I never played golf till I was out of college though I became fascinated with it when I was ten years old and came across the deVicenzo story reading the sports section in Newsday during the '68 Masters. The guy actually won, I remember thinking, except he didn't? I only understood that something adult and tragic was going on in the sports pages where it didn't seem to belong. The famously exclusionary country club down the road from my grandparents' Hamptons summer place stuck in my imagination, too. If I wanted to be the first Jew to play there I'd have to learn how, except visits to the driving range produced nothing but sore hands and sweaty, bitter humiliation.
Too cheap to afford golf lessons I was too stupid to realize I needed, I started reading magazines and books -- Golf My Way, and then everything by and about Ben Hogan, which put me onto the scent of "The Secret." A year out of college, visiting Vegas with my old man on one of his frequent junkets, we took a cab to the old Desert Inn on a sunny Friday morning in January, where I got a bucket of balls and borrowed a driver from the pro shop. I coolly took a station alongside a compact, strong-looking, black golfer hammering 300-yard tee shots at a measured pace. His intensely controlled shoulder turn and wristcock would unspring with terrifying fury. More alarming yet was the flight path: there wasn't any arc. Instead, the ball came off the low-profile head -- this was 1981, and the golfer, I realized many years later, was Jim Thorpe -- drilling through the air like a tiny missile eight feet above the ground.
Watch and learn, I thought. My research had uncovered dozens of Secrets and I was close to getting to the big one. I understood it was important to look confident, so as I planted my feet I wore a look of calm, deliberate concentration, then methodically wound up and unloaded unholy shanks and ugly overspinning clover-snipes. My stoic expression conveyed that I was deliberately "working the ball" into the golf carts all the way off the right hand side of the fairway, or skipping dangerously close to a handful of waterfowl clustered around a sprinkler-head puddle about 75 yards ahead of me. My father had removed his shirt and was sunning himself on a nearby bench. "Watch out for the ducks!" he yelled. Feigning deafness, I shrugged at Thorpe as though to say, When did they start letting in these old Jews?
Two minutes later, all activity on the range had ceased and the club pro was trying to help a mallard hopping around in a circle, flailing a slightly bent wing. "I was afraid something like this was going to happen!" Next morning he was giving me my first golf lesson.