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Golf, the forever four-lettered word

When it finally became too much to bear, the man with the $800 irons and the two-bit short game let his wedge fly, taking care to throw it away from his playing partners. One of them observed the toss and said, "I've never seen anyone throw a club before."

I thought, "You haven't been playing long, have you?" but then I realized I hadn't seen one airborne in a long time. It's just not done nowadays, at least not in polite circles.

When Kevin Na became so upset in the Tour Championship several days ago, he swatted a chunk of turf out of the tee the size of a loaf of bread. There was tsk-tsking by the TV announcers and Na's playing partner Retief Goosen said "It's bad for the game."

Terrible tempered old Thunder himself, Tommy Bolt, would have said, "Is that the best you've got, kid?" Bolt's clubs had more air miles on them than a transoceanic airliner.

The game fairly begs you to throw a club, pound the ground, gnash your teeth and scream reprehensible expletives. Asked what he thought when he missed a short putt, the evangelist Billy Graham declined to comment. The great North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith did not believe in cursing, at least in public, but when he missed a short one he began spelling out a naughty word between clenched teeth. Golf dares you.

It is a beautiful game but it can be maddening, and usually is for those of us who aren't good enough to have our names on our golf bags.

Out there on the course, the frailty of the human mind is laid bare. Most of us can deal with it civilly, gritting our teeth in silence. Some can't. Some hear butterflies fluttering in the distance, blame dogs barking half a mile away, see an omen in a circling buzzard. Most of us aren't that bad, although one of my buddies did yell at a bird to shut up.

I've mentioned this before but it's worth repeating. I played with a man who, after three-putting 11 greens in a row, went to his knees and started trying to tear the hole up. Then he went to the edge of the trees and started throwing lighted matches into the fallen leaves, trying to set the course on fire. They finally had to put him in a home.

Old tour player Ky Laffoon tried to drown his putter, holding it under water, and failing that, he tied it to the back of his car and dragged it down the highway.

A money player named Lefty Stackhouse would lose it on occasion and ram his hand into a thorny bush until it bled, or beat an offending hand with his putter.

The aforementioned Bolt took his failures personally. Once, after missing a short putt, he jutted his chin toward heaven and snarled, "Me again, huh, God? Why don't you come down here and play me? Bring your kid, too."

This, understandably, made his playing partners a bit uncomfortable. They looked around for clouds from which a lightning bolt might appear.