The Other Third

It was the usual horrible slice off the tee. I heard and felt the “whick!” as the club made contact with the little white misery ball. A good golf shot is more of a “whack!” sound. To be honest I’m just happy to get past the Ladies’ tee when leaving the first, but my head lifted way too early and my hips were pointing towards mid wicket when the club came down on the ball. It didn’t stand a chance.

“Come home to Mammy!” my mate yelled as the ball started on a trajectory that traced a perfectly constructed’ J’ curve. I’ve never really figured out what he means by “come home to Mammy” but it’s his favourite call when a ball is sent off into the ether.
It swung wildly to the right and landed in the middle of the fifth fairway and perched itself atop a tuft of grass like a meerkat patrolling the nest. It was waiting to be smashed – by a really good golfer.
As I approached my stray missile another golfing party walking down the fifth fairway gave me a wave and yelled,
“You go first.”
There are certain words that don’t go well in certain situations. These are the last words a golfer with zero confidence wants to hear, especially with an attentive audience. I recall a similar situation as a diminutive kid. Mum had asked me to go to the milkbar and get some milk. On the way back a dog the size of Godzilla charged out of a driveway. Naturally I dropped the milk (in those days milk came from cows and was packaged in glass bottles) and it sprayed all over the footpath. The owner stood at a garden bed holding a hose like he was in a scene from Boogy Nights and drawled:
“Don’t worry he won’t hurt you.”
Great help.
Having been invited to go first I addressed the ball. I addressed it very severely – under my breath.
“Now you listen to me you little white piece of #*!@ if you don’t leave this fairway with precision and direction I’m going to throw you under a truck.” Or words to that affect.
Whack!
The contact with the five iron was sweet. So very sweet. No vibration up the club handle, no divot the size of Olympic Dam, no back wrench; just adoration and joy, love and happiness. It was like swallowing a piece of strawberry cheesecake. The shot was so magnificent that I even indulged in the golfer’s post-shot stance for a few moments; eyes alternating between the balls flight pattern and the eventual target, golf club held above the head like the mighty blade of a conqueror, legs elegantly turned like Baryshnikov finishing The Nutcracker. My profile was very Alexander the Great.
“Shot” said the audience.
I raised a hand and stamped down the fairway, though no divot existed. I was a golfer now, etiquette was paramount.
This was one of my truly great sporting moments. No question. (However I three putted the hole).
Great sporting moments arrive unexpectedly. Training and focus and dedication do not bring illustrious victories, they simply facilitate winning. And when winning is the end result of torture and endless rehearsal and body changing exercise it is no more splendid than finishing a grueling exam. Why else does one train if not to fulfill the anticipation of triumph? This is not glory, this is relief. Expectation of victory robs it of its uniqueness and destroys its mystery. It’s like reading the last page of a great novel first. You know the conclusion, your task is now to get there. How very drab.
No, truly noble sporting achievements belong to the untrained, the underdone, and the hacks. Pure sporting glory is a virgin. It’s naive and innocent. It is not practised and mangled into process. It resides in the element of surprise. It snaps our breath away like the first glance of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. We fall over bewildered.
It is therefore very accessible to all.
The most wonderful sporting experience for me occurred in late 1976. I was 12; a very young 12. It happened at the Heatherdale footy club in Heathmont. Given that nothing much happens in Heathmont this in itself is quite remarkable.
The previous day I’d been at a mate’s 13th birthday party and been allowed the stay at his place for the night. During a 24 hour period I’d eaten my body weight in Twisties, sponge cake, and chocolate “mates”. I’d drunk that much lemonade that my teeth felt like they were going to leave in protest. And we were allowed to stay up until 11pm watching movies. It was heaven.
The next morning I woke up with Twistie remnants lodged in my throat and chip crumbs scratching my back. Chocolates were strewn around the room, sugar coated jubes had found their way into my pillow case. It was like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets Death by Zombie.
The urge to vomit was immediate and immense.
“Pancakes for breakfast!” yelled the kids Mum.
After breakfast we went to the Heatherdale footy club for their “Fun Day”. It seemed to be a carnival of sorts, essentially to celebrate the end of the footy season. I was very pleased to be walking. The hope was that all the junk residing in my delicate stomach might get shaken down to my boots.
Then I heard the announcement.
“Anyone wanting to run in the Heatherdale Gift come and register.”
I was there like a rocket.
At the registration table the bloke looked at me with pity in his eyes.
“You want to run?” he asked, probably noting my pale green complexion and Twistie stained lips.”How old are you?”
They put me half way down the track. It was a sympathy mark. They didn’t want to crush my spirit.
But I fancied my chances – a lot. I knew this game. I was brought up on Stawell Gift intrigue and the concept of handicapped footraces. This was perfect. I was racing older kids and blokes who were giving me 15 plus metres head start.
“Money for jam.” I thought.
The heat was a walk. I won it with a leg in the air. Unfortunately I won by too much. I saw the old blokes on the hill go into urgent discussion. Another bloke, holding fists full of money, suddenly looked very pleased. I didn’t fully understand any of this.
The semi was another slam dunk. Me first, daylight second. The sting was in.
More meetings took place, worried “officials” were looking in my direction a little too often. The Twisties and chocolates were in my boots.
A few minutes before the final, a bald bloke with knowledge in his eyebrows approached me. The conversation went something like this:
“Now listen son we’re going to have to re-handicap the race. We can’t leave you out there.”
It was an outrage; a travesty. It was against the rules of the universe. A deal had been done, a shady compromise hatched in the back of the committee room. They pulled me back 4 metres. What could I do? I was 12 years old, skinny, in a foreign land, and surrounded by heaps of agitated blokes who were about to lose money. And I’d given their toilets a hiding.
I remember the final quite clearly.
“I’ll show these bastards!” was now my motivation.
I ran well. Very well. The start was brilliant; almost Ravelo-esque. None of these footballing thugs was any good. Half way down the 100 metre track I could hear them coming. They were closing. There was even a cheer in the crowd as we reached the crescendo. With a metre to go I was winning. It was like Bone Crusher and Our Waverley Star in the final fling at the tape. Strength prevailed. I hit the tape third; over run by a ruck rover and half forward flanker. I lost by a whisker, the width of crinkle cut chip. The winner came over and ruffled my hair. If I were two feet taller I might have kneed him in the groin.
But to me it wasn’t defeat. It was a profound and memorable triumph. I didn’t get the gold medal that said “Winner” but they had to bend the rules to knock me off. I strode to the dais defiant and proud, a moral victor, a surprise packet stained with lollies. I’d come from the clouds and shaken up this little suburban village. A mighty conquest had emerged out of stomach ache and gluttony; unexpected, unforeseen and exhilarating.
I’ve still got the medallion at home. It’s inscribed with,
“Finalist. Heatherdale Gift.”
I rank it just above the five iron.

About Damian O'Donnell

OK - which is the odd one out: Love the Cats and flannelette shirts, especially in winter. I get on extremely well with red wine. We just seem to hit it off. Love horse racing in Spring. Used to love cricket. Go to Stawell every Easter and contemplate life around the fire. Love water skiing, especially in summer. Get meaning from catching a beautiful curling wave. Love a great oil painting. Will read most things put in front of me. Thought 'The Sopranos' was the best TV show ever made - by miles. Run an accounting practice in Melbourne's suburbs.

Comments

  1. great story. Bit harsh about Heathmont. I grew up there. Nothing wrong with watching grass grow.

  2. I see we are kindred spirits, Dips. I too believe that sporting achievement is unrelated to effort, skill or training. That each of us has a day on which we are divinely blessed, and all the black ducks line up in a row.
    In my case the Almighty appears to have mislaid my address. I am left to wonder if a final bowl “drawn toucher” in the Social Veteran’s Fours is the best I have to look forward to??
    “Full many a flower is born to blush unseen” (Thomas Gray was a Dogs supporter).

  3. Sounds like the drug testing was a bit lax at sanctioned events in those days. The cocktail of Twisties preservatives and processed sugar has lead to many the leap in ability. Well played Dips.

  4. Andrew Fithall says:

    Really enjoyed the read Dips. I note the subbie has also cottoned on to this “running theme” of “3rd”.

    On the matter of golf, I finally gave it away six years ago because I was so bad at it it became embarassing. My game was renamed as “Whack F**K”. Because that was the sound I made every time I hit the ball.

  5. AF – “Whackf**k”. What a sensational name for a game. All we have to do now is invent the rules.

    My golf was also abysmal. I haven’t played since the bamboo shaft on my 4 wood snapped many years back.

  6. Great stuff, Dips!
    I’ll bet you haven’t eaten a twistie since.

  7. Peter Fuller says:

    You’re entitled to consider the Heatherdale Gift your finest hour. As you note, they had to change the rules to beat you. This puts you in illustrious company with the likes of Lindrum and Bradman.

Leave a Comment

*