Head down, nice and easy.
I kept saying those words over and over to myself, trying to put all my focus on those five words, and not the five people standing behind me, eyes fixated on nothing else but me, surely judging and critiquing every inch of my backswing.
Head down, nice and easy.
After I made contact, I looked up and saw a white orb traveling straight in front of me, dead center. My first thought was that it was bird, but no, it was my shot.
I survived my tee shot on the first hole of the Company golf outing.
It was a typical Irish fall day in Kenmare – sun shining, cool, crisp air. A few gusts of wind that would pick up, just when you would say to yourself, ‘Oh and it’s not even windy today.’ And then a rain shower would come for a solid 10-15 minutes. Long enough that you’d get out your jacket (or if you were one of those ‘I like to come prepared’ types, you’d put on your official rain gear), but short enough that by the time you zipped up the jacket, took a few practice swings and hit your shot, it was time to take it off again, as the sun was out and now it’s hot and the jacket is why that shot went into the woods.
The course itself was not nearly as pleasant as the weather. Soaking wet from an unusually wet Autumn – hurricane Ophelia and storm Brian in back-to-back weeks, on top your traditional ‘it rains here every day’ Irish weather, made the grass long and the routhick. Coupled with the fallen leaves, finding your ball, even after a good shot, required swinging a club like a machete.
In Ireland, the concept of golf carts is, literally, foreign (they’d call them buggy’s). But most clubs I’ve played at don’t even offer them, let alone have them standard for any type of corporate outing such as this. And if the concept of a golf cart is foreign, the concept of drinking while playing golf is alien. When I first commented that ‘this was the first sober round of golf I’d played in over 10 years’, I got a look as if I was Neil Armstrong describing what it was like to walk on the moon, but with a drinking problem.
With no carts, then, and no alcohol, the pairings for the golf outing become the most crucial element. Drinking is usually the only the thing that makes being forced to make small talk with people from work for 4-5 hours even somewhat tolerable, and usually then only when the booze is free. Get paired with a bad team, and you might as well not even show up. In fact, one time, I got a bad pairing and decided I didn’t want to play with them and found someone to take my place instead. And that was only when we were playing 9 holes.
Luckily, when the teams came out on Friday, I was paired with John and Patrick. Two guys I knew well enough that we’d be able to get along and have a bit of craic, and John was one of the best golfers in the company so we’d definitely have a chance to win. I was pleased not to be paired with one of the guys in the company I was a bit better friends with; my relationship status and subsequent skipping out on the post-golf, all-night drinking outing had left me susceptible to good old Irish slagging (they’d still manage to get their digs in over the course of the day, anyway).
Head down, nice and easy.
Remember that amazing first shot I hit, that went right down the middle? Well, it was all for naught as John also put his drive down the middle, and about 100 yards closer to the pin (I told you he was good). We ended up with a birdie on the first hole, off to a good start.
The next few holes were not as fortuitous. The three of us shaking off various layers of rust, having not played in at least two months. It didn’t help that the ground was so soft, the balls were not bouncing or rolling at all. A few times, they looked like asteroids had struck the earth – indented into the ground and half-covered with mud. We needed to use the divot tool to pry the ball out of the ground.
Towards the end of the front 9, though, our luck started to turn and we went on a run of pars. By about hole 14, though, that luck had run its course, fatigue started setting in, and I was just ready to get the hell out of there. That sequence just reinforced my belief that golf is a sport played in the wrong increments. 9 holes is not enough – it takes a few holes to get in a good rhythm, and by the time the 9th hole finishes up, you’re ready to keep going – but 18 is too many. Especially when playing Irish golf (walking and not drinking), fatigue sets in, and when you aren’t very good (like me) then you’re tired of looking for your ball after every other shot.A perfect golf round ends after the 13th hole, and that’s the last I’ll hear of it.
The post-golf meal and awards ceremony was taking place in town, at a local establishment called PF McCarthy’s. Most of the lads had made arrangements to stay in town that night and have a tour of the local public houses. Myself, I’m going through a ‘non-drinking’ phase at the moment, and was looking forward to a hot meal, and getting home, waking up in my own bed on Sunday morning, hangover-free and ready for a long day of reading and watching basketball.
This decision of mine – to not stay in Kenmare and head home early – I knew was going to be unpopular. A good Irish slagging happens whenever even the slightest opportunity arises, and skipping out on a night of drinking (for seemingly no reason at all, or, no good reason in their eyes) was a great opportunity to flip shit. Some of them had also on recently learned of my relationship status with a fellow coworker, and the juxtaposition of those facts made me an easy target. I was skipping out on drinking because I had to save up for a ring. I wasn’t checking scores on my phone, but rather seeing what gold was trading at today. They had jewelry stores in Kenmare, didn’t I know – I didn’t need to go back to Tralee to buy a ring.
Head down, nice and easy.
I took my slagging with a smile on my face. I’m normally one to give it out just as much as I can take it, but I was exhausted from the round of Irish golf, and still don’t really know this crowd good enough to get some good zingers in. So I just smiled and silently yelled at the chef to hurry up and bring the food out already – give these lads something to focus on besides me for fuck’s sake.
After dinner was finally over, we had the brief awards ceremony. John carried us to a second place finish, so a €30 gift card to a local golf shop was our prize. Not sure I’ll ever use that, but sure, whatever. It’s all for fun anyway. I was ready to wrap up and get home now – only a short hour drive and I’d be back on the couch. I survived the golf, survived the rain, survived the slagging, and now came the easy part.
If you’ve never driven on Irish roads, they are a bit hard to describe. They aren’t like any roads that I ever drove on in America. The ‘Kenmare road’ as it is called, is an especially tricky one at night. The roads are incredibly narrow, barely wide enough for cars in opposite directions to pass and not touch. There is virtually no lighting on the roads at all, and we aren’t talking a flat, relaxing drive. While the closest way to describe these roads would be old back-country roads in rural America, driving on these roads requires the utmost attention. Driving a manual-transmission vehicle, you’re constantly fighting the battle of changing gears, turning your high-beam lights on so that you can actually see what’s in front of you, and off whenever you happen to come into contact with another vehicle. The windshield wipers going back and forth just adds to the anxiety.
By the time I got to the ‘Killarney road’, I was a tense, nervous wreck. I had a headache and my hands hurt from white-knuckling the steering wheel for 40 minutes. Comparatively, the Killarney road is a breeze – it actually has a shoulder instead of a line of concrete or trees immediately to your left. I was behind a long line of cars but at this point I was in no hurry – I’d had enough driving-stress at this point, I wasn’t going to get worked up about going 90kmh instead of 110kmh.
Apparently the gods did not agree that I’d had enough driving-stress yet. As I was on the home stretch, just a few kilometers from home, the car starts to over heat. Luckily, I’m near a road and can turn off the main ‘motorway’ and out of the way. This has happened before, so I’m not overly concerned – I’ve got a jug of coolant in the boot (er, trunk) of the car for a reason. I’ve got the hazards on, just chilling, waiting for the last dying noise of the car to shut off, the clear indication that the car is ready to drive again. I get a bit impatient when it starts pissing rain, and for some reason decide now is the time to pour the coolant in.
Head down, nice and easy.
I got the hood open, the cap off, and am pouring in a steady stream of coolant when a good samaritan pulls up. I kind of hate these interactions, being a foreigner, it throws people off when they hear my accent, and that usually starts a whole conversation – where are you from, how long you been here, do you like it here, etc. I talk to this stranger and when he mentions he knows a mechanic just up the road (we are out in the middle of nowhere seemingly, but sure, there’s a mechanic just up the road), I figure why not? The Irish in this part of the country really are nice people, and who knows? Maybe this guy will be able to figure out where the leak is and solve the root of the problem once and for all.
He’s not home, so our friend the good samaritan drops me back at my car after I assure him again that I’ll be able to make it to Tralee, its not that far. I have been through this before, and I am sure that I’ll be able to make it home, but I’m still annoyed at having to go through this whole ordeal.
When I arrive home, its still pissing rain, I’m freezing because I haven’t had the heat on for the last hour in 5°C temperature (having the heat on makes the coolant run out faster, making the car over heat faster). My headache is back. I jump in the shower and wash the day away finally, home and on the couch at last.
Until next year.