Spring 2012 — THE POTOMAC

  Jeevak Lal

It was a lousy tee shot. The ball had sliced off to the right and ended in a cut of rough, under the trees and ten feet in front of the thick trunk of a maple. The way forward was blocked for a hacker like me. I’d have to hit out and lose a stroke. But if I hit out to the right, the shot would end up in a pond. That would be an additional penalty. If I hit out to the left, there were sand-traps waiting. And I was hopeless at hitting out of sand and more strokes would be lost. If I tried to squeeze the ball past the tree, odds were that my shot would hit the tree and bounce backwards or careen off into the pond or into the sand.

“Hey, go for it, just go for it.” I looked around. Coming through the trees was a guy I had never seen before. He had come across form the adjacent fairway to help me out. So it is with golfers, always helpful, always polite and always ready with advice. It is part of the great game.

“What do you mean, ‘go for it’?”

“Listen,” he said, “try skimming the ball past the left side of the tree. Keep it low and you’ll be back on the fairway and within range of the green.”

“Every time I try to aim a shot past a tree, I hit the tree,” I lamented.

“Well, the answer is staring you right in the face. Don’t you see?”

“No, I don’t. What’s the answer?”

“Look, since your aim is so lousy, just aim for the tree! Aim for the tree! And you’ll miss it! That’s one of the secrets of golf.” We laughed. He suggested a club, how it be held, and where my feet should be planted.

“Give it a full swing. Don’t choke-up. And aim for the center of the trunk. The dead center.” I did as he said. And by golly, it worked. The ball took off like a bat out of hell, missed the left side of the trunk by a foot, kissed the tips of the overhanging leaves, sped truer than an arrow and ended in the center of the fairway, an easy pitching-wedge shot from the green.

“Wow,” said I.

“He who dares wins, he who dares wins,” was Duffy’s joyous response.

“Thanks a whole great lot.”

“You’re very welcome,” said my new friend. “We’ll catch up later. Keep loose and have fun.”

You remember how red are the cheeks of the clowns in kiddies’ picture books, don’t you? Of course you do. Well, Duffy’s cheeks are redder. Duffy is five feet from his heels to his bald crown. And his girth? Well, it’s five feet as well. When he walks down a fairway, his feet do not really come off the turf. They sort of just shuffle and slide along. You know, like Michael Jackson.

Now, one might think that rolly–polly folks like Duffy are bumblers, and not too good at much of anything. We sort of laugh at them. But, boy oh boy, can Duffy swing a golf club! Duffy can hit a golf ball and split a falling leaf, in a swirling wind, mind you, at two hundred yards! He curves the ball this way and that, like a banana. He bends it around trees and bushes. He can hit a shot so low that it never rises more than four feet. And he can loft a shot higher than high and plunk it within six inches of the pin.

Since that first meeting, I have played with Duffy a few times. Each round has been a joy. It’s not just the golfing gems he drops liberally, it’s also his wit, his love of life, that just pour out with each breath he takes. In fact, walking side by side down a fairway, he once said that the single most important thing we should be concerned about is the very breath we are taking. Nothing else, he said, is important. Nothing else. He has much to share about golf but also about far more sublime matters. You see, Duffy lives a lot, laughs a lot. He is at peace with himself and with the air that surrounds him and with all that the air puffs his way. He has mastered the secrets for happiness and tranquility and is content with what has been gifted to him. Unlike the rest of us, Duffy seeks nothing. He is a good man, a great soul.

Now, if any of you would care to meet Duffy, play a round with him, learn from him, then come on over to the Ella Sharp Golf Course in Jackson, Michigan. Ask for him. He will greet you with the bubbliest of smiles, warm words, and a hand upon your shoulder. But you had better hurry. The cancer in his liver has spread and the medicines are no longer working.

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