The Slowest Member

Warmbaths The Slowest Member of my club has the metabolism of a sofa. Standing over his golf ball, he freezes like a frog in a flashlight beam. Five seconds. Ten seconds. An afternoon. Just when you think he must have drifted into sleep, he swings—but it’s a practice swing, the first of two. Each rehearsal spawns a divot. Each divot flies in its own direction. At last, he inches forward and sets his club behind the ball.

Thirty minutes a hole is the pace at which he plays. He moves through our nine-hole course the way a meal moves through a python. You could tee off an hour behind him and play through him twice before he reached the ninth tee. He is absorbed by his troubles and seldom notices other golfers. You are tempted to wait for him to wander into the bushes, then tee off over his head.

The Slowest Member lifts his five-iron as wearily as if it were the hammer of Thor. He pauses at shoulder height to gather his resources, then lunges forward while somehow also falling back. His ball flies forty yards ahead and thirty to the right, and it doesn’t rise above his navel. He slowly lifts his head and looks around. The destination of each shot is first a mystery and then a surprise.

Once, I saw him walk into some pine trees to search for a ball that he had hit there. He didn’t take a club. After a minute or so, his wife hissed at him from the green, which he had missed from twenty paces. Golfers in the fairway took furious practice swings, hoping to be waved through. His wife hissed again. Her impatience merely inflamed his determination not to hurry. If his ball had been your child, you would have given up sooner than he did.

Some years, the Slowest Member plays more rounds than anyone else at my club. Each weekend gapes before him, an empty barrel to be filled one pebble at a time. The rest of us scan the parking lot when we pull in. Is he here yet? When did he tee off? One day, I saw his foursome spaced along the near shore of the pond on the fourth hole, each player with a ball retriever. Trolling the murky waters, happily lost in thought, they looked like fishermen.

In a two-day tournament one summer, the Slowest Member was the only entrant in his flight. His name on a sign-up sheet is preemptive. “Give him the title by default,” someone suggested. “Tell him he can have the cup if he stays home.” Even alone, he moves more slowly than any foursome except his own.

In the end, a playing partner was drafted from a different flight. Their twosome teed off last. The Slowest Member sliced two drives out of bounds before dribbling a keeper over the end of the first tee. The playing partner sighed, his own drive now grown cold in the fairway, a thousand miles away. “At least we’re off,” he must have thought.

But they weren’t off, after all. The Slowest Member walked right past his ball. Moving at the speed of the minute hand on a classroom clock, he set out for the woods to look for the two that he had lost.

5 thoughts on “The Slowest Member

  1. That was perfect. An eloquent description of the curse of golf, if there ever was one. The description of four golfers — all with their own ball retrievers — trying to find balls in a murky pond is wonderful. I have always distrusted folks with ball retrievers. I mean if the ball isn’t within reach of your club, leave it! You’re out there to golf, not to search for lost balls. Thanks again for the lovely read.

  2. Very nice. I enjoy your writing. Funny how we all play with this guy. We have a guy in our league with a preshot routine that is so painful I’m tempted to forfeit my matches with him. I’m sure he gains a few strokes a round by forcing his opponents to watch his dance. We have another that fakes me out two or three times on nearly every putt. He practice strokes right behind the ball, and just when I think he’s going to hit it…. he’s not, and I have to lurch to a stop so as not to distract him and make him start over. Golf has taught me some things about people.

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