There I was. Swing mechanic, equipment guru, avid golfer and I'd hit rock bottom again. I was aimlessly wandering from driving range mats over to the grass and back to the mats again. Much like that alcoholic finding substitution solace in toxins on the rocks and sloshing in and out of bars, I had become a driving range regular.
It was Friday quittin' time at the work place and there was a big money game at 8:08 the next morning. Fine-tuning the swing abruptly transformed into reconstructive surgery when I uncovered a flaw-balloon shots with no power. This time it's tragic, 80 yard 9-irons, 150 yard 5-irons. If I battled a ridiculous par-three, I'd have to shamefully fight it with a wood. With money on the line, there's no way I'd be able to hold up to the post-shot questions, "What club'd you use?"
"From 150 yards!"
It would have been the destruction my psyche and banishment of dividends. The solution was so theoretically simple, I had to hold my wrists longer. Releasing too early in the down swing, simple. Seventy-five red-striped dimpled Spaldings later, and it was catastrophic. On-lookers offered salutations of the evening as they set up next to me, stretching, warming up and eventually catapulting wedges landing further than my 8-Iron.
"Evenin'," a gentlemen extended.
I Ben Hoganed him by not responding while practicing. Not my usual demeanor, but I was bingeing.
Eighty-five balls, ninety-five balls, God please slow down my tempo! As a mockery offering, the great starter in the sky granted my wish-for five swings. Ten balls later I peered down at my Foot-Joys golf shoes and thrust the left one towards the empty bucket of futility. Peering at the 150 yard sign, hands on my hips, I looked down at the crater-depth divots pointing directly at my target. It was time to leave my swing here on the range.
As I merged on to the interstate heading home, I recalled that Exit 214A led right to lighted range equipped with mats and grass. Whipping the car across two lanes, I'd scarcely missed becoming the latest update on WSB's evening traffic report. Taking my clubs from the truck, I whisked by the counter throwing down my last bits of crumpled cash and asked for a medium bucket without giving the cashier eye-contact. Footjoys still attached to my soles from the last bar, I mean range, I dedicated myself to the grass area.
I looked out at the yardage targets, they looked like bar stool occupants-same drunks, different bar. Clinging to the faint memories of those five decent swings, I recalled the tempo, remembered the wrist angle, and found the follow through. Balls here were green-striped, matching the green and white paint flakes peeling from the yardage signs. I knocked a large flake off the 100 yard sign on my first swing, a direct hit-with my 7-Iron. The shot should have sailed at least 150 yards. I swung again with a fearless ferocity. I'd Tiger swing all day tomorrow if I had to. The 7-Iron shot rocketed high into a now dusk laced sky. Posing with my follow through, I willed the ball as far as I could. Others were watching my poise and balance, I could feel the eyes of admiration. The ball accelerated on its descent back towards earth, it's momentum lost long before the climb had ended. Parachuting softy, almost in a direct line from its launch spot, the object died a club's length behind the 100 yard sign. I swung again, not even looking at the result, and again, and again. Smacking balls as though I were insisting that the bartender refill my shot glass, I stopped after fatigue defeated frustration.
The bingeing was nearing levels of danger now. At the previous range, I solicited God's help and now I was turning to mere mortals. Bingeing brings about digression. A guy with a small bucket of confidence was pushing 160 yards with a slow smooth 8-Iron. He brushed the ground like an elderly woman whisking dirt from her front porch. Effortlessly perfecting the golf swing, he became my hero, the guy in the bar who was content with sipping one beer for two hours. I turned to him pleading, "Excuse me. I'm sorry to bother you, but I'm desperate. Would you watch my swing and see if anything stands out?" He graciously obliged and walked behind me while I lofted 7-Irons to that same old place, that we laughed about-Welcome Back.
His face was puzzled and he moved over to my side, facing me, wondering. He deliberated for five balls and came back with the verdict no golfer wants to have.
"I don't know what to tell you, I'm sorry. Everything looks good. There's one small glitch that's hurting you and I can't see it. Good luck friend. Don't give up. I've been there before and it hurts, I know."
He was the recovering drunk consoling me through withdrawal. I looked down again and saw the signs that I had had too much to hit again-deep divots and Footjoys. With clubs over my shoulder and time expiring before tomorrow's match, I retreated to the car oblivious to the cashier who asked, "How'd you hit 'em?" I wanted all things golf to banish from existence.
The digital clock in my car illuminated the lime-green characters; nine, colon, five, seven. Almost ten o'clock and there were only ten hours and eleven minutes until the misfortune of my money game.
Defeat was not an option and neither was surrender. As the alcoholic would have been legally inebriated by now, I was approaching deathly desperation.
There was an ATM machine two blocks from the range. I could drive over and be back with money in two minutes and the cashier might let me hit a small bucket. Giving the car ignition, I reached the exit of the parking lot but quickly awakened from the instantaneous insanity. I'd had enough to hit on a normal day of golf obsession, but today wasn't normal. Today, was bingeing.
Interstate 85 South would transport me to Interstate 285 East which would lead to my exit and comfort me with the Golf Channel, mental swings, and swing thought rehearsals. But that was no guarantee cure for what ailed my flaw. The at-home lesson was a weak watered-down shot of cheap whiskey-an alcoholic's tease.
The marriage of I-85 and I-285 was called Spaghetti Junction and deep inside the confusion of the junction was an exit beaconed by a high-flying giant American flag above a driving range owned by Koreans. Not only was it owned by Koreans, it was opened until 11:00 pm. Not only was it open until 11:00 pm, but it also accepted ATM cards. I should have gone home. The alcoholic needed one last drink and I needed one last bucket.
At this late hour, I would be Swinging Under the Influence, but it didn't matter. I was already in the parking lot before logic made its way to my neurons. Upon entrance to the range's office, thick burly cigarette smoke danced through the air strangling those not accustomed to its clutches. The smoke, the cashier, and I all looked at each other wondering how we'd all come to be here. The cashier, a defunct teaching golf-pro, the smoke, a vice for the pro, and I a burden to them both.
I retrieved my wallet, slid the ATM card on the counter and announced, "A large bucket please."
The cashier gazed at me strangely, drew on his cigarette until the tobacco and heat fused the into a deep bright orange hue. Holding the smoke hostage in his mouth, he turned to look at the clock behind him. Turning back towards me, he detoured the smoke out the side of his mouth, away from me. I gave in, "Okay, a small bucket." Attempting a smile, he gave me a free token for the ball machine outside.
And there I was a five handicap, less than ten hours from a money game, alone on the late-night driving range. Before I even addressed the first ball, the cashier flickered the lights as he routinely did at twenty minutes before closing. This was the last call just as the bartender rings a bell or gives a yell.
With a five iron as my weapon of choice, I lined up over ball, still not completely comfortable at address. I tried to ease my tempo by downshifting every muscle fiber I could control. The trigger of my swing was pulled. Impact was flush. The ball was magnetized to the sweet spot. It began hurling through the lonely night tacked to the target line. It's flight never deviating from course more than a millimeter. I blinked as long as I could, longing to open my eyes and watch a landing with the proper yardage.
The ball reached its destination and I watched it bounce reaching a target sign with the bold freshly painted numbers. The bright red numbers homogeneously stroked against the white wooden background displayed three digits that read-150 yards. The shot should have sailed at least 200 yards. The club dropped to my way side and I lowered my head. I tossed the 5-iron back at the bag and pulled out my three-wood. The balls blasted off the club face one by one sporadically vectoring to different directions. Finally, there was one ball left below me and I left it there looking towards the heavens and succumbing to my fate. I spoke out to the heavens hoping my cry would be heard, "I hear you, and I understand!"
It was then that I realized the obsession and the binge was likened to the drunkard waking up face down in a toilet the following morning. I, unfortunately, awoke the next morning facing the first tee box, praying my game had been miraculously restored. If I could find mercy in this one instant in life, I could defeat my opponent and win the unstable mental battle of my golf game.
On the tee box with that three wood in hand, shaking uncontrollably, but only on the interior, I swung with any shred of confidence I could think of and every muscle memory I had ever known. The ball shot off straight ahead and my hope had been restored… until the ball kept rising and began tailing off to the right barely hanging on to the edge of the fairway. The inevitable tee shot had sailed all of 180 yards on the 375 yard dog-leg left par four, leaving me with a draw of over 180 yards to the green. If things were impossible, this was one of them.
I lost the match that day, lost my money, and lost the bragging rights for the following work week. In my desperation, in my bingeing, I had discovered that I needed a change in my life and the change, just like the alcoholic, would start with a confession;
"Hi, my name is Byron and sometimes I play too much golf." No one was there to reciprocate the greeting, for there I was, alone, a swing mechanic, equipment guru, avid golfer on rock bottom looking up. In a few days after golf and I had some time apart and seen other people, I'd go to the driving range and begin climbing back up.