Taste Weird Golf

Yuri Shoots Par

Yuri Glnstrxmlpghyq desperately needed to play golf. He didn’t particularly want to, but he was absolutely required to learn the game.

“If you are going to blend in to the indigenous population, you must play their games,” said the Great One shortly after Yuri was sent to the planet Earth. “Your cover as a middle-aged suburban male dictates that you play golf. You have one week to learn to play the game correctly. If you can’t score what they call ‘par’ by next Saturday, I am going to revoke your privileges.” He paused, then added ominously, “all of them.”

In the Advance Reconnaissance Corps of the Imperial Intergalactic Legion, in which Yuri was a corporal on his first interplanetary assignment, having your privileges revoked didn’t mean you couldn’t watch TV for a week. When the Great One revoked your privileges, your body’s atomic structure was forcefully de-coalesced until it disintegrated into a cloud of amorphous matter that dispersed among the miasma of the universe. It wasn’t pleasant.

Yuri didn’t want that to happen, but he wasn’t particularly worried. After all, he was a fine product of advanced breeding technology and the representative of a superior civilization. Already, in his first two days on Earth, he had slipped unnoticed into his cover like a hand into a slipper, to use a metaphor phrased in the vernacular he picked up so easily. He bought a snazzy car on credit using the manufacturer’s rebate as a down payment, moved into an over-sized house on an under-sized lot with a no-tell mortgage secured online, and found a good dead-end job in a mind-numbing cubical just like the ones his neighbors went to every day. On the second day, Yuri considered acquiring a wife, but he couldn’t see the purpose. Besides, he had learned in his research that wives often generated psychological obstacles to golf and the other middle-aged suburban male activities he was supposed to emulate. Instead of a wife, Yuri bought a wide-screen plasma TV. He had acquired everything of importance.

The only thing required to complete his cover was learning to play golf, and Yuri was sure he could do that fairly easily. After all, if his pot-bellied, cigar-puffing, arteriosclerotic neighbors could play the game, why couldn’t a fine specimen such as Yuri? The Great One arranged his test, making a tee time in Yuri’s name at Centurion Hills Golf Course for Saturday morning. All Yuri had to do was show up and play a round of golf in which he scored par, which the Great One said was defined simply as “the standard number of strokes to complete the course.” That didn’t sound too difficult.

The Great One gave Yuri his assignment on Sunday, which was fortunate since there was a golf tournament on Yuri’s wide-screen plasma TV that afternoon. He carefully observed the professional golfers as they boomed three-hundred-yard drives and hit soaring pitch shots that spun backwards toward the hole after they landed. He watched as they spent huge amounts of time studying the flawless surface of the green before smoothly stroking their ball into the hole. The announcers made it all sound highly dramatic and extremely difficult, but Yuri noticed that none of the lithe young men were sweating as they played, so how difficult could it be?

The only somewhat confusing part of the game was the equipment. According to what Yuri saw during the telecast, he needed a surprisingly large number of implements and accoutrements for such a simple game. He had to have golf clubs, of course, but also bags, shoes, gloves, shirts, hats, and special pants as well. Not to mention balls, all of which needed to go farther, fly straighter, and land softer, according to the commercials. It was a good thing Yuri received an unsolicited credit card in the mail every day.

Monday morning, he looked in the yellow pages and found a nearby golf shop located at a driving range that advertised itself as the place to “conquer par,” which was very convenient for Yuri’s purposes. Yuri drove there immediately and filled the trunk of his car with clubs and many other essential items the smiling salesman said he needed, including some that Yuri had not seen on television, like a full-body rain suit and an ionizing club cleaner. The helpful clerk also suggested Yuri take along several books and magazines to help him learn the game. The only thing Yuri didn’t buy was an electronic range finder, since the multi-scan lens in his right eye and the micro-chip embedded behind it made the implement superfluous. The store owner gave both Yuri and the salesman a big hug when the credit card machine blinked its approval of the transaction. Yuri was armed and ready.

The next day at the driving range, Yuri turned up his nose at the scuffed, obviously pre-owned balls the other players were using. As he casually unwrapped one of the boxes of shiny new golf balls he had bought the day before, he ignored the stares of the other golfers. He thought they were probably just jealous of his fine equipment. He also surmised they must need a lot of practice, since their rusty buckets held hundreds of balls that they hit one after another in rapid fire. Yuri figured he would just hit the three balls in the little package first and save the other nine in the box for another time.

Yuri set the first ball on the plastic tee embedded in the green rubber mat and took the largest club, the driver, out of his bag. He swung it around a few times. It felt great! The cantaloupe-sized club head gave him confidence and he loved the swooshing sound it made as he swept it through the air, although the golfer in the next stall didn’t like it much when the club’s head cover went zooming past his ear. Yuri resolved to remove it before he swung the club next time.

He stepped up to the ball as he had seen the men on TV do, swung as hard as he could, and looked out into the distance to watch the ball fly into the sky. Except it didn’t. After searching the horizon for several moments, Yuri realized that the ball had not moved from its perch on the plastic tee in front of him. Strange, he thought. Maybe I didn’t swing hard enough. He took a death grip on the big club’s handle, clenched his jaw in determination, and swung again as hard as he could. Whack-WHAP! The ball smacked into the wooden partition between Yuri and the now-terrified man in the next stall who had dodged the head cover. Where the ball went after that, Yuri didn’t see, so he took another one out of the little package and placed it on the tee. Maybe this game isn’t quite as easy as it looks, he thought. He ignored the man in the next stall, who was muttering nasty words while he gathered up his belongings to move out of the line of fire.

WHOOSH! WHIFF! Whack-WHAP! KerPLOwee! Yuri swung several times before he finally hit one of the infuriating little white balls and saw it sail off into the air. The ball followed a very fancy curving path to the right, which Yuri watched with satisfaction, noting that his ball’s flight path matched that of the other golfers at the range. He congratulated himself on mastering the first shot of the game so quickly and moved on to the next.

The players on TV, he remembered, used one of the small-headed clubs after they hit the big one, so he replaced the driver in his bag and pulled out one of the others. It must be a special club, he thought, since it was marked “S.” Or, as he discovered when he held the club out, the “S” could simply mean “short,” which it certainly was. In fact, the club was so short that Yuri couldn’t reach the ball with it unless he bent over into an unnatural posture. He tried getting on his knees to hit the ball, but then the club was too long and, besides, several of the other golfers ran for cover when he took his warm-up swing from that position. Finally, Yuri got to his feet and gave up trying to use the club as it was. Grasping the head in one hand and the grip in the other, he stretched the steel shaft until the club was the appropriate length. As he addressed the ball, Yuri noticed that all the other golfers at the range had disappeared into the pro shop, except for one man who had fainted three stalls away. He must not be much of an athlete, Yuri thought, if he can’t endure what little exertion this game required.

Yuri swung the “S” club hard at the ball. THUNK! went the club as it dug a long gouge in the hard rubber mat six inches behind the ball. The club’s now-thin shaft snapped, sending the club head flying out across the turf. That must be why the salesman in the golf shop sold me so many extra clubs, Yuri thought.

Since he had learned one shot, Yuri decided he had practiced enough for one day. He packed his clubs in the huge golf bag the salesman had assured him was the best (“A fellow like you deserves nothing less than a Tour bag,” he had said) and patiently put the unused balls back in their little boxes. As he approached the parking lot, the other golfers jumped in their cars and sped away, undoubtedly abashed at how poorly they had performed in comparison to Yuri.

Wednesday, Yuri reported to the Great One on his trans-galactic cell phone, keeping the conversation short because the roaming charges were outrageous. The Great One was pleased that Yuri had learned the first shot so rapidly but was not happy to hear about the other patrons at the driving range. “You must blend in, Corporal Glnstrxmlpghyq,” he said. “If the earthlings suspect you are not one of them, your mission will be compromised.”  He paused for effect. “Remember your privileges and what will happen to them if you fail.” Yuri promised to become a mere face in the crowd. “A face that shoots par, just like everyone else,” the Great One reminded him.

Yuri devoted the rest of that day to studying the golf books and magazines he had bought at the golf shop. He was impressed with their scientific rigor and could see why he had not performed quite as well as he had expected at the driving range. He also discovered that the elaborately curving shot he had mastered was something to be avoided, not sought after, which explained why the other golfers who hit it that way wore such grim, defeated expressions as they pounded ball after ball into the air. That shot was called a “slice” or “banana ball” and page after page of every magazine was devoted to eradicating the innumerable swing flaws that caused it. Privately, Yuri thought the slice was probably the result of an evolutionary genetic defect in Earthling golfers, but he still spent the rest of the day studying stop-action photographs, pouring over complex diagrams with multi-colored circles, arrows, and algebraic symbols, and memorizing the “Twelve Keys To Straight Drives” along with the magazines’ many other intricate and sometimes contradictory instructions. That evening, just to be safe, he ordered a Swingfix Balanceator he saw advertised on the Golf Channel, paying extra for rush delivery so it would arrive in twenty-four hours. Fuzzy Zoeller, an accomplished golfer and very cheerful fellow with monstrous bags under his eyes (a sign of wisdom on Yuri’s home planet) repeatedly assured Yuri and the other viewers at two AM that the device would not only cure his slice but make him the envy of other golfers—just like Fuzzy himself.

The marvelous invention arrived Thursday as promised. It didn’t take Yuri long to scan the assembly booklet and put the machine together in his living room, although he was a little baffled by the purpose of some of the smaller pieces, so he just left them off. As soon as the apparatus was erected, Yuri slipped the instructional video into the player in his wide-screen plasma TV and carefully followed the directions given by the instructor on the screen. He began by standing on a short platform balanced on a roller so that it see-sawed up and down depending on how Yuri shifted his weight. A long strap stretched from the platform to a band around Yuri’s forehead to hold his head still. Another strap linked his elbows in front of his body and forced his hands into grooves molded into the specially-weighted practice club.

Yuri followed the teacher carefully, taking little baby swings as he learned to keep his balance on the rocking platform. As he grew bolder, he took longer and longer swings, marveling at the ease with which he was picking up the technique. The instructor on the video finally said to take a full swing, so Yuri wound up like a clock spring and let ‘er rip. Unfortunately, one of the unused pieces Yuri thought was superfluous was the safety catch for the head strap, which allowed it to release so the player could complete his follow through. Yuri’s right arm, propelled by the specially weighted practice club, caught the head strap and violently snapped his neck around with it, yanking his body to the left side of the platform and pitching him sideways onto the floor. The heavy practice club flew out of his hands and smashed into the wide-screen plasma TV.

Friday morning, Yuri awoke with a sore neck and a premonition that he had only twenty-four hours to live. Then he remembered a sign at the driving range advertising golf lessons, which made him feel better about his prospects for passing his test and surviving to collect his retirement pay. He loaded all his gear into the car, including the pile of tangled straps and shattered plywood that the Swingfix Balanceator had become, and drove to the range.

Yuri explained to the instructor that he needed a lesson to make sure he shot par tomorrow. The pro looked at him carefully to see if this was some sort of practical joke, decided Yuri was serious, and told him to leave the Swingfix Balanceator in the car. “Let me see you hit a few balls,” he said, handing Yuri a seven iron. Yuri took a couple of warm-up swings, then slashed at the ball with all of his might. The leading edge of the club nicked the ball, which dribbled sadly onto the turf.

The teacher adjusted the position of Yuri’s hands and told him to hit another ball. This one skittered across the grass for a few yards, never rising more than six inches above the surface. The teacher then told Yuri to hold his left arm straight and his head still, keep his weight between his feet, and turn his shoulders ninety degrees while turning his hips forty-five. Concentrating hard, Yuri sent the ball on a beautiful flight high into the air and onto the target green in the middle of the range. “Very good!” the teacher said while Yuri beamed. “Now do it again.”

Yuri didn’t see the point of that, since he had already obviously learned to make this shot, but, to humor the teacher (who mumbled something about a blind pig finding an acorn), he put another ball on the practice tee and swung extra hard. WHACK-crunch! YEOW! Yuri shanked the ball sideways into the teacher’s leg, sending the poor man screaming to the ground clutching his knee. The lesson was apparently over, so Yuri went home.

Yuri waited until after five o’clock so he could use the weekend minutes on his trans-galactic phone plan, then called the Great One to report on his progress. “The game of golf isn’t as easy as I initially thought, but I’ve mastered the two basic strokes,” he said. Yuri described the perfect seven iron he had hit that morning during his lesson, leaving out the part about crippling the teacher.

“That sounds promising, Corporal Glnstrxmlpghyq,” the Great One intoned. “I hope you will pass the test tomorrow.” The Great One was well-known for giving such stirring motivational speeches to his men. The rousing words rang in Yuri’s ears that night as he slept peacefully, dreaming of perfectly-struck golf balls sailing into the vast dark reaches of the universe.

The next morning, on the first tee of Centurion Hills Golf Course, Yuri introduced himself to the three other players in his group, making an extra effort to blend in as one of the guys by encouraging them all to shoot par like he was going to do. At first the men looked a little bemused, but it must have worked because they insisted Yuri hit first. He pulled the big driver out of the bag and, remembering to take off the head cover, swung it confidently a few times to loosen up his shoulders. Then he bent to put his ball on the white plastic tee like he had at the driving range, but there didn’t seem to be one embedded in the grass. One of the men asked him what he was looking for and Yuri mumbled something about a tee, so the man gave him one from his pocket. It was different from the one at the range, but Yuri’s advanced intelligence enabled him to immediately grasp the new concept. Holding the ball firmly in one hand, he drove the point of the tee firmly into it with the other, then stood the tee up on the ground with the ball impaled on its tip. It was a little wobbly, but it worked. Yuri noted with pleasure that the other men gasped in admiration.

Yuri hit a screaming drive that curved sharply into the trees about half way to the green. “Darn banana ball,” he said, trying to sound like a regular guy as he stood aside to let the other men hit. They stepped carefully around him and hit their drives, none of which went as far as Yuri’s, although all three were in the fairway. Yuri lifted his golf bag to his chest and walked toward the woods. He noticed that the other men carried their bags using the straps over their shoulders and were looking at him peculiarly, so he swung his around like theirs and laughed, hoping they would think he was just joking. The other golfers laughed along with him, although a little uneasily. Yuri congratulated himself on becoming one of the group so quickly.

It took several minutes, but Yuri finally found his ball beneath a bush. He tried to hit it, but the branches were in the way, so he took one of the short clubs and hacked away until he could reach the ball. THWACK! WHAP! His ball caromed off a tree and came to rest in a pile of twigs. CRASH! CRACK! He hit it into another tree. SMACK! WHACK! SPLAT! It ricocheted into a mud puddle. Yuri kept slashing away until he managed to get his ball out of the woods and onto the green. By the time he got there, he had struck the ball seventy times. It wasn’t in the hole yet, but Yuri was undaunted. Par for this course was seventy-two and all he had to do was roll the ball across the smooth surface of the green, up a little hill, and knock it into the hole about twelve feet away.

The other men in the group waited nervously for him to putt. Yuri walked back and forth several times like the golfers on TV. He squatted down three times and cupped his hands around the visor of his golf cap. He didn’t know why he was doing any of these things, of course, but enjoyed them none the less. Finally, he selected a club he hadn’t used yet, the lob wedge, and stepped up to the ball. The club was marked “L” and Yuri assumed that meant it would hit the ball “low.” He didn’t swing hard, since he was only a few feet away, but the club scooped out a surprisingly long strip of the carpet-like turf before it launched the ball almost straight up into the air. The club must have been mislabeled, Yuri thought. Somehow, the ball came to rest three feet from the hole.

Yuri expected his playing partners to applaud such a shot, but they had dropped their golf bags and were running toward the club house. He thought their behavior was odd, but then he realized the sky had darkened as if there were a total eclipse. Yuri looked up and saw the Great One’s star cruiser hovering above the green, blocking out the sun. It looked vaguely like a golf cart the size of a football field. The sight made Yuri a little queasy, too.

“Par is no longer mathematically possible, Corporal Glnstrxmlpghyq,” the Great One’s voice sounded from above. Yuri was confused.

“But par is seventy-two—and I only have this one very small stroke to make!” he stammered.

“That will not leave you any strokes to make on the other holes, Corporal,” the Great One explained. “Par is for all eighteen holes on the course, not just the first one.”

Comprehension dawned in Yuri’s golf-fogged brain. No wonder the game had seemed to simple! Yuri had become confused by the TV announcers’ references to par for the course and par for the hole and birdies and bogies and up-and-downs and greens in regulation and all the other techno-golfibberish they spouted. “But that’s not fair,” Yuri protested.

“Dare you question the rules of golf!” the voice roared from above. “Golf is an eminently fair game, Corporal, but like life, it is sometimes also unpleasant.” Yuri trembled and the voice softened. Magnanimously, the Great One asked, “Would you like to finish the hole before your privileges are revoked?”

Yuri swallowed, then nodded vaguely. The star cruiser bobbed up and down in the slight breeze that wafted across the course. Sirens wailed in the distance. Yuri sighed. He had not been treated fairly, but he knew that further argument would be in vain. He considered his options, neither of which were appealing and both of which—putting out or just picking up his ball—would end in a cloud of Yuri-matter blasted into the universe as atom-sized particles.

He decided to go ahead and play. Yrui looked at the “L” club in his hands, wondering if it would be appropriate for the final golf stroke in his too-short life. Then he visualized the last shot he hit with that club and a third option occurred to him.

“Are you going to putt or what?” the Great One growled.

“Yes sir,” Yuri answered. “I was just enjoying the last of my privileges.” Yuri bent over the ball and gripped the club tightly. He didn’t even glance at the hole three feet away, but instead looked up once into the sky, as if in prayer, and adjusted his stance slightly. Concentrate, Yuri, concentrate, he told himself. He took a full, slow backswing, accelerated down and through the ball, and took a perfect divot out of the green. The ball flew straight up just like last time, though, and Yuri craned his neck to follow its flight. It climbed like a rocket straight into the sky and directly toward the four-inch-wide proton-intake tube on the bottom of the Great One’s star cruiser, where it was sucked inside with a loud PFLOOP! The star cruiser shimmered, then shook violently for a few seconds before it exploded into a million billion points of light that twinkled away into the perfect cerulean sky over the golf course.

Yuri blinked. He picked up his clubs and walked to the second tee, determined more than ever to shoot par.

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