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THE LAST [by David R. Sands]
Shots of Life
From the Fairway to the College-Bound Daughter

It is a curious, rarely remarked-on thing that the most exciting moments in golf occur when the player is at his most helpless. This is not, typically, the way things work in other sports. The crunching hit in football, the blazing fastball or the monstrous home run in baseball, the slam-dunk in basketball, the put-away volley in tennis all require the active agency of the athlete involved.

One is, for better or worse, in charge of one’s destiny, present at the scene of the crime.

Things are exactly backward in golf, where the fun begins only after the player has pretty much taken himself out of the equation.

Perhaps it is because even the most methodical golf swing is over in an eyeblink, its virtues and flaws only visible in super-slo video replays, but the most dramatic seconds in sports may occur between the time the clubface meets the ball and the shot finally comes to rest. A full five-act Shakespearean drama (too often in my case, a tragedy) can play itself out in the course of a single 6-iron bump-and-run.

The wild mood swings concentrated in a single golf shot are not limited to the high handicapper. “Oh, be right! Be right!” is a wonderfully passive phrase unique to golf. It is the universal cry of the golfer who dares to think he may have chosen the right club, the right line and the right force to actually hit a good shot close to the target. 
This concept works in spades on the humblest of shots – the putt. It is hard to explain to the non-golfer, but the single most heart-stopping moment in golf may be transit of the last six feet of a 30-foot putt that actually has a chance of going in the hole. We hit so many putts that give away the plot in Act 1, clearly off line even before we’ve had the time to formulate the correct curse word for our incompetence.

So when there is true uncertainty about the ending, the dramatic charge goes right off the scale. Whether it finds the hole or not can seem at times an emotional afterthought. It was the mounting anticipation and shock that really register. And it’s the ball that is the star of the show; the golfer who set the whole thing in motion is a bit player.

That helplessness is only underscored by another phenomenon characteristic to golf: The best way to get a quick read on a golf shot is not to watch the ball, but the ball-striker. The television cameras don’t stay focused on Brett Favre when he throws a bomb or do a tight shot of Roger Federer to determine if his serve was in.
But if a golfer drops his club in disgust on the follow-through, or bends painfully at the waist after a drive, or starts walking toward his putt a millisecond after hitting it, you pretty well know all you need to know about the quality of the shot. Actually tracking the ball feels a bit redundant.

And again, it’s when you’re least in charge, when you’re part of the operation is over, that the drama commences.

I think of all this as I contemplate my beautiful daughter, the eldest of our three children, packing up for her first year of college this fall.

Like that golf swing, the past 18 years have gone by in an eyeblink, and we are now entering the hit-and-hope stage of the drama. The shot looks good and the trajectory strong, but now she’s off to find her own fairways.

I won’t exactly disappear from the drama, but I expect for the next few decades or so, I will be standing on the tee, bending painfully from the waist, and saying, “Oh, be right! Be right!”

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