullies, whiners, wiseacres and idiots who live within us come bubbling to the surface.
Why do we do it? Five years worth of rewrites later, I'm still searching for that answer.
Maybe it's because now that we've shared these hidden sides of our personalities, facets that even our wives haven't seen, we feel bound together. We're more and more different from one another, but despite the years and distances, golf has made us closer than ever.
Maybe I'll get some more answers when my play, Men with Clubs, which I finally finished, has its premiere. The guys are flying in to see themselves up on stage.
I made a tee time for the following day.
Jones's Men with Clubs premieres at the HotCity Theatre in St. Louis on April 25.