An exile amid the season's slumber

BLOOMFIELD, Conn. – It’s well past halfway through a seven-week hiatus from golf, and I’m starting to itch badly.

The clubs are safely stored in the garage, still zipped up and secure in the travel bag that I used when I last played golf (out of town) during the first week of December. Since then, they’ve not seen the light of day, not even for a bucket of range balls or a practice swing when the weather momentarily warmed up. Instead, my clubs have been tucked snugly into a corner, crowded in by the other warm-weather implements stored around it: screen windows, garden tools, the lawn mower and outdoor furniture.

It’s winter – or supposed to be, according to the calendar. A year ago in New England, we were socked in with massive snows for seven weeks that made it easy for me not to miss playing golf. But this year, the ground is clear. Worse yet, the temperatures have been warm enough for me to gaze longingly at the open ground of the golf courses in my neighborhood and wish I were out there playing. But no, I tell myself. This self-imposed exile is an annual rite of winter, and the discipline is good for me – though why, I cannot exactly say.

There’s a famous story about a PGA Tour golfer who had no trouble giving up the game through the winter. Back in the late 1970s, Bruce Lietzke was a regular top-60 money winner who was alleged rarely to practice and never to play during the off-season – this in an era when there actually was an off-season. One fall, after the year’s final event, his regular caddie wanted to see if the reputation was deserved. So just before zipping up the bag after the last round, he slipped a banana skin under the cover of the driver. Sure enough, when he reopened the bag for the first event of the next season, the rotten banana peel fell out.

Not every golfer is so able to get away. During these weeks of enforced removal from playing, I find my thoughts have wandered back to things I had done better in my game this past year and to things I need to do better in the next. There was the occasional replay of a good shot. But I also could rekindle the anxiety I would feel when faced with a shot I knew I wasn’t yet up to hitting.

Soon, it will be time to unzip the travel bag and take out my clubs again. I’ll be a season older and a season more rested. It’s almost time to get back to golf.

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