Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Unless You've Lost A Ball in a Golf Simulator, You Should Feel Good About Your Game

There's an old golf joke that runs, "That course was so tough, I lost two balls in the ball washer!"

   I'm not a good golfer, I'm a very sportsman-like bad golfer. I laugh a lot on the course, and in spite of my handicap of 39, people like to golf with me. I make it fun.
   ...But I've never lost a ball in a ball washer.
   ...I lost one in a golf simulator once. Seriously!

   A golf simulator is very cool. You use your clubs, and your ball, and swing just like you would on a golf course. The ball whaps the screen, and the screen reads the ball. Your ball bounces off for easy retrieval, and a virtual ball continues its virtual journey on a virtual course on the screen.
   Bad things happen to the virtual ball, just as they would to a real ball on a real course. You can shoot off into the woods; you can splash in the water; you can whiff, you can yip, and you can hit an awesome drive.

   What you can't do, unless you're really, really inept and should be jailed before you're ever allowed to tee up in front of someone's golf simulator, is lose a ball. The club goes whoosh, the head collides with the ball with a lovely tink! The ball collides with the screen...and falls to the AstroTurf in front of the screen for easy retrieval.
   That is, of course, unless you're me.

   My buddy and I were enjoying hacking up a simulation of a world-renown golf course. He was kicking the crap out of me with far better shooting, pitching, putting, etc. We were used to that, and were enjoying ourselves. I was blaming the screen for (what I felt was) cheating me out of spectacular drives. I theorized that it was mis-reading the spin on my ball because I'm left handed. That was pure-D, Grade A horse pucky, but my amiable friend let me life large and live the lie.
  However, when I reared back for a mighty whack with my driver...and came up under and behind the ball...
   The ball went high, almost straight up. It bounced off the metal ceiling in front of the simulator, vanished behind the screen without the courtesy of ever touching it, ricocheted off whatever machinery is behind the screen...and didn't come out. I was pretty sure it beamed itself to the Starship Enterprise.
   My friend and I stared at the simulator much the same way we might have stared at Betty Crocker if she had appeared with a baseball bat instead of a spoon. We stared at the simulator and waited for it to spit my ball out, or say tilt on the screen. We said nothing to each other. We didn't look at each other. We studied the screen.
   Artificial birds tweeted. Artificial grass grew. We gaped at the screen, waiting as if somehow, my artificial ball would fall from the artificial sky.
   We were sure--without saying a word--that there was absolutely no way in hell I could send a golf ball toward a screen not ten feet away...and lose it.
   Finally (and this might have been five minutes later) I said, "I don't think it's coming back."
   "Nope," he said with the kind of aplomb that comes only after several months of hanging out with me, "I think you managed to be the first man in the history of golf simulators to lose a ball."
   I started to laugh. With a shake of my head, I dismissed the laughter. Club in hand, I stepped toward the screen and started looking up at the machinery. I couldn't see the ball anywhere. I peered behind the screen, expecting to see the ball lying back there. Nope.
   "Is there a problem, guys?" The voice belonged to the pro, the man who owned the simulator. It came from the distance, which, I hoped, meant he was still behind the counter and didn't know or suspect what I was up to.
   My friend, as helpful as a thumb tack on a chair, started laughing. I don't think he meant to, but he giggled. "He lost his ball!" he finally spat.
   The pro's voice was still mild. "What?"
   "He lost a ball in the simulator!"
   There was a pause. A silence. The kind of silence brought out only by a fit of when a pink elephant steps on your toe.
   "That's impossible," the pro said. His voice came from behind me. I turned and saw him and my friend standing by the tee. "The ball can't go anywhere."
   I kept a straight face. "Just keep telling yourself that," I said. I walked over and stood next to them. Shoved my club in my bag. "Keep telling yourself there's no way a man could lose a golf ball in a simulator. I'll go get some lunch..."
   "The hell you will," the pro said. He laughed again. "Your ball must be stuck up there." He pointed at the ceiling in the simulator. "We'll find it."
   We didn't. We went all over that thing, and didn't find my ball. Thankfully, he didn't charge me for the price of the simulator. It worked fine, even after having eaten, or disintegrating my ball. I knew better than to ask if he would give me a replacement ball. I didn't want to kill him by making him laugh the way he did when I hit a girder during a golf lesson in his indoor range and wound up on the floor with my dental work dancing around in my skull like ball bearings in a plastic cup.
   Now you know why I don't put special markings on my golf balls. I need the anonymnity that comes from having...well...plain balls.

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