Arts & Entertainment

Picking Splinters: Cold Feet On the Scottish Green




The ball shot off the driving range mat like a Formula 1 racecar. That was good. The only problem was that the Formula 1 racecar seemed to be in the midst of a 90-degree left turn. That was bad. Very bad.

What have I gotten myself into?

This week I will be teeing it up on the first hole at the Old Course in St. Andrews, universally regarded as golf’s birthplace. The privilege, at least it seemed such at the time, was part of my and my mother’s plan to celebrate my dad’s 60th birthday in Scotland. As he is the consummate golfer, this ranks somewhere between heaven and playing shortstop for the Yankees and batting in front of Mickey Mantle. He is going to love this. When we gave him the tickets and the tee-time stub, wrapped in an argyle kilt at that, he squeezed out more than a few man-tears.

This is going to be the experience of a lifetime for him. For me, it’s the source of more than a little anxiety.

I didn’t want to embarrass my dad on his day of glory. This worry is particularly acute because embarrassment was not a stranger to some of our previous family vacations. When I was younger, we tried cross country skiing for the first time at a resort in the Catskills. Our Nordic debut just happened to coincide with a Special Olympics race. When we were viewed side by side with said competitors it was quite easy to tell we did not belong in their class. They were Olympians, we were just special.

After the 54th time we all simultaneously plunged sideways into a snow bank, we gave up. I would say we swallowed our dignity, but by that time our dignity was well on its way through our digestive track.

Now, as yet another shot veered widely to the left, I feared that the ignominy of our past would return on the links of St. Andrews.

My father will be fine. He’s an excellent golfer, usually competing for his club’s championship in Connecticut. He’ll be birdie-ing every other hole and buddying up to his caddie, who will tell him long-lost stories of golfing lore, and later invite him over to meet his brother, Sir Sean Connery. I, however, was foreseeing a future in which I would drive my caddie to the brink with every stroke. By the end of the round he would probably stab out his eyes so he could stop watching the horror of my swing. Then he’d return to the pub and tell everyone he had removed his eyes to save himself from the shameful sight of Snap Hook McGee.

I shouldn’t be this bad. I’ve been playing a lot this summer and I was halfway decent to begin with. Yet here I am sending out shots like boomerangs at the East Potomac Park driving range.

How am I supposed to deal with this? How am I supposed to concentrate when I’m feeling like I’m going to play so bad that the end of my round may resemble that scene in Germany from “National Lampoon’s European Vacation?” And after we’ve been run down by riotus Scots, angry that we’ve sullied their great tradition with my swing, I will finally find out what all gets stuffed into haggis because I will be stuffed into haggis.

This is such a big deal for my dad that I just want it to be perfect, which is why I wince whenever one of these shots puts its left turn signal on. But I also know that my dad would not approve of my current line of thinking. You shouldn’t focus on the negative, he would say. Visualize success. He’s big on visualization – see the TV room practice swings mentioned in last week’s column.

My motivation should be success, not an irrational fear of crazed Scots and local delicacies. My dad will understand, my caddie will be supportive – especially since condescension will be reflected in the tip – and I know the charming people of Scotland won’t cast me into the sea. But for all my reasoning that I should relax, I am still concerned I won’t play well.

I’m concerned because, despite all my rationalization, there is a rather large gap between “thinking” and “doing.” In this case, that gap just happens to be the size of the Atlantic. So I’ll spend this week trying to think positive. But I won’t know if those thoughts have done a lick of good until I take my first swing from the tee box.

So what will it be? Hero? Or haggis? We’ll find out next week.