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Bestselling author Carl Hiaasen wisely quit golfing in 1973. But some ambitions refuse to die, and as the years passed and the memories of slices and hooks faded, it dawned on Carl that there might be one thing in life he could do better in middle age than he could as a youth. So gradually he ventured back to the rolling, frustrating green hills of the golf course, where he ultimately and foolishly agreed to compete in a country-club tournament against players who can actually hit the ball. Filled with harrowing divots, deadly doglegs, and excruciating sandtraps, The Downhill Lie is a hilarious chronicle of mis-adventure that will have you rolling with laughter.
Carl Hiaasen was born and raised in Florida. He is the author of 11 previous novels and two children's books. He also writes a metropolitan column for The Miami Herald.
In the summer of 2005, I returned to golf after a much needed layoff of thirty-two years.
Attempting a comeback in my fifties wouldn’t have been so absurd if I’d been a decent player when I was young, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. At my best, I’d shown occasional flashes of competence. At my worst, I’d been a menace to all carbon-based life-forms on the golf course.
On the day I gave up golfing, I stood six-feet even, weighed a stringy 145 pounds and was in relatively sound physical shape. When I returned to the game, I was half an inch taller, twenty-one pounds heavier and nagged by the following age-related ailments:
• elevated cholesterol; • a bone spur deep in the right rotator cuff; • an aching right hip; • a permanently weakened right knee, due to a badly torn medial meniscus that was scraped and repaired in February 2003 by the same orthopedic surgeon who’d once worked on a young professional quarterback named Dan Marino. (The doctor had assured me that my injury was no worse than Marino’s, then he’d added with a hearty chuckle, “But you’re also not twenty-two years old.”)
Other factors besides my knee joint and HDL had changed during my long absence. When I’d abandoned golf in 1973, I had been a happily married father of a two-year-old son. When I returned to the sport in 2005, I was a happily remarried father of a five-year-old son, a fourteen-year-old stepson and a thirty-four-year-old son with three kids of his own. In other words, I was a grandpa.
Over those three busy and productive decades, a normal, well-centered person would have mellowed in the loving glow of the family hearth. Not me. I was just as restless, consumed, unreflective, fatalistic and emotionally unequipped to play golf in my fifties as I was in my teens.
What possesses a man to return in midlife to a game at which he’d never excelled in his prime, and which in fact had dealt him mostly failure, angst and exasperation?
Here’s why I did it: I’m one sick bastard.
The Last Waltz
My first taste of golf was as a shag caddy for my father. He often practiced hitting wedges in our front yard, and I’d put on my baseball glove and play outfield.
Dad seemed genuinely happy when I finally asked to take golf lessons. I was perhaps eleven or twelve, too young to realize that my disposition was ill-suited to a recreation that requires infinite patience and eternal optimism.
The club pro was Harold Perry, a pleasant fellow and a solid teacher. He said I had a natural swing, which, I’ve since learned, is what pros always say at your first lesson. It’s more merciful than: “You’d have a brighter future chopping cane.”
The early sessions did seem to go well, and Harold was en- couraging. As time passed, however, he began chain-smoking heavily during our lessons, which suggested to me the existence of a chronic problem for which Harold had no solution. The problem was largely in my head, and fell under the clinical heading of Wildly Unrealistic Expectations.
My first major mistake was prematurely asking to join my father for nine holes, a brisk Sunday outing during which I unraveled like a crackhead at a Billy Graham crusade. This was because I’d foolishly expected to advance the golf ball down the fairway in a linear path. The experience was marred by angry tears, muffled profanities and long, brittle periods of silence. Worse, a pattern was established that would continue throughout the years that Dad and I played together.
Golfers like maxims, and here’s a good one: Beginners should never be paired with good players, especially if the good player is one’s own father.
The harder I tried, the uglier it got. To say that I didn’t bear my pain stoically i
Excerpted from The Downhill Lie: A Hacker's Return to a Ruinous Sport by Carl Hiaasen All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.