Lee Bacchus

The Volcano and The Brooder

Watching 43-year-old Hal Sutton grind out a win at the windy Houston Open reminded me how much he and I are alike.

No, not in talent unless you match my nine-hole totals with his 18. Rather, we’re both old and we’re both quiet plodders. If something goes amiss, the most you get is a subtle grimace; and if something goes right, a toothless smile might punctuate it.

Of course, I do a lot more subtle grimacing than toothless smiling during my rounds but at least my clubs remain in one piece and on dry land, which is more than you can say about my friend Norm.

If they labeled golf types then Norm would be classified as a Volcano: a lipped putt (simmering magma); a lay-up into the rough (bubbling, fiery lava); a fat approach after a perfect drive (full-blown Mount St. Helens). But I don’t mind Norm’s explosive temperment even though it can sometimes attract attention from a few fairways away. Once he undergoes an eruption a thrown driver whirligigging into the trees; a psychotic slash at the turf; or well-placed Etonic to the side of his bag Norm relaxes, like a death-row inmate after a conjugal visit. The steam has vented, the lava spent. He’s making small talk and telling bad jokes again.

No, I don’t mind this kind of golf personality. The sort I can’t abide is the type I call The Brooder. My friend Peter is a brooder. When Peter has a bad day there are no eruptions, no Richter-busting quakes of emotion. Just a darkening of his brow as the storm clouds of inner turmoil gather about him. A missed three-footer for par doesn’t evoke an angry curse or a stamp of the foot, but rather an existential angst, the first steps in a death march to a zone we who know Peter call “the Dark Place.”

Once he’s entered the Dark Place (perhaps helped there by a series of duck hooks and a bladed sandshot), there’s no pulling Peter back. He’s wearing a face like that kid in The Sixth Sense, and nothing you can say will bring him out of this deep well of fear self-loathing. We’ve tried all the usual perk’em-ups: “Good thing it’s par-five.” Or, “Don’t worry, Pete, you’ll come around.” (Not a good one if you’re already on the 17th hole, however). Or, “Hey, just consider this a practice round!”

Nothing works. Consoling words bounce off him raindrops off a statue. And soon the rest of us in Peter’s group are cringing every time he has to make a short putt to save par. Suddenly, we all feel like volunteers at a crisis centre.

So is there a moral to this tale of the Volcano and the Brooder? Not really, except perhaps to suggest that when adversity in golf strikes, it may be better let the anger out. Sure you may have to repair that divot on the putting green after an angry slash; sure you may have to repair you driver after embedding it in a nearby tree. But at least you live to play again. From the hazard called the Dark Place, there is no recovery.

Lee’s Top Five Golf Topics
1. HAL SUTTON The veteran wins Houston for his eighth victory after age 40. Finally, a record Tiger can’t touch. Yet.

2. ANNIKA SORENSTAM Se Ri Pak spoils her string of consecutive wins and helps quash the rumor that Sorenstam is be a Swedish cyborg.

3. AUGUSTA RENO The Masters mandarins plan to lengthen their course to make it a little less of a target range for the long hitters. I don’t now about turning No.12 into a 435-yard par-3, though.

4. LIVING LEGENDS Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player will be honored soon for “having the most influence on golf during the past half-century.” Yeah, as if these three guys are unsung heroes.

5. RYDER HYPE The TV commentators are already talking about The Ryder Cup. It has to be the most prematurely publicized event since the still “imminent” Beatles reunion.

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