golf bagTitle: A Perfect Drive
Author: Richard L. Gegick
Category: Fiction
Saturdays, Bradley hits balls at the Golden Bear Driving Range. He does this every week, trying to fix a serious hook he's developed.
The defect defines his game, and he can't imagine actually stepping out onto a course until it's fixed, but he can't fix it. This frustrates Bradley.
He pulls another ball out of the wire bucket and tees it up. Bradley watches the other golfers blow effortlessly through their shots while the late morning breeze carries their drives a few extra yards. White dots like hailstones litter the range. The red flags ripple. A lone employee rumbles along in a caged golf cart, sucking up balls like a vacuum cleaner.    There have been magazine articles. Plenty of those. Instructional books meant for dummies and pros alike. All the television shows on the Golf Channel, too, have done nothing for Bradley. Neither has the new 400 dollar driver he put on his credit card a month ago without telling his wife, Connie. Bradley stands behind the ball and says a Hail Mary.

Golf, so the experts say, is 90 percent mental. The golfer's mind must be focused and clear of all distractions. Every article and book implores the golfer to visualize the shot before taking it. This is the key. Remain confident in the shot you want, and the shot will come. Wish in one hand, shit in the other, Bradley thinks. He does it anyway. In his mind's eye, Bradley sees the white ball exploding off his oversized club-head. While standing behind the ball with his eyes shut his fantasy shot carries straight and long. Not too high, and not too low. It lands softly with a bounce and rolls ten more yards and stops in front of the 300 yard marker.

Bradley opens his eyes. He's also learned that golfers apparently perform best when they maintain a strict rhythm. He saw this on an episode of Playing Lessons from the Pros featuring Vijay Singh. Singh said that to keep in rhythm, a golfer should count off his shots like a jazz musician counting off a song. One, the address. Two, the backswing. Three, the follow-through.

One. Two. Three.

Contact. The ball sails into the horizon, as Bradley holds the position of his follow-through, his club shaft parallel to the ground behind his head and over his shoulders. The ball sails straight. For a moment, an eye-blink, a weight lifts off Bradley as the trajectory of the shot is a straight line. And in a fraction of a second, the ball twists violently to the left and lands at least a football field away in that direction.

He cannot believe this. Just cannot process. Bradley heaves the 400 dollar driver over his head and smashes it against the metal divider in front of him. The club head breaks from the shaft and sputters into the grass while the other golfers stop and watch Bradley's explosion. He kicks over the bucket of balls and sends them clicking along the pavement and walks to the pro shop gripping the headless shaft while the other golfers scatter to gather his range balls like children gathering candy at a parade.

How does something so bad come from something so good? This is the question Bradley has no answer for. His game was great. His game is shit. He's had dips before. A bad drive here, a three-putt there. Those were problems he could fix, but this hook is something different and it just showed up out of nowhere.

Bradley drives around for awhile, aimlessly letting his hand dangle out the window. He just doesn't feel like going home and the sun is shining. People are out doing things they do on the weekends, cutting grass and washing cars. Bradley just needs to cool down.

At home, Bradley cuts the engine and sees his wife, Connie, working a spade into the lawn. It's not big, just a patch of grass in front of the house about ten feet long and four feet deep. But he waters it every night at dusk and seeds it every spring. A lawn as plush and green as Augusta National is what he desires. Bradley played Augusta once. The grass was so thick. Connie turns up a chunk of sod in front of the porch. She's cutting the lawn up like a public course.

"Connie?" Bradley says. He opens his trunk and pulls his bag out. A few houses down a football thuds off a car hood as kids laugh. "What the hell are you doing to my yard, Con?"

Connie cuts the spade deeper and exposes the concrete under the porch.

"Planting gardenia," Connie says. Sweat rings her t-shirt and stains the blue bandanna she wears around her head. "Where were you all this time?"

"Gardenias?" Bradley says. He hitches his bag on his shoulder. "They don't have those on Augusta. You can't plant those here."

The neighbor across the street in the rental house comes out with a weed whacker and starts it up. Bradley doesn't know his name. People move in and out so quickly, but Bradley can't stand to watch this poor schmuck butcher his lawn with that weed whacker.

"This is Trafford," Connie says over the buzzing whacker. "It ain't Augusta." 

"No it isn't," Bradley says, though Connie didn't hear him. He carries his clubs into the house.

Years ago, Bradley was a scratch player. His booming drive, subtle iron play, and fiercely soft short game destroyed every course in the area. Friends told him he should try to qualify for the U.S. Open, but he was happy enough hustling hot-shot club pros out of their paychecks. God, his game was so complete he could fake the bad play he can't fix now with precision. He'd purposely throw holes to sucker guys in to feeling comfortable taking a money game. Easy money, they'd think. When Bradley turned his game on, sticking long iron shots and sinking birdie puts, those guys didn't stand a chance.

In those days, Bradley saved every scorecard. Every birdie and par was marked and filed away in a cardboard box. These scorecards could unlock the mystery of when his game started to turn, there could be a pattern. So after Bradley drops his clubs off on the back porch, he pours himself a stiff drink and wades down into the basement among all the junk and boxes of good china they haven't used in years.

The boxes are stacked along the wall, under the glass block window. Bradley sets his drink on the wood paneled bar. The shelves underneath are lined with dust-coated tumblers, martini glasses, and sticky liquor bottles. He carries the boxes across the basement, one by one, and sorts through them. Old clothes. Decades old tax returns. The de-humidifier rattles, its bucket overflows and a stream of water pools into a crevice along the concrete floor.

Connie comes down the steps carrying the spade. They keep the garden equipment in the small room next to the water heater. She washes her hands in the wash-tub while Bradley digs through the dank boxes of old photographs.

"What are you doing?" she says. She takes a sip of Bradley's drink and leans against the bar.

"Looking for something," Bradley says. He claps his hands and sends a flourish of dust mites dancing in the florescent light.

"What are you looking for?" Connie says. She reclines on their old loveseat, the one they moved down the stairs years ago after they bought the couch. She lets her feet hang over the arm and her sandals dangle off her toes. The water from the overflowing dehumidifier pools in front of the loveseat and Connie dips her fingertips in the tepid water.

It's not that they don't love one another. They do. It's just that their life has taken on an easy beat after all the years. Every Sunday they go out to dinner at the Olive Garden. Bradley orders the chicken parmigiana, Connie orders the mushroom stuffed ravioli. They each drink two gin and tonics and come home to watch 60 Minutes. After that, they have sex. Connie wears her special lacy panties, and they go through the same routine of positions and the same dirty dialogue until Bradley climaxes and goes limp. Connie goes into the bathroom and cleans herself off while Bradley pours two nightcaps that they'll drink in bed.

"I'm looking for my old scorecards," Bradley says. "Have you seen them?"

In one of the boxes, Bradley finds a dried flower, a white dogwood that he plucked off the 11th hole at Augusta almost twenty years ago. That day, his drives were straight and long with a slight fade. He felt holy when he rounded Amen Corner. As the Georgia sun battered his skin, he felt the spirit of all the greats in his bag. Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Gene Sarazen. Every one of them a green jacket winner.

"I don't know," Connie says. She lets her sandals fall and smack onto the floor and shoves her bare feet between the cushions of the love seat. "I don't think I threw them out or anything. I haven't touched anything down here in awhile."

Bradley picks up the white dogwood flower. The petals are edged in brown and are paper thin. They crumble at his touch. 

"They're not here, Connie," he says. A petal breaks loose and floats to the floor. "I didn't throw them out."

The joints in Connie's toes crack. The pool of dehumidifier water crests and floods the floor all the way to the rear wall.

"You're seriously accusing me of throwing them out?" Connie says. She stands, steps right into the stream of water and goes and flips the dehumidifier off. She carries the bucket past Bradley, leaving footprints along the concrete. She pours the water in the wash tub.

"I don't know," Bradley says. "Am I?"

Bradley still gently holds the white dogwood. It could fall apart with one slight squeeze. On the day he picked that flower, he didn't have to visualize anything. Things just came to him. But he did imagine some. That day he saw his last name in black letters atop the leader-board. He heard the gallery hush as he rounded Amen Corner. Saw grown men running like small children, trying to keep up with every one of his shots. He heard the cheering and the flashbulbs as they placed the green jacket on his shoulders. And he really believed that day, almost twenty years ago, that a perfect drive could take him anywhere he wanted to go.             
Richard L. Gegick was born and raised in Trafford, PA. He lives in Pittsburgh with his wife and waits tables. He completed his MFA at Chatham University and his stories have appeared in Hot Metal Bridge and The Cleveland Review.