By MIKE PEMBERTON
I was 50 when the fresh-faced doctor gave me the news.
"You have hip impingement, I'm afraid," he said, as if he were comforting his elderly father. He cleared his throat. "Physical therapy will help. You can still run. Hike. Lift weights. Do yardwork. Stay active as possible. But, eventually, you'll need surgery. Oh, and no golf."
I squeezed the padded exam table and stared at my long, bony feet protruding from the green hospital gown. My wife, Yolanda, patted my shoulder.
"Well," I said, looking up with a grin, "there are worse things."
"That's the right attitude," the doctor said. "There certainly are worse things than hip impingement."
"Oh yeah, sure, Doc," I said, still grinning, "but I meant the 'no golf.'"
Yolanda and the doctor exchanged confused glances. I laughed. I felt like shouting: "Can I get an 'Amen?'"
It's like a reprieve from a life sentence of busting rocks. Sisyphus no longer rolling the stone uphill. I'm a free man in a free country liberated from demon golf.
Seven glorious years later, still no golf. Hallelujah!
I may never have hip surgery, faking lameness until the bitter end, garnering unwarranted sympathy as I inwardly smile at my good fortune.
"Golf next weekend, Mike?" someone asks.
"Love to, but can't," I say, feigning a limp. "Bad hip."
"Ah, I didn't realize," they say. "Too bad."
"Yes, yes," I reply, biting my lip to prevent a cover blowing guffaw.
Sure, I enjoy certain things about golf. The camaraderie, fresh air and sun, the good natured patter between shots, and the 19th hole.
But do I miss playing? Only until I swing a club.
Yet I hear golf's siren call. Her sweet-nothing whispers of groomed lawns, sunny days and soft breezes. Images of a perfectly struck 7-iron, the white ball hovering over a manicured green and dropping gently next to the cup for a tap in birdie, fill my mind.
Then reality rears itself.
I remember hooked drives into the woods off the first tee, tramping into the darkness, swatting flies, mindful of snakes, finding every doomed ball ever hit there except mine. Topped three woods, shanked irons, sprayed chips hither, thither and yon, 4-foot putts zipping 5 feet past or falling inches short. Brandishing my putter like a gladiator snatching his sword from its sheath, my partners jumping back, I'd shout at the blameless ball: "You gutless wonder."
Do I miss golf? No more than I'd miss five hours in hell.
Yeah, on Sunday afternoons, ensconced in my recliner watching Dustin Johnson smack a 330-yard drive and leaving a 240-yard 5-iron 3 feet from the cup for an eagle, golf looks easy. Fun, even. But I am no Dustin Johnson. Sometimes neither is Dustin Johnson. He may pencil in a triple bogey 8, the dreaded snowman, on the same hole the next day.
I'll say this for golf, it plays no favorites.
I remember years ago when a buddy — as decent a fellow as I've ever known, loves his wife and kids, pays his taxes, goes to church on Sundays — played the first eight holes in five under par, carding three birdies and an eagle. For a hacker, the round of a lifetime. The three of us playing alongside were thrilled for him.
On the par-5 ninth hole he sat pin high, 10-yards off the green, in two. The picture of confidence, he unveiled a wedge labeled "Double-Trouble" for its ability to rescue golfers from precarious lies. He whiffed his third shot.
His calm, brown eyes stared at the white ball.
He fluffed shots four, and five, the ball a yard from where it started.
"What the..." he muttered, struggling to keep his church deacon demeanor.
The rest of us, our balls on the green, looked away.He took some panicked practice swings, settled back in and botched his sixth and seventh shots. The ball had not advanced 5 feet.
He clutched "Double Trouble" and shook it at the golf gods above. A convulsed "Aaaaaaaagh" pierced the muggy June air.
Thanks be to God, not the golf gods, actual God — I truly believe the big guy himself stepped in at this point, tired of the golf gods' treatment of one of his flock — the eighth shot achieved flight and settled 25 feet from the cup. Golf being golf, my friend drained the putt. It was, as any hacker already knows, the longest putt he made all day, for a quadruple bogey nine.
Confidence shattered, he returned to form, slicing, hooking and shanking his way through the back nine. Like a mobster not asking the Godfather about a missing crew member — there one day, gone the next — I never inquired into "Double-Trouble's" fate, but I never saw the club again.
I'm grinning from ear to ear.
Mike Pemberton is a freelance writer and an instructor for Danville Area Community College. His short stories and essays have been published in literary journals and newspapers. He is available for speaking engagements. More of Mike's work can be found at mikepembertonbooks.com or you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.