As have you, I assume, I’ve considered and rejected various self-improvement projects during this long, lonely time-out: lift more? look up old friends? learn to hit the high note on the pan flute? No, no, and no.
Instead, I’ve re-discovered the soothing, almost numbing effects of hitting putt after meaningless putt on a surface with no holes.
Carpet putting isn’t golf but it’s not not golf. Benefits may accrue when I get back out on the confounding surfaces at Sleepy Willows CC, but getting better is not the point. The point–for me, at least—is that there is no point.
I can think of at least three other people—two real, one fictional– who rolled the rock on the rug for reasons we can guess.
First of these was the 34th President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, a golf nut without peer or precedent. Our loveable Commander in Chief teed it up about 800 times during his two terms, pretty good considering he was laid low by a stroke, a heart attack, and abdominal surgery while in office. Between fretful meetings with Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn and calling out the National Guard to protect school kids trying to integrate a high school in Little Rock from segregationist mobs, Ike wore out the Oval Office rug with a club and a ball. My guess is that the President was merely getting away from it all, not grinding as if a bet was on the line at his home course, Augusta National.
On days when the warp and weft of the White House wool would not satisfy, Ike simply went outside: he had a real grass green installed on the grounds in 1954. The squirrels that Harry Truman had enjoyed feeding liked to bury nuts in Ike’s green.
A second well-known indoor putter was the repetition king, Ben Hogan. There was a story abroad—probably apocryphal, probably started by his friend Jimmy Demaret—that no one wanted the hotel room next to the Hawk, because the clump and thump of Ben’s golf balls colliding with the furniture made sleep difficult for his neighbors. What, I wonder, was Hogan doing, or think he was doing? Was night putting (and chipping) ritual, obsession, drill—or all three? Unlike his peers Nelson and Snead—unlike almost everybody–the best striker in history behaved as if he were in day-to-day danger of forgetting how to hit the ball. As Mr. Spock would say: “fascinating.”
I offer actor Andy Garcia as a third example, if only because his carpet putting has been seen by many millions. In his role as oily casino owner Terry Benedict in Ocean’s Eleven, Garcia settles some weighty bit of business while on the phone and while putting on his thick Las Vegas rug. Perhaps the screenwriter and director felt this somehow emphasized a point they made over and over in the film, that Benedict was an ostentatious jerk. The kind of guy who’d have a solid gold flat stick.
For me, putting in my office on Home Depot’s lowest-priced, mottled brown wall-to-wall induces the blankness of mind I prize. I think of the putter—this one a gift from the estimable Win Padgett of Dallas, this one once used by ’46 Masters champ Herm Keiser, this other—a Wilson Arnold Palmer—was once in the employ of Chi Chi Rodriguez. I think of the ball—here’s a balata, here’s one with four logos, here’s a 50-compression mesh pattern made by the also estimable Dr. Dave Brown. It’s club, ball and carpet with nothing at stake. I’m transported.
I putt at nothing. And I miss.