Thursday, May 27, 2010

Golf over fly fishing? No shanks.

I have a friend who is an avid golfer, and who can't fathom why I would want to spend my summer and fall weekends in the bug-infested back woods of northwestern Maine. "I used to work in the woods," he said. "I can't imagine wanting to go there if I didn't have to." Well, he's never tried fly fishing, and he made it clear he never would. "No way in hell," he said.
While he has never fly fished, I have golfed. Still do, occasionally, so I know where he's coming from. I know how the sport slowly invades the souls of those of use who have even the slightest obsessive tendencies. Without our being aware, golf tees us up by letting us smack a wonderful tee shot, and then drags us beneath the surface, gasping, as we contemplate hitting a long iron into the green.
"Don't shank," says the voice in your head. "Don't shank. Shank. Shank..." And so, with the confidence and skill of a fledgling, and against your better judgment at that instant, you swing. You swing really hard, and the brand new Titleist Pro V 1 golf ball you were trying to hit glances feebly off the open club face and flies into the woods, 90 degrees to the right of where you were aiming. Silence.
A dreaded shank.
More silence. Your playing partners can't even look at you. You've possibly ruined their entire rounds, because as every golfer knows, once you get the word "shank" in your head, that's all you can do, at least for that day. I've known golfers who, in trying to chip onto a green, have shanked the ball entirely around the perimeter of the green and never landing on it. The ball, in that case, ends up unceremoniously and mercifully in the pocket.
This is only the first hole, mind you. There are 17 more to go. If that is not enough to send you to the beer cart, I don't know what will.
And so it goes. Up and down, back and forth. One good shot, then one shot that has the athleticism of a slip and fall. Another shank. Another good tee shot. And so on, until you find yourself standing on the 18th tee, hardly remembering how you got there. You started with a dozen balls; now you have one.
You stand there thinking only one thought: licking the foam from a frosty beer in the club house. Without a golfing thought in your head, you take the club back and start to swing. The club head glides effortlessly through the ball, hitting it with a loud click. Your last golf ball sails down the middle of the fairway, landing just beyond the 150-yard marker. "That felt good," the demonic voice in your head tells you.
Still dreaming of that cold beer, you mindlessly strike your second shot to within 10 feet of the hole, and make the putt without so much as a flinch. You have birdied the final hole, and now that's all that matters. "Easy game."
Back in the clubhouse, your buddies can't even talk about the rest of your game, because to do so would mean they would have to use the word "shank," which, as I have said, cannot be uttered by a responsible golfer. So everyone talks about your final hole, as if that constituted your entire round. By now, as far as you're concerned, it was the entire round. You are ready to play again -- this time for money. Tomorrow.
And so it goes. The golf demon has sucked you in to the game, and has you right where he wants you. He will thrive on tormenting and torturing you for the rest of your natural life, and maybe beyond, no one knows.
There are no such demons in fly fishing. While I have witnessed dozens of golfers in my lifetime throw their golf clubs all over the golf course (even into trees), I have never seen a single fly fisher throw his Sage rod into the woods. I suspect I never will. (Indeed, I saw a fisherman accidentally drop his prized rod into the stream, and he promptly dove into the current to rescue it.)
Maybe it's the water, or the proximity to nature. To fly fish, one must be intensely in tune with nature and one's surroundings. There is the sound of rushing or splashing water, the movement of insects and feeding fish. You must concentrate, but it's a different level of concentration. You find yourself trying to think like a fish. These are very serene and positive thoughts.
In golf, proximity to nature means your ball has come to rest too close to a tree to swing, or you're reaching into the water to pull your ball out. If you had a chain saw, you'd have cut that damn tree down. Drain the damn pond. These are not positive, serene thoughts.
Don't get me wrong, I still like to play golf. I like the camaraderie, the thrill of hitting good shots, the nice cold beer when it's all done. I just don't get too upset about it anymore. Fly fishing has done that for me. It's given me a different perspective; something else to turn to, something that has good, positive vibes. Something that's a lot better for the blood pressure.
So, is it golf or fly fishing?
Given a choice between the two, I'd rather be thinking like a fish.
-- Tom Welch

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