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, were both old and were 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 dont mind Norms 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. Hes making small talk and telling bad jokes again.
No, I dont mind this kind of golf personality. The sort I cant 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 doesnt 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 hes entered the Dark Place (perhaps helped there by a series of duck hooks and a bladed sandshot), theres no pulling Peter back. Hes 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. Weve tried all the usual perkem-ups: Good thing its par-five. Or, Dont worry, Pete, youll come around. (Not a good one if youre 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 Peters 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.