Everybody's good at something. I don't know who first uttered these words, but they're true. The trick is finding out what "something" is, preferably before you're forced to look back on your life and wonder what the hell happened. One of the by-products of this search is that you find out what you're not good at too. For me, the list is long and varied: porn star, air traffic controller, stunt double, and professional golfer all make the cut. Sometimes the choice is obvious -- porn star, for example -- and other times you have to live the experience, no matter how painful, before you realize it's time to update the list.
The realization that I would not be a professional golfer came a few years ago. Actually, I've always known I wouldn't make it on the PGA Tour, but it took one of these "painful experiences" for me to fully comprehend that I will never be anything more than a hacker who happens to own golf clubs. At the time, I was in graduate school in Arizona. One of the great things about graduate school is that you have a lot of free time. One of the great things about Arizona is that it's sunny 350 days a year; golf was the inevitable offspring of the two. My friend Chris and I would squeeze in two or three rounds a week, usually in the mornings while everybody else trudged off to work, and we'd usually get paired up with a couple of snowbirds, counting the days until they had to make their way back east for the summer.
In the span of a few months, I went from shooting in the 100s to regularly breaking 90. I fancied myself something of a self-taught, legit golfer-in-training. It turns out I was wrong about that.
On special occasions (read: when the thermometer hit 100) we'd sometimes hit the resort course because of the double discounted greens fees: half-priced for being a student, and an extra 10 percent off for being dumb enough to play golf in temperatures better suited for baking cookies.
One of these special occasions was especially memorable, at least as it pertained to me filling out my everybody's-good-at-something list. By the time we starting patronizing the fancy courses, I was consistently making solid contact, with both my woods and irons. That's not to say I didn't hit errant shots -- those were a big part of my game, and I was known for my "slice off the tee" -- it's just that they were very well struck errant shots. As my game improved, I also picked up this nasty habit of throwing tantrums when I played poorly. Which, in hindsight, is ridiculous since I wasn't very good to start with.
But when you're in the moment, it's sometimes hard to see these things, until reality decides to slap you in the mouth. The day that I realized golf would never be anything more than -- to rip off John Feinstein -- a good walk spoiled, is still vivid even though it was eight years ago. My round started worse than usual, spraying my drive -- and then the mulligan -- into the scrub brush that separated the tee box from the fairway. Lying five and I was still on the tee. Not good. My day continued along in this fashion, and with each stroke over par I became increasingly frustrated.
Compounding matters, Chris was having the round of his life. Chris might be the least competitive person I've ever met; he never much cared about his score, and always seemed to have fun just playing the game. I never understood this, though it probably explained why I always beat him. He was also an expert rock climber, and maybe the Zen-like nature of that sport carried over to his golf game. Whatever, by the eighth hole the wheels were off and I was a bad shot away from a violent crime. One bad shot later -- from the middle of the fairway, a wedge flubbed 15 yards closer to the hole -- I calmly walked to the golf cart, took an old 3-wood out of my bag, and proceeded to the nearest tree.
If you ever have the occasion to hit a tree with a golf club, let me offer some advice:
1) Make sure the diameter of the tree exceeds six inches;
2) Hit the trunk of the tree with the club head, not the shaft.
Two very important things to keep in mind unless the goal is to kill yourself.
As I stood there, knuckles white from the death grip on that battered old 3-wood, never did it occur to me that what I was about to do was really, really dangerous. I distinctly remember swinging as hard as I could at that little tree, and for reasons that are still unknown to me, striking it with the shaft of the golf club instead of the club head.
The results were Darwin-award winning: the shaft -- predictably, in hindsight -- snapped. As luck would have it, the force of the swing caused the shaft to first wrap around the tree before breaking off. I was struck just above my left eyebrow by the club head (which was still attached snapped-in-half shaft) -- while I was still holding the other half of the club in my hands. And before I knew I'd been Mike Tyson-ed, I was stabbed in the left arm by the now razor-sharp shaft (conveniently located at the opposite end of the club head). This all happened in less than a second. In fact, I clearly remember two things: First, wondering why it suddenly got much brighter in my left eye. Second, noticing that I was bleeding like a stuck pig, but not quite sure where the blood was coming from because there was so much of it.
Things were much brighter because the club had smashed the left lens of my sunglasses ... right into my eyebrow. How I wasn't blinded, I'll never know. And I couldn't pinpoint the source of bleeding because I was a little dazed (apparently, taking a 150-mph club head off the noggin will do that), and because both my eyebrow and my arm were gushing blood.
Lucky for me, Chris knew first-aid and he had dealt with life-threatening situations in his rock-climbing experiences. I'm convinced that I would've died if he hadn't been there. (Obviously, I'm glad to still be alive. Partly because, well, I like life, but also because I would hate for my wife to have to explain to people that her husband was killed by a self-inflicted golf-club wound.) Chris, tied a tourniquet around my arm, had me hold a towel over my eye, put me in the cart, and we made our way back to the clubhouse.
Things were going as well as you could expect given the circumstances, until the 16th hole. A man who looked to be in his 50s, retired, and enjoying a leisurely mid-week round of golf had positioned his cart right in the middle of the cart path while he putted out on the green. The cart was so strategically placed, there was no maneuvering around it. As Chris pulled up, the retiree looked up from his putt. Chris explained our predicament, and that we needed to get to a hospital.
"Just let me finish this hole and I'll move."
That's what the guy said. I'm not kidding. So while we waited for George Hamilton to wrap things I tried not to die. We eventually made it to the parking lot, and then the hospital. I ended up with something like 40 stitches, two beautiful scars, and a very valuable lesson: I suck at golf way too much to get so mad that I feel compelled to almost kill myself. The point: know your limitations, and stick to what you're good at.
I use this story to illustrate a larger point, one the Pittsburgh Steelers might be wise to heed: Don't try to make Ricardo Colclough into something he's not. Just like I'm not a slightly above-average golfer, Colclough is not an NFL punt returner. I have the physical scars to prove I'm nothing more than a wannabe hacker; Colclough has the mental scars -- and those hands -- to prove he's nothing more than a nickel back trying to win a job.
Even though it hasn't always been easy, I like Colclough. It's not his fault Bill Cowher threw him out there last year, setting him up to fail. And it's not his fault the new coaching staff is doing the same. Mike Tomlin is fond of saying that he wants to put players in position to make plays. Unless the play is "muffed punt to lose the game" there is no reason to have Colclough on the return team. It doesn't benefit him, it doesn't benefit the special teams, and ultimately, it doesn't benefit the Steelers. If it takes me almost dying at ... well, my own hands to make this point clear, then it was worth it. Remember, those that don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Or something.
Knowing your limitations
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