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How To: Hit Yourself In The Face With A Golf Ball

Whenever anybody I know expresses an interest in learning how to golf – “It seems like a fun hobby that I could pick up easily!” – I tell them to try heroin instead, because at least heroin will give you something. Golf gives you nothing. If it even thinks of giving you something, it immediately stops thinking about doing so, and then takes something back as retribution.

I’ve been golfing since I was eight. My grandfather’s clubs were sitting in the barn and I thought swinging them seemed like fun, so I’d pound shots out into a hayfield, fetch them, and do it all again. He and my grandmother liked watching me do this. I was the golfer their sons weren’t. I played until I was fifteen. My playing partner was my best friend, and he was getting very good, very quickly, and one day I hit the ball onto a green and he hit the ball into the woods and the hole was going to be mine and then, he hit the ball out of the woods and onto the green and across the green and into the hole and I thought, “You know what? He’s going places and I’m not. I’m done with this.” (He ended up playing college golf.)

I quit until I was 22. Then I got a job working an afternoon shift, and with nothing to do in the mornings, I went back to the golf course and forced myself to get better. So now I’m a competent golfer. I can shoot in the 80s on good courses, and if I’m really playing well, I can shoot in the very-high 70s. At my home course, I can play even better, but mostly because I’ve played there twenty-five thousand million billion times.

Before we go further, here’s some evidence that I at least know how to swing a golf club – please note, it includes commentary from my teenager who is studying for a career in motivational speaking.

But you’re not here for that. You’re here for how I hit myself in the face with a golf ball. That’s fine. I understand that.

Step 1: Have Absurd Ideas About Golf

Without getting buried too deeply in the game’s arcane nature, just know that there are certain clubs called long irons. They’re designed to hit the ball a longer way that the game’s short irons. The longer irons are given lower numbers (like 2, 3, 4) and the shorter irons are given higher numbers (like 7, 8, 9). Longer irons keep the ball low to the ground, so that it can go a good distance and roll after making contact with the ground. Shorter irons keep the ball very high, so that it stops soon after making contact with the ground. “Just switch the numbers!” you’re saying, and I agree that it seems like there’s an easy fix to all of this, but, if it hasn’t happened yet, it ain’t gonna.

Anyway, longer irons are difficult to hit, and they’ve been replaced by clubs called hybrids. But I don’t like hybrids, so I still try to hit long irons, even though I can’t hit them very well. In my head, I’ll one day fix this, but in reality, I’ve got three children and a wife and a job, so by the time I’ve got the 25 hours a day it would take to get good at hitting long irons, I’ll be too old to do so. So instead, I just keep trying.

The hardest of the long irons to hit is the 1 iron. Lee Trevino, who won six major tournaments, said that you can hold a 1 iron aloft in a lightning storm and remain perfectly safe, because even God can’t hit a 1 iron. Golf club manufacturers long ago got wise to the 1 iron’s reputation, and started released clubs called driving irons. These were just 1 irons, but they had ‘Driving Iron’ written on the bottom, and because golfers are universally stupid, this was briefly accepted as a substitute. These clubs remained popular until they weren’t anymore because golfers eventually realized they had the same problems that 1 irons did: they’re impossible to hit.

But surely I can figure it out, I reasoned, as I trolled around EBay looking for cheap thrills. So I bought one and waited for it to arrive. And it did. And it was beautiful. And after dinner, I was going to hit a few.

Step 2: Choose A Spot To Hit From That Is Very Obviously Dangerous In Retrospect

I have a two-tiered yard built into a gentle hillside. There are trees above my house, and then yard, then a driveway with a retaining wall, and then a flower bed with a raised rock wall, and then more yard. The woods are deep enough to hit into safely, so if you’re looking at that description of my yard, and if you are thinking, “So you just hit it from the yard that’s between the woods and the driveway, right?” then you are mistaken, because that is the obvious choice. The reasonable one. The safe one.

I, on the other hand, went with the yard below the retaining wall, the driveway, and the raised rock wall. I did this because I am not any of those things. I am an idiot.

Step 3: Do Not Realize That There Is A Problem

I put a ball down and took a half-swing at it, assuming that I would get the ball into the air. It cleared the rock wall, hit the retaining wall, and skittered far well away from me. It hadn’t gone more than 20 feet, and got no more than a foot off the ground. I stared at this and thought, “Woah, I really had better focus on getting the ball up into the air on this next one.”

Do you see what I did there? I ignored the evidence. This was the warning to me that what I was about to do was monumentally stupid. None of that registered.

Step 4: Swing Much, Much Harder

I did what one does – I tufted the ball up on some grass so I’d get under it, thus lofting it above the rock wall and the retaining wall, and then, it would disappear harmlessly into the woods, and it would do this especially well if I took a full-swing. Which I did.

Step 5: The Human Head Contains A Lot Of Blood

The time it takes a golf ball to travel from its place of rest to a rock and then directly back between my own eyes is instantaneous apparently. From there I went immediately to the ground, where a quick check revealed that my head hurt quite a lot and, oh my goodness, there is blood on my face. And then more blood. Like, a handful’s worth of blood. And then another handful. I call for my wife, who comes outside cautiously. “What happened?” she says, and because I am a medical professional, I say, “I think I broke my nose,” and because she is actually a medical professional, she says, “Let me see!” and I look up at her and she says very calmly that I have not only misdiagnosed myself, but that we are headed to the hospital immediately.

Step 6: Makes Jokes, Get Stitches, Be Very Relieved

A funny thing happens when you walk into an emergency room holding a towel to your bloody face: people want to know what happened.  Then, when they find out, they do their best to stifle their laughter, and then they can’t, and then they’re laughing very heartily, because it is funny.  I realized this as soon as the blood had stopped. I spent ten minutes stewing about what I was going to have to put up with before I got over this absurdity and made jokes too.

“What hurts the most?” a simultaneously concerned and laughing nurse asked me.

“My pride,” I said.

It went on like this for the entire visit. And then there was work the next day. And the golf course that weekend.

While I was at the hospital, I got a facial CT scan to check for breaks. I passed a concussion examination. I got four stitches. This is what I looked like. (Be warned, the image is a bit grisly, and also, the injury itself is gross too.)

Occasionally, I stop and think about how bad this could have been and then I stop doing that because it could have been really, really bad. What I conclude is this: if you’re going to hit yourself in the face with a golf ball because you are an idiot incapable of risk management, do it how I did it and get damned lucky that it was not any worse than it was, and then never do anything so goddamned stupid ever again.

Step 7: Redemption

One last thing. The next day, I took the same club to a safer location (the yard between the woods and the driveway), put a ball down, and pured it into the woods. To pure a ball is to catch it on the club’s sweetspot, a situation in which everything is maximized. This is something you might do several times in a round if you are lucky, although you can also go an entire round without it happening. The ball I hit flew into the woods like a laser beam. It hit a tree dead center, maybe 60 yards away from me. This ball then flew straight back out of the woods, bouncing several times and then rolling to a stop. It was sitting directly in front of me, at my feet, in the very spot that I had hit it from.

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68 thoughts on “How To: Hit Yourself In The Face With A Golf Ball

    • The short answer is: yes.

      The longer answer is: but, sometimes you don’t tee off with a driver, even if the hole is one that might be long enough to justify a driver’s use. However, sometimes accuracy is of greater issue than distance, which is where clubs with slightly more facial loft (the part of the club that actually makes contact with the ball) than a conventional driver are chosen. These are generally known as fairway woods, but sometimes players like to use hybrids, or driving irons, or irons.

      Another shorterish answer might be: yes, but I’d never hit a driver from where I hit the driving iron from originally, because that wouldn’t be safe at all.

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    • My friends joke that I am so bad at golf I could find the water hazard on a driving range.

      And due to visiting a driving range not long after heavy rains, I did in fact shank it so bad it went into a ditch filled with water.

      I have, more than once, hit the ball only for it to land behind me. (Thanks tree! Thanks decorative rock feature!). Thankfully, I have not yet injured myself playing golf — but I also gave it up some time back, so I think I just never put in the hours necessary.

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    • I took a semester of golf in college. We practiced driving on this really long field that had trees along the right side, 40-50 yards away. We were hitting the balls so they would fly parallel to the treeline. When I tried this, the ball disappeared from sight, and a few seconds later we heard the “tok” of my ball hitting the trees. From the sound, it was clear that my ball had traveled further perpendicular to my attempted drive than along the correct direction.

      I have not golfed at all since finishing that class.

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  1. Fantastic wound. Too bad you have to be the butt of your own joke to tell the story of how you got it.

    I didn’t like using my hybrid for a second shot, until I did. It was that first pure shot I got with the new club, you know how good that shot feels, how beautiful the ball looks in the air, how happy you are when you clear the hazard and it bounces, once, twice, on the apron, and then rolls up onto the green and holy crap you got on in two on the longest hole on the course. The pride. The satisfaction you get when you turn to your buddies and say, “Yeah, I think that’ll play.”

    So while I admire your cojones for fearlessly attempting a one-iron, I’m getting pretty fond of this hybrid trend, so give it a shot there, @arnold-palmer!

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  2. I’ve never understood the desire to put a small ball into a small hole on a field of grass. I’ve watched it occasionally on TV and been mildly interested.

    Tennis, on the other had always held more attraction. Of course, when I grew up watching it, the ladies were skirts, so there was the added benefit of seeing their legs. Pervy, but I am a dude.

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    • I too am fortunate enough to lack the golf gene. It turns out I find target sports generally uninteresting. I dabbled in archery in college, but didn’t take it very far. Fencing was more fun, but that is hard to do casually. It is a bit like chess. I am strictly a wood pusher, and at this point not even a good one. At one point in my life I thought I might want to get serious about chess. Then I looked into what it would take and realized that I didn’t want to devote my life to it. I respect the guys who do, but unless you can’t imagine being as passionate about anything else, the cost-benefit ratio sucks.

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      • Chess is a goddamned boring game.
        I know game designers, and they can’t stand playing chess
        [and when they do, they start trolling the opponent, because it is Just So Easy in chess — “But you made a non optimal move!?!”]

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          • Oddly enough, I’ll (partially) go with Kim on this one.

            There are three types of game designers: those that try to make every game into some variant of chess, those who try to make a better version of chess, and those who dislike chess.

            Chess is a combinatorics problem, and not a particularly interesting one, iff’n you ask me. Not that anybody did.

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            • It remains perhaps the best medium for studying expertise in the wild, so to speak, in part because there are so many experts, but also because it’s complex enough to have plenty of variance between novice and expert, and confined enough to be able to evaluate performance quantitatively with relative ease.

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              • A rather good point, and one that hadn’t crossed my mind.
                On the continuum of novice to expert, where the hell do you put a troll? Someone who deliberately makes non-optimal moves in order to distract and force errors from their opponent?

                I’m not sure you can even really say that they’re playing the same game as everyone else… [Chess takes itself rather too seriously, doesn’t it?]

                [Of course, were this poker, of course trolling’s allowed — even encouraged, and considered the mark of a good player.]

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      • Now, I could get serious about some “target” sports, but sadly, I lack the cash flow to support multiple ownership of machine guns, the high cost of ammo, etc., otherwise, I’d be out in the desert blowing stuff up with my russian tank, my quad four ww2 anti aircraft machine guns, and my grenade launcher.

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        • As a teenager I lived in a Marine town in the Mojave Desert. Going out into the boonies with guns and blasting away was considered a perfectly reasonable recreational activity. Then when I was in college, whenever I got wind that the ROTC was going to go on a field trip and shoot M-16s (or one time an M-60) I was right there. (They let random students go along, presumably regarding it as marketing.) So don’t get me wrong. I enjoy things that go bang. What red-blooded American doesn’t? But actually trying to hit something specific? And spending time practicing to get good at it? This doesn’t do it for me. Other people enjoy it, and good for them. My hobbies are considered eccentric and uninteresting by many people, so who am I to judge?

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          • I’m actually pretty good up to medium rifle range, but long range requires more practice than I have time or range for.

            Personally I just like hitting things that give me a nice audial or visual reward (steel plates, tannerite, balloons, etc.).

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    • Sam’s weird, because Sam actually sounds like he started playing golf as a game.

      Most people who start playing golf want to be the sort of people who play golf… the business/policy makers who use the damned golf course to cut business deals.

      Very, very few people play golf as an actual sport.

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      • Like the chess comment, I don’t know why I am responding to this nonsense, but this is nonsense. Plenty of people play golf because like many sports, it’s a challenge requiring physical coordination and mental focus to get a projectile to a target, and it’s a nice way to get some fresh air and sunshine without breaking too much of a sweat or wrecking your knees.

        Anything else, besides chess and golf, that you’d like to write off? Let’s just get them all out there.

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            • Why? At least with chess I’m citing someone who has designed enough games (including ones you’ve played, I don’t doubt) that he has the right to judge it.

              As for golf… understanding what the social role that golf plays, and how that motivates certain people to take it up for sport… that’s just a bit of anthropology.

              If you do have some stats that says that a majority of people taking up golf aren’t simply poseurs, I’d honestly like to see it.

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            • Well, and that’s the crux of it isn’t it?
              I like badminton, in that I have reflexes that are actually able to hit the birdie, unlike a lot of sports, where it’s wild flailing and possibly eventually making contact.

              Not a sport to take terribly seriously, no… but it’s hardly FUN if you’re taking ANY sport seriously! (You should hear my friend the card sharp… he loathes playing poker, as it’s a ton of hard work. [Making the dyslexic/dyscalcic count cards is torture])

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        • Who’s writing golf off again? I think Andy Carnegie had it right when he deliberately crafted a golf course where he could completely crush his opponents and make better business deals as a result.

          There’s gaming, and then there’s metagaming.

          Anyone here played Oakmont? It’s still about the most difficult course the US Open plays, and it’s almost never won by someone who hasn’t spent the time to memorize the course (often local), and nearly never won by folks who pull off multiple wins in a season.

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          • I think Andy Carnegie had it right when he deliberately crafted a golf course where he could completely crush his opponents…

            I occasionally played a small nine-hole municipal course in southern Iowa that had been laid out by a local with an apparently incurable slice. Fading off to the right never got you in serious trouble, but there were nightmares if you missed to the left :^)

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          • Last six winners of the US Open at Oakmont:

            Angel Cabrera (8 PGA/Euro Wins and 2 Majors)
            Ernie Els (48 PGA/Euro Wins and 4 majors)
            Larry Nelson (10 PGA Wins and 3 majors)
            Johnny Miller (26, 2)
            Jack Nicklaus (73, 18)
            Ben Hogan (64, 9)

            Yep – Mostly local unknowns who have never won multiple times in a year. Thats five hall of famers with a 6th (Angel) debateably on the way.

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            • Cabrera won his first title at Oakmont, Nelson his second, and Miller his third. That was Ernie Els first win in America too. And Jack Nicklaus’ first professional win.

              Still saying they aren’t unknowns?

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              • you said “almost never won by someone who hasn’t spent the time to memorize the course (often local), and nearly never won by folks who pull off multiple wins in a season.”

                None of those 6 were locals. Only once was the US Open at Oakmont won by a local, in 1935 (you said often).

                Care to tell me which of those six has failed to win multiple times in in a year?

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        • I wouldn’t put the chess comment the way Kim did, but it isn’t entirely untrue. Chess hits this middle ground where it is simple enough to approach it as a pattern recognition game, yet complex enough that it is still non-trivial. For those so inclined and willing to put in the time to master the pattern recognition, this is a sweet zone. For those who prefer to approach games as a new logic problem every time, this is uninteresting. I’m more different strokes for different folks than is Kim, but there is a kernel of truth there.

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          • My friend the game designer is not named Bri, and does not spend most of her working day playing Peggle. (Yes, I am being serious, here.)
            Different strokes for different folks, indeed.
            There’s plenty of place for easy games. Even some space for boring ones.

            At least chess wasn’t designed to be boring. Monopoly is designed to be “the game that never ends” (no, not literally, but it was designed in the Depression, and a game that went the whole day was a fine pastime — I had a monopoly-clone as a kid that was designed to end in under two hours, and it’s a lot more fun to play).

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        • Isn’t golf actually really bad for your knees/elbows? Or at least not remarkably better than some other sports?

          Of course it won’t do much of anything to your ankles, and head injuries are pretty un–

          Whoops.

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  3. “Woah, I really had better focus on getting the ball up into the air on this next one.”

    I would think you’d been playing the game long enough to know that trying to get the ball up in the air is about the worst thing you could do to actually get the ball up in the air.

    I suppose you know it now though, huh?

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    • I’m a high-ball hitter as it is, so all I really meant by this was making sure that the clubface got under the ball per my standard swing. I’d like to diagnose what happened to me – I think maybe I thinned it – but I really can’t remember.

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  4. Morat20:
    Seriously, back problems are the worst. I’ve just got muscle issues — no slipped disks or anything, and it nails me about once a year. Just walking and sitting are painful. I couldn’t imagine exercising.

    I think I have this. A couple times over the past several years, my back muscles have, for no apparent reason and with no apparent catalyst, just decided to go nuts for a few seconds, resulting in excruciating pain for a day or so. I’ve found that the key to a quick recovery is getting up and active as soon as I can take it. Doing some moderate back exercises (e.g., deadlifting 50 pounds or so, progressing to dumbbell swings) causes an immediate and noticeable reduction in pain, so that I can more or less resume normal activities, albeit with significant residual pain, later the same day.

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