The Final Nine

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The Final Nine
by Fred Dobbs

Now that I’m in decline I almost never sleep past 6 a.m. The only exception is when I absolutely must get up. This morning was one of those times. My alarm reliably sounded at the appointed hour, and I do remember hitting the snooze button. But I fell into a very deep sleep before the second blast, not to awaken for thirty minutes (my decline has also taken its toll on my hearing). It was a costly error, but not worth discussing.

I got to pondering why the snooze buttons on alarm clocks all grant nine more minutes. I think it’s because nine minutes is just enough time to fall back into REM sleep, leading to a series of events that ruin your day. But I’m a negative guy.

H.L. Mencken opined on the symbiotic relationship between time and beer. Twenty-four hours in a day. Twenty-four beers in a case. Essentially, according to Mencken, beer is a measure of time.

The number nine’s relationship with time isn’t exclusive to the snooze button. Two sports offer an alternative to the traditional clock.

Baseball fans laud their sport’s glorious separation of time from traditional measure. Instead of minutes and hours, baseball’s time is metered in outs and innings… nine innings. Golf’s time is measured in shots and holes… and nines.

Like my collapse into catatonia this morning, there have been some famous failures on the final nine in golf. Greg Norman’s dump at Augusta in ‘96 has been called the worst choke in tournament golf. I think I agree. Few remember Harry Vardon’s wrenching Open collapse at Inverness in 1920. Vardon was, especially by the standards of that day, an old man at age 50. As he stood on the twelfth tee the final day, five strokes clear of the field, a vicious cold front blew through (remember those?). Vardon wearied, his lead dissipated, and he finished second to Ted Ray. But he didn’t choke. His body failed him.

In my book the most tragic gas-job was by Arnie at Olympic (we’ll pause now for a moment of silence). Arnie’s choke, to me, was the worst ever… because he wasn’t a choker. He was, as the press told us more than once, a swashbuckler. I’d love to be called a swashbuckler. How cool would that be? As Arnie proved that day, everyone chokes sometimes. Even swashbucklers. But this piece isn’t about choking. Yet.

The other day I flew to Atlanta–the capital city of the Great Wasteland (okay, two Mencken references in one article are a bit much). I had the usual array of seat-mates. Bubba sat to my left–suffering the bloated burden brought on by years of consuming deep-fried mushrooms and Lite Beer. Unshaven, sporting less than sanitary jeans and t-shirt, his elephantine arms and shoulders protruded halfway into my space.

The guy in front was, by my estimation, a retired IRS agent, about 70 pounds overweight (they charge extra for 70 pounds of baggage, unless it comes attached to your body in the form of fat cells). As soon as the plane took off he jammed his seat back as far as it would go, and with his girth augmenting the range of his projectile’s motion he crushed my knees and almost dismantled my jaw.

To my right was a young woman wearing an extremely short dress (I’m male, I notice these things). She never stopped moving the entire trip. It was like the fast forward button was stuck on the VCR (remember those?). I never saw anyone fidget so much or so frenetically.

At one point she decided to put some lotion on her hands. I didn’t think it was possible to shake a bottle so rapidly. It was like one of those vibrating paint mixers at the hardware store. Ultimately the cap flew off and lotion spewed everywhere. She shrieked.

Later, when the attendant put two drinks in front of her (orange juice and water, no ice) I waited for the inevitable. Sure enough, about five minutes later, her right arm exploded forward in what appeared to be a completely involuntary movement–liquid spewing everywhere. She shrieked.

But that was more tolerable than what went on before she was told to turn off her cell phone. I never heard anyone talk so fast. From what I could gather–discerning a few key words–her boyfriend’s phone had made it into the hands of a cab driver. I suffered through her mach six cackling while she floundered in futility, with a heavy Japanese accent, to get the Mexican driver who apparently spoke very little English to return the phone to her hotel. I shrieked.

Surrounded by my collection of annoying friends, I made myself as small as possible in my even smaller than normal space and tried to read the in-flight magazine. That’s when I came to realize what it’s going to take for the game of golf to survive the next five hundred years.

Each issue of Delta Airline’s magazine includes a welcome article by the President and CEO. In this particular issue, the welcome message presented a myriad of measures being taken to significantly reduce Delta’s consumption of jet fuel. Updating to newer jets has reduced fuel consumption by 30-35%. Modifications to older craft will save one million gallons of fuel annually. Elimination of ovens and other weight reduction moves will save 1.4 million gallons. Modifications of climb and descent speeds, the use of stationary fueling carts, and implementation of single-engine taxi procedures save another million plus gallons. The list went on.

I paused to contemplate these amazingly simple and effective changes, and why they took so long for Delta to implement. Ben Franklin and others have been credited with the axiom “necessity (desperation?) is the mother of invention”. Perhaps the more applicable flipside would be “bounty is the father of sloth” (best to not lay the blame on mother).

I suppose it’s the unchangeable nature of man to wait until the last minute to make moves to avert impending doom. But did we really think that we would never have to deal with rising fuel prices and global warming? Damn those Republicans.

American golf is facing a similar fate. It’s not only not growing, but rounds are gradually decreasing. Many factors are involved, with time perhaps the greatest. Our evolving culture has whacked the amount of time we devote to leisure activities.

Concurrently, rounds are taking increasingly longer to play. Unfortunately, golf’s alternative measure of time–shots and holes–has not held up in the marketplace. In our everyday lives we remain enslaved by the clock.

Jack Nicklaus has suggested that we have twelve hole courses, but there’s something nay gawf about “the back six”. I have a better idea: Learn to play faster.

Golf’s “nine” used to equate to about an hour and a half. Anymore it often creeps closer to three painful hours. That’s the gas equivalent of about ten dollars a gallon. The time has come to learn how to conserve–not shots, not holes… but time.

It’s the final nine. Let’s hope we don’t choke.