Sunday, July 15, 2007

A few months ago, I wrote a piece on equipment, which, due to the amount of income GOLF MAGAZINE derives from manufacturers who advertise within our pages, is a sensitive subject to say the least. Upon initial reading of the column, our esteemed editor immediately soiled himself and sat about deleting anything he felt might cost us money.

Writers tend to get a little miffed when this happens, generally because it tends to mean more work for the writer, but I am a pig with a different snout, as my grandfather used to say. Why he used to say that remains a mystery to me, but as usual, I digress.

This month I'm going to tackle a subject that probably should be shot with a tranquilizer dart before it is touched with a cattle prod, provided it is safely behind titanium bars at the time. As always, I rely upon my editor to delete anything that might eventually cause pain or physical harm to my own personal self, so don't be surprised if the only things that appear after this paragraph are two apostrophes and a question mark. I give you marriage on the PGA Tour.

'?'

Just kidding.

Golf marriages are under more pressure than most due to the amount of time that couples must spend apart. There is no worse feeling than when you realize that your spouse has been playing with someone else's equipment. It often takes people longer to get over a betrayal than a death, for at least dead people aren't around any more.

Then, of course, when you do get over it, there's the mulligan! How do you find the courage to tee it up again?

In order to make a living as a Tour professional golfer -- or even as a semi-Tour semi-professional golf broadcaster -- one must have a high opinion of one's self and the ability to make work your number-one priority, at least for a while. This means that your wife (and I will assume the male role for the rest of this article), will have to be content to play second fiddle to a self-important pillock. At least, that's what my wife tells me.

First, there is the question of, "To follow or not to follow?" If she follows her man while he plays, she risks suffering the opinions of the gallery, who have no idea who she is. And there will always be a few who are so expert, that they feel it necessary to slander her hubby. More than one unsuspecting critic has tripped over a surreptitious spousal shoe, sending the scoundrel head first into a pine tree.

Some pros like their wives to follow and some do not. However, the ones that do not are seldom dumb enough to share this feeling with their wives. It goes kind of like this: "Honey, do you want me to walk with you today?" Which actually means, "Should I come with you today, or just hang around the room here at the Stumble Inn and maybe try to get the chewing gum out of the carpet?"

Make no mistake about it, there are more fulfilling things for a woman to do than trudge around a golf course, surrounded by idiots, just so she can hand her husband a granola bar as he walks from the 12th green to the 13th tee pausing only to whack his putter on the ball washer. Sometimes it's harder to watch golf than it is to actually play it.

On the other side of the coin, the man is out there suffering, too. You've just hit a fat 9-iron from a soggy lie, and as you're picking the divot out of your nose, you notice the tubby balding guy with the pony tail and the cigar who has been walking two paces behind your wife all day so he can get a good look at her backside. Of course you can't go over there and rescue her from this leering idiot, as this would display juvenile insecurity, and anyway, you're supposed to be thinking of getting up and down for par, you moron.

Sometimes the intuitive wife will sense that her husband really doesn't need her to be around and so she will slip off quietly and leave him to go about his business. The husband, who of course believes that his wife couldn't make it around the golf course if he didn't make eye contact with her at least once every couple of holes, notices her absence after a while and even though he didn't want her there in the first place, he's now really pissed off that she left.

The bottom line is, it's just not easy for anyone, and this is what it's like sometimes when golf couples travel together. When they're apart, it can be just as difficult. Scheduling and time changes make it hard to call at the right time, and frequently one party appears to not want to talk to the other, which will invariably put the caller's nose out of joint. All your wife needs is a baby on one arm, two boiling pots, third-grade math and a dumbfounded 8-year-old, with the Cartoon Channel blaring in the background, and when the phone rings it's zero-to-bitch before you can say hello.

You, on the other hand, are in Memphis, where it's two hours later. Because of this, your digestive system is just enough out of whack to have caused you to visit the dreaded Porta Potti at 9:40 that morning after you had played only two holes.

You've walked like John Wayne all day, shot 78, and are now in bad, bad need of a cold beer and a decent meal with your friends, who are waiting for you in the lobby, when the phone rings. It's your wife and you immediately realize that this is going to be a listening, not a talking experience, so you tell her that the boys are waiting downstairs, and you'll call her back after dinner. She's just eaten macaroni and cheese with the kids, and you're going to the Palm. This does not make her feel any better, but of course she'll do her best not to make you feel guilty. Not very.

By the time you get back it's too late to call, so you wait until morning, by which time she's convinced you've spent half the night at a strip club, and on the way to the golf course you realize that the two pounds of cow and the acre of French fries you consumed last night have done nothing but guarantee you another near-childbirth experience before you make the turn. Also, you'll need 26 on the back nine to make the cut.

Welcome dear readers, to a slice of married life on the PGA Tour. Golf marriages are under more pressure than most and all too often are subject to the sad schism or remorseful rift. My own divorce was a public and humiliating affair that effectively ended my playing career and at one stage cost me my two kids, 50 pounds of my body weight and virtually everything I owned.

I met my new wife Anita when I was at rock bottom, and it is a testament to the kind of woman she is that I now have my boys back plus two more and finally my dream come true, a 16-month-old baby girl, who, like her mother, is impossibly beautiful and must be obeyed at all times. Also, I now have a new career and I've managed to put 60 of those 50 pounds back on, and dammit, I've enjoyed every ounce.

Mind you, I've just been left in charge of our baby girl and three of our boys for the last five days and I'll tell you what. If my wife doesn't come back by tomorrow night, I think I'm either going to die of exhaustion or check myself into a mental institution.

If I'm going to give you an example -- and I believe I am -- I might as well go straight to the top. Barbara Nicklaus has always looked great, managed to raise great kids, keeps beautiful homes, and has had the love and courage to go the distance with a man who reached the dizziest heights in sport -- and she still had time to help keep his feet on the ground.

I think (after the last five days) this is the equivalent of winning about 500 major championships. Just ask Jack who had the easier job.

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