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A Tribute for a Golfer

Lyrics of the Links

If you search this Blog using the word “elegy” you will find three poems linked to the famous poem “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” written by Thomas Gray and first published in 1751. Two of these poems are parodies. And now I have found a third titled “An Elegy on the Links” written by Francis Bowler Keene.  (Last November I published another poem by Keene called “A Golfer’s Monody, After the First Snowfall.”)

Keene’s poem is similar to Gray’s in structure, form and mood, but only the first verse can be tied closely to the original. The poem or lines from it could be used in a tribute to a golfer that has played his final round.

An Elegy on the Links

The sunset slowly tells the death of day.
At last deserted in each sand-strewn tee.
The caddie homeward wends his weary way.
And leaves the links to silence and to me.

The shadows lengthen on the grassy slopes
Where nibbling sheep still dot the scene with white.
They fade away, like fleeting earthly hopes,
And melt into the shades of coming night.

All silent, save for sounds of bleatings faint
That float to me upon the evening air;
Or, from the darkening wood, some twittered plaint
Of birds that seek nocturnal shelter there.

Upon these close-mown greens, this fading field,
Where hazards full of hidden dangers lie,
The warriors of peace their weapons wield,
And in the friendly contest daily vie.

No more to-day, with shouts from happy lips,
They send their greetings on the ambient air,
And tingle to their very finger-tips,
Enchanted by this game beyond compare.

For them no more the faithful caddie slings
The well-worn bag his youthful shoulder o’er,
Or polished clubs to them, unbidden brings,
Or helps record the all-important score.

Not all who tread these greens can win success,
But few can hold the cups and medals bright.
Yet all may gain that priceless blessedness,
The ruddy health that makes all burdens light.

Let not ambition blind the devotees
Who worship at golf’s grassy temple green.
It is not only they that rule the tees
Who summits of athletic joy have seen.

Full many a man may play a modest game
And feel a joy unclouded, heaven-sent.
No anxious aims entice him on the fame,
He’s free from care, and with his lot content.

For such as this, when golfing days are o’er,
And death’s angel putts the winning hole,
And those above sum up his life’s full score,
Write thus his epitaph, and seek his goal.

The Epitaph

Here rests a manly man, beloved by all.
True sportsman. Golfer. His example take.
Good luck or ill might guide his cheery ball,
He always played the game for play’s own sake.

Though small his skill, yet strong his frame well-knit.
Of nature kind and patient, slow to wrath.
His heart was large, and genial was his wit;
All nature smiled along his sunny path.

Seek not between these lines his faults to read,
He lacked success, yet happy was his fate.
A legacy of sunshine is your meed,
If you his cheery virtues emulate.

Keene’s poem is from his book Lyrics of the Links,  published in 1923.

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The Joys of Life and Golf

I have now been writing this Blog for five years. I began with a discovery –  an unknown literature of golf poetry – and a thought that it would be nice to share some of the best of these poems with other avid golfers. Along the way I decided to include some of my poetry as well.

I am pleased to say that over the five years this tiny space on the Internet has attained more than 100,000 page views from more than 120 countries. I am very grateful for all of you who have come and have encouraged others to try the site as well.

In this year-end Post I would first like to share with you a short poem by Robert Frost that I enjoyed and have re-read several times. I include it as an example of how poetry like music can immediately make you feel better.

Dust of Snow
Robert Frost

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

After reading Frost’s poem I thought of a poem that I wrote called “On Course” where I tried to create a feeling of joy about playing the game of golf. I hope you will enjoy it.

On Course
Leon S White, PhD

Golf is a singular way
to take temporary leave
following a zigzag path
in search of a small white ball;

to abandon reality,
but stay the course,
hole after hole;

to create a new story,
always different
to be told to someone
before it’s forgotten.

An extraordinary chance
to pretend for a brief time
no matter how unskilled
that each stroke will be flawless;

to endure the pain of failure
without really failing,
and even if only once a round,

to truly enjoy
the pure pleasure
of hitting the ball rock-solid
or sinking a long tricky putt.

“On Course” is included in both of my books, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages and If Only I Could Play That Hole Again.

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The Fair-Weather Golfer

winter-06-019

Living in a four-seasons climate such as New England, I have always thought that knowing you can only play golf from say April to November is an incentive the play when you have the chance. On the contrary, I imagine that in places where the weather is always “playable” golfers might more easily postpone a round knowing that there’s always tomorrow.

 I wrote the following verses to raise this question. I would welcome any comments you might have.

The Fair-Weather Golfer

Play golf in New England
And you have to prepare
To get to the course
When the weather is fair.

But  play in a place
Where the weather’s not rotten
It’s easy to be sidetracked
And your golf game forgotten.

So is -

The fair-weather golfer
More likely to play
Where there’s snow half the year
Or sun every day?

Leon S White

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A Golfer’s Poetic Lament – Winter is Coming

Francis Bowler Keene, who graduated from Harvard University in 1880 wrote a poem that should appeal especially to golfers who live in snowy areas of the country. In his title, Keene uses the word “monody,” meaning lament, to set his tone.  (A suggestion: To have the most fun with this poem, read it out loud and speed up towards the end.)

A Golfer’s Monody, After the First Snowfall

No greens, no tees;
.     No fragrant breeze;
No harmony of happy-hearted birds;
.     No verdure deep;
.     No roaming sheep;
No faithful collies, watchful of their herds;
.     No sunny glade;
.     No woodland shade;
No ferny path beneath the rustling trees;
.     No springy turf;
.     No murmuring surf;
No passing hum of honey-laden bees;
.     No motors fleet;
.     No golfers’ meet;
No lazy caddies lolling day by day;
.     No warning call;
.     No flying ball;
No contest in the fine and friendly fray;
.     No clubs to wield;
.     No drive afield;
No plaudits as the ball, far-driven flies;
.     No close-trimmed lawn;
.     No bunker’s yawn;
No hidden hazards lurking with bad lies;
.     No brassy swift;
.     No niblick’s lift;
No ringing click of iron, clear and clean;
.     No cleek’s true swing;
.     No mashie’s fling;
No careful putt along the velvet green;
.     No Club-nights gay;
.     No moonlit bay;
No dinners marked by mirth and merry jest;
.     No music bright;
.     No dancers light;
No broad verandah thronged with happy guests;
No winding walks;
No golfers’ talks;
No genuine delight for every member;
.     No matches more;
.     No games galore;
.     No joyous strife;
.     No zest in life;
.     November.

This poem is included in my book, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

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Golf Opposites: The Opposite of Lying

A ball belonging to Parker's Jennifer Polglaze nestles in the ...

A little more than three years ago I began writing poems about opposites in golf. I published two in October 2010 (http://golfpoet.com/2010/10/04/golf-opposites/)  and two more in September 2012 (http://golfpoet.com/2012/09/25/two-golf-poems-about-opposites/). Here is a more recent effort. In total I have now written 17 poems on this theme. If I can get to 30 may I’ll put them together in another eBook.

THE OPPOSITE OF LYING

Lying and golfing go together
Both on fairways and in the heather
A ball that’s OB from the tee
Needs a second drive and you’re lying three.

 If in a match and without luck
Your ball might be lying in the muck
But when your opponent’s not nearby
The temptation exists to improve your lie.

 A ball in a divot, a ground depression
Might also temp a rules transgression
But a little voice inside you cries
The rule says play it as it lies.

 Not only balls but clubs lie too
And sometimes golfers, but of course not you
Then to find an opposite without wallowing
Bear with me and consider the following:

A ball that’s caught up in a tree
Would not be lying two or three
And barring a gust that made it  fall
A treed ball wouldn’t be lying at all.

So lying’s opposite, though one among many
Is treed – which seems as good as any.

Leon S White, PhD

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The Ball

Woodley Flier

Raymond Carver (1938-1988) was a famous American short story writer and also a poet. Among his poems was one called “The Car.” It begins,

The car with a cracked windshield.
The car that threw a rod.
The car without brakes.
The car with a faulty U-joint.

And continues in a similar fashion for 44 additional lines!

Using Mr. Carver’s poem as a model, I wrote a more modest 20 line poem called “The Ball.”

 THE BALL

The ball with a smile.
The ball with dimples.
The ball with two colors.
The ball with a liquid center.
The ball with mud on it.

The hard wooden round ball.
Old Tom’s featherie ball.
The  Woodley Flyer ball.
The balata ball.
The three piece ball.

The ball that missed the tree.
The ball that hit the spectator.
The ball that hung on the edge.
The ball that sits on the tee.
The ball that lands in a trap.

The ball lofted in the air.
The ball lost in the gorse.
The ball left on the range.
The ball belted with a driver.
The ball signed by Tiger.

 

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“The Golfer’s Waggle” for Jason Dufner, PGA Champion and Champion Waggler

Jason Dufner

Jason Dufner, who last week won his first major, the PGA Championship, has become well known to the golfing public in the last two years for his approach to waggling his club before hitting the ball. Waggling may be as old as the game of golf itself. And an unknown poet almost one hundred years ago provided us with the most detailed analysis of this pre-shot phenomenon. The poem appeared in The American Golfer in September 1915. (The few Scottish expressions are starred and translated.)

The Golfer’s Waggle

Every golfer has a waggle—
A waggle o’ his ain—*                                           of his own
A wiggle-waggle, long and short,
Wi’ flourishes or plain.

The long and quick, the short and quick,
Long, short, and quick and slow;
The variety is infinite
That golfin’ waggles show.

The sprightly waggle of success,
Dull waggle of defeat;
The weary waggle-wasting time,
The waggle of conceit.

The waggle of the swanky pro,
Of “Far and Sure” design;
The feeble waggle of old age,
That preludes “off the line.”

The caddie’s waggle-dry asides,
That golfers whiles maun* suffer;                                   must
And worst o’ waggles on the links,
The waggle of the duffer.

The waggle shows the waggler,
Be the waggle slow or quick;
There is mair* into the waggle,                                      more
Than the waggle o’ the stick.

The poem can be found in my book, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages. (Available on Amazon.com.)

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French Golfers, Poetry and the British Open Championship

In 1999 Jean Van de Velde, a French golfer, came to the 18th hole on the final day of the Open Championship with a three shot lead and (as most of you probably know) scored a triple bogey ending up tied with two other golfers. In the ensuing playoff, he and Justin Leonard lost to the Scotsman Paul Lawrie.

French golfers at the Open had seen better days. One hundred and two years earlier Arnaud Massy won the event beating the three British greats of that time, Harry Vardon, J.H.Taylor and James Braid among others. In the 1922 Open Championship, Jean Gassiat, a contemporary of Massy’s, came in seventh. A second contemporary, Baptiste Bomboudiac, was the subject of a golf poem written by Robert K Risk and first published in the English magazine Punch in April 1908.

A story in the Daily Paper, sometime in early 1908, included the following quote regarding the Open Championship to be played later that year at the Prestwick Golf Club:

“France will be well to the front at the Golf Championship. Massy is already at the top of the tree, and there are great possibilities in Gassiat and Baptiste Bomboudiac.”

Risk, maybe the best golf poet of his time, responded to this quote with the following poem.

A TIP FOR PRESTWICK

Some prate of Braid and Taylor,
And eke of Harry V.
(Admittedly a nailer
At driving from the tee):
But of all the golfing heroes
Whom common punters back,
There’s none to me so dear as
Baptiste Bomboudiac.

A Gassiat or Massy
May do distinguished things
With iron and with brassy—
But his the name that rings
Daylong through all my fancies,
Nightlong my sleep I lack,
Through sizing up your chances,
Baptiste Bomboudiac.

To drive and pitch and hole out,
With skill satanical,
Wears an opponent’s soul out,
And sends him to the wall;
The “influence” called “moral”
Will ward off such attack,
Awarding thee the laurel
Baptiste Bomboudiac.

We need not be affrighted
To meet a White or Jones,
Whose Christian names are cited
In quite familiar tones;
But diffidence comes o’er us,
When driven to attack
Polysyllab-sonorous
Baptiste Bomboudiac.

For the record, James Braid won the 1908 Open and Arnaud Massy was tenth. Neither Gassiat or Bomboudiac are listed among those with four round scores.

One more thing. If anyone knows more about Baptiste Bomboudiac please leave a comment. A Google search only produced two references. He deserves better.

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Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Putt

Golf_Improve_Swing_Joke (1)

If you want to improve your putting, you might consider studying the form of a great putter such as Brad Faxon. When writing poetry I often look for inspiration to the great poets such as Wallace Stevens. Steven was a major American modernist poet who was born in 1879 and lived through the first half of the 20th century. He was renowned for his philosophic poetry that examined the relationship between an individual’s thoughts and feelings and the surrounding environment. One of his most famous poems was titled “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” (You will find it here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174503.)  Using this poem as a starting point for its format and introspection, I have tried to explore the mysteries of putting with my poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Putt.” (If you want to see how I made use of Steven’s poem to write mine, you might try toggling between the two.)

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Putt
(With apologies to Wallace Stevens)

I
Among the hills and valleys of the green
The only objects moving
Were the eyes of the golfer
Surveying his putt.

II
He was of more than one mind
Like the just finished foursome
Now in the clubhouse bar.

III
Standing behind the ball looking
For the line, he then crouched
For a second look
Reading from his putting book.

IV
A golfer and his putter
Are one
But a golfer and his putter and his putt
Are one
Only if the ball goes in.

V
I do not know which to prefer
The beauty of a perfectly struck putt
Or the beauty of a green at sunset
The ball dropping
Or just after.

VI
The golfer moved around
Behind the pin,
The shadow of a blackbird
Crossing his own shadow
As he took up a new position
From which to trace a path
Ball to hole.

VII
Fellow golfer
Why do you imagine a birdie?
Don’t you see the
Difficulties of the putt?
Par is always a good score.

VIII
I know of noble efforts
And of rhythmic swings
But I know too
Not to include all that I know
In preparing for my next putt.

IX
When the ball stopped on the green
It only crossed over the edge
Of the larger circle.

X
At the sight of an unputtable ball
Mired in tall grass beyond a green
The errant golfer
Would like to cry out sharply
And often does.

XI
He rides from green to green
In a golf cart
Often fearful that
What putting skills he has
Will disappear along the path
Between holes.

XII
The putt is rolling off line
His head must have moved.

XIII
Look at a putt thirteen ways,
And you can still miss it.
Or with a quick look
It might go in.

This poem appears in my book, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages.

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Golf Poetry from the Majors

On occasion I have been inspired to write a poem about a Major event. These have previously been published in Posts on this Blog, but I thought that for Masters week I would put them together. These poems are also included in my new Ebook, If Only I Could Play That Hole Again which is available on Amazon for the Kindle and Kindle app.

Starting with last year’s Masters here is how I saw Bubba’s memorable sweeping hook:

♦Bubba’s Master’s Shot

About B.W. let’s be candid
Fortunate that he’s left handed
If he had hit a slice instead
“Our usual shot,” all we’d have said.

Another Master shot that will always be remembered, is Tiger’s 2005 chip show on the 16th hole:

♦A Masters Chip for the Ages

From a difficult lie beyond
the steeply sloped sixteenth green

a steely-eyed Tiger sent his ball
to a spot far above the hole,

the ball coming crisply off his wedge,
flew low, bounced once

and rolled on a yard or two
until gravity took over,

causing it to turn sharply,
and start slowly down the slope

towards the hole, speeding up
then slowing again as it got closer.

“All of a sudden,” Tiger’s words,
“it looked really good.”

“How could it not go in?” and
when it stopped, a single turn short,

“How did it not go in?”,
“And all of a sudden it went in.”

It was as if Tiger’s will
had given gravity an assist.

“In your life,” the tower announcer’s voice,
“have you seen anything like that?”

While around him, the patrons’ roar
rose rocket-like, fueled by sheer wonder.

In July 2012, Na Yeon Choi won the U.S. Women’s Open by four shots over Amy Yang. As the fourth round began, Choi held a six shot lead. And at the turn, she still led Yang by five. Then it got interesting.
Again the newspapers and magazines have told the story of the last nine holes in straight forward prose. I thought it would be fun to re-cast this minor epic in a more traditional form.

♦Na Yeon Choi – U.S. Women’s Open Champion

She was cruising along with a five shot lead
And just nine more to play
But the ever-present golf gods
Had not yet had their say!

As she turned for home with a  big Open lead
Fans saw her name on the cup
Especially now with it down to a match
And she was the one five up.

But the golf gods knew the score as well
And on ten they went into action
Soon enough Na Yeon Choi
Was losing more than just traction.

Her drive went out and couldn’t be found
She was back on the tee for her third
When her putt finally sank she was up only two
But surprisingly undeterred.

A resolute Choi bounced right back
With a birdy on eleven
The golf gods were clearly hard at work
In the depths, then close to heaven.

The down and up would continue
From the next tee into high weeds
But a brilliant wedge put her ball on the green
And she holed with a perfect read.

On thirteen the gods gave one final scare
Her ball hit two rocks, au revoir
But dry it remained miraculously
Choi then made an up and down par.

In the end the golf gods seemed to remember
A dream from way way back
When Na Yeon first said “I just want to be there,”
While watching Se Ri Pak.

Accepting the cheers as she walked up the last,
Her win beyond a doubt
Standing where her hero had stood
She finally putted out.

“I’m here right now and I made it.” she said
After winning ─ though I would wager
The thought that was foremost in her mind —
Like Se Ri, I’ve won this Major.

You may remember at the 2009 British Open at Turnberry, Tom Watson needed a four on the final hole to win his sixth Open championship. Unfortunately he didn’t do it. Thus, he lost his chance to make history as the oldest golfer to win a major. He was 59 at the time. Shortly after, I wrote the following poem to pay tribute to Watson’s heroic but failed effort.

♦Watson At Turnberry – The 2009 Open

From the tee at eighteen
He looked down towards the home hole
Like a pitcher with a one run lead looks
Toward home plate needing one more out.

As he drove his ball
We knew what the magic number was.
When the camera showed a safe white speck
We exhaled in unison and counted one.

Now it was an eight iron to the green
Or was it a nine?
A question to be answered twice,
The first time by Watson alone.

He was thinking nine but hit the eight
And as we watched with growing anxiety
The ball bounced hard and rolled too far.
We held our breath and counted two.

Again a choice: to chip or putt.
“One of the best chippers of all time,”
The words of an old pro in the booth.
But the third stroke would be a putt.

From off the green the ball raced up
Then by the hole a good eight feet.
He said he had seen grain.
Down to one, we saw trouble.

Once more a putt to win the Open,
But this was not a kid with a dream,
This was a Champion Golfer five times over.
Yet now we feared the worst.

While he took two short practice strokes
We lost interest in counting.
And as the ball rolled weakly off his putter
We lost all hope as well.

“I made a lousy putt,” Watson’s words;
“Then it was one bad shot after another.”
A self-stated epitaph marked the close:
“The Old Fogy Almost Did It.”

And so the golf writers lost their story
To an illustrious sage from an earlier time.
It wouldn’t be about Watson winning – or losing,
But how he had played the Game.

In 1970 Doug Sander missed a short putt on the final hole at the British Open that cost him the Championship. Here is a reply,

♦An Open Putt Remembered

The putt was less than three feet long
Just how could anything go wrong?

For sure he knew the stakes were high
But could he really run it by?

Doug looked as cool as cool could be
His poise was there for all to see.

But as his putter made its sweep
And those who watched made not a peep.

The ball escaped its aimed-for goal
And did not end up in the hole.

The question was, how could he miss
An easy putt as short as this?

The answer—simple, known to all:
Pressure putts don’t always fall.

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