Finally, after years of pain and struggle, I had accepted the fact that I would never be a good golfer. No matter how many hours I practiced, no matter how many instructors I saw, how many books and magazines I read, or how many teaching aids I tried. Then it hit me. According to Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s book “On Death and Dying,” Acceptance was the final stage of grief that terminal patients experience before dying, the others being Anger, Denial, Bargaining, and Depression. I was in the final stage! When I started thinking about it, I realized that I’d gone through every one of those stages, but not as a terminal patient . . . as a golfer.
I will never be good. There, I said it. I like saying it. I’ll say it again: I’ll never be good. It’s just not something I’m suited for. That’s O.K. I’m good at other things. What those are I have no idea. But I’m sure there are some. … … So it’s clearly psychological. I wonder . . . what if I blindfolded myself ? Is it possible?! Have I stumbled upon the Secret? It makes sense. The reason I can’t hit the ball is that I can see it! Tomorrow I’m going to play blindfolded, and if that doesn’t work then I’ll definitely and unequivocally accept Acceptance. I just want to try this blindfold idea. I have a very good feeling about it. Very good.
My first stage: Anger. There was a time when I was always angry on the course. Driving fast in the cart. Throwing clubs. Constantly berating myself. “You stink, four-eyes! You stink at everything. You can’t even open a bottle of wine! You can’t swipe a credit card at the drugstore! You can’t swipe. And you’ve never even been to the Guggenheim. The Guggenheim! And call your parents, you selfish bastard!” Then I’d walk off the course and vow never to play again, only to return the following week for more of the same. I hardly ever finished a round. Once, I bought a brand-new set of clubs, and then, after a particularly terrible day, I gave them to the caddy at the sixteenth hole and left.
The Anger phase lasted for years, and then I entered the next phase, Denial. “All I need are some lessons,” I told myself. “Why should everyone else be able to do it and not me? Why are they good? I’m coordinated. I have a jump shot! I can go to my left. Obviously I have it in me. I have it in me! Next year, I’ll go to Orlando and spend a week taking lessons with Leadbetter. I don’t care what it costs. How can you spend a week with Leadbetter and not get better? It’s impossible.” But I did, and I didn’t.
The third stage was Bargaining, and I did my share of that. “Please, God. All I want to do is hit the ball. What is it You want? Good deeds? Give me a swing and I’ll give You good deeds up the wazoo. I’ll help sick kids, the homeless . . . well, sick kids. I’ll stop all the mocking. I’ll give up cookies, coffee, coffee cake, cashmere. I’ll go to temple. Is that what You want? Temple? Done! Can I bring my BlackBerry? O.K., no BlackBerry, I promise! Just let me hit the ball! What do You care?” He didn’t. What kind of God won’t let me hit the ball? What did I ever do to Him? He took my hair, I didn’t complain. I joked about it! I was a model bald man. Was it the TV show? Did He not like the show? Too mean? I’ll make it nicer! I can be nice. “Tell You what—I’ll visit my parents in Florida three times next year. That’s right, You heard me. Three times! . . . Did I say three? Three’s crazy. No one can survive three trips down there. It’s suicide. Let’s make it two. What do You say? Two trips to Florida! I’m only human!” And, by the way, I wasn’t even asking to hit every shot. Or even every other shot. Or even every third shot. I said, “God, let me hit the ball every fourth shot and I’ll be happy.” Every fourth shot! But He didn’t. He wouldn’t. He won’t.
Then I drifted into the next stage, Depression. I was never going to be good. Never. Think what I could’ve done with all that time. Learned French. Piano. I’d be playing Chopin now if it weren’t for golf. Playing Chopin for Julie Delpy. But instead I wasted my life on this game. It looked so easy. The ball just sits there. Any idiot could do it. But every instinct I had was wrong. You’re supposed to hit the ball down to make it go up. That’s absurd. I want to hit it up to make it go up. When I try to hit down, it’s like I’m splitting a log with an axe. All I do is chop up the course. And then there’s this one: the easier you swing, the farther the ball goes. How can that be? So you hit down to make it go up and swing easy to make it go far?