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Sports Column | Todd Hefferman: The sport you just can't care about

Sports Column | Todd Hefferman: The sport you just can't care about

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Growing up in Iowa with an older brother, I never liked to lose.

Not at video games, where I usually followed losses with aerial controllers. Not racing over the dunes in our neighborhood in our dirt bikes, and sure as heck not in sports. My older brother, short and about as stocky as a coffeemaker, was faster, smarter, and cheated better than I did.

He liked to talk trash after scoring over me in basketball, or tackling me before I even knew he was there when we tried football. I was the athlete of the family, make no mistake — I played basketball in junior high and varsity tennis all four years in high school — but I lost a lot. I already had a temper, but it just seemed to come out a lot more when I lost to my brother.

So, without college sports, the U.S. Open over and the NFL still a few days away, I decided to try a sport I just didn't need to care about. I called a friend, scheduled a tee time, balked at the $35 charge for a round and a cart, and went to the 5,657-yard Pine Lakes Golf Course in Herrin on a Tuesday afternoon. For my first round of golf in more than 25 years.

My first, and before a few days ago, only round of golf I ever played came during a friend's wedding weekend in the Chicago area. He was marrying a lovely woman with a very rich family at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. We went golfing at the Wheaton Country Club, I believe, one of the nicest in the area, and the only thing I remember was the bachelor party the night before and hitting one good drive.

I wanted to hear that "Zing!" again. I had bought a set of Top Flight clubs at Dick's Sporting Goods years ago thinking I should take up this sport that everybody talks about as being so relaxing. A great way to get back in touch with nature. Quiet. Challenging more mentally than physically.

"If you're caught on a golf course during a storm and are afraid of lightning, hold up a 1-iron," Lee Trevino once said. "Not even God can hit a 1-iron."

After practicing at the driving range in Crab Orchard Golf Club in Carterville, I figured I would be OK off the tee and pretty good around the green, but I was terrified of the mid-range irons game. I hadn't really swung anything but the driver and the 7-iron during my practice a few months ago, but I was confident I would be able to hit the ball.

I was wrong. I whiffed so many times I thought my friend was going to want to move on to the next shot, but he was just the opposite. We didn't have anybody behind us, so he let me try a few times, and helped me replace the divots of my morale along with the actual tuffs of grass. When I did hit those little white dimpled devils, they went straight right as if they had a dinner to get to. I almost hit two guys walking along a cart path that I didn't even think I had to worry about, because my tee shot went straight toward the opposite fairway.

When we got to the second half of the holes, my beginner's magic took over, though. I turned out to be a B-plus chipper, even behind a deep hill that welcomed my ball in a spot that was closer to the street than the pin. I almost holed one from about 15 feet without any backspin, because who knows how you do that, so I was competitive. It took me a few minutes to remember how quiet golf was supposed to be, though, because I yelled "Get in the hole!" like I was watching Tiger Woods on television a couple times.

To this day I will never know what everyone thinks is so difficult about putting. I holed about half of mine once I got the chance, and if you can two-putt an entire afternoon, you got a shot to break 100. That goal will come later, when I start caring how I play, and start keeping score.

What's higher on my list is how to avoid the same two blisters on my hands every time I play golf, even with gloves on each one. Right below my wedding ring, I have developed two killer craters in two long golf outings, and another one on the side of my right thumb. Forget the pain they cause me when I forget and put the hand sanitizer all over them. I'm going to have to wait for them to heal before I go play again. 

TODD HEFFERMAN covers SIU Athletics for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at todd.hefferman@thesouthern.com, 618-351-5087 or on Twitter at @THefferman. 

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