Mary sinks a ball into the hole on the practice green. There are 30 minutes before her tee time. She will be playing with a couple of members that she has not met before. Their names are Andy and Mike.
What do Andy and Mike look like and how will I recognise them? Mary thinks to herself.
She keeps an eye out for the potential Andy and Mike by looking up from her putting every now and then. Mary reasons that if she sees two guys approach the first tee that they should be the pair.
Mary goes back to her putting. A few minutes later, a voice calls out behind her and asks, “Hey, what is your tee time?”
Mary looks up and sees a middle aged, short, rotund and rather comical figure smiling at her. The image of Danny Devito flashes across her mind.
“Oh, it’s 8:48. I’m meant to be playing earlier but the two girls in the group only wanted to play 9 holes this morning. So, they’re pairing me up with another group whom they know will want to play 18 holes.” Mary replies and probably offers too much information. She is relaxed and chatty because this is her golf club, her happy place. She lets her guard down in this place more than in any other. She is with her tribe.
“What is your handicap?” The round man asks.
Mary cringes. She does not like being asked that question. She is deeply embarrassed by her golf handicap. She expects herself to have done much better than that. After playing for 20 years, she should be playing with a handicap of 10, or at most 15.
“I’m a high handicapper. My GA is 20.5.” Mary discloses the information with her eyes downcast.
It infuriates her when brand new players surpass her score by a margin in just two to three years. It is maddening for her that she fails to master the craft despite all the passion, energy, time and effort that she has put into it, not to mention all the lessons. The words “golf tragic” is written all over the wall. This is unrequited love. Despite this cruel reality, she can’t help herself and still holds on to the belief that she can get there one day. Yes, a golf tragic.
“What’s your handicap?” Mary asks the man back. She is actually not interested in the answer but she has trained herself to ask the same question back right away. In golf, one learns to have short compact conversations. An ill-timed conversation will be stopped abruptly when the player has to play their next shot. Once the moment is gone, it is difficult to bring the topic back.
“Ha, I am not telling you.” The man throws his head back with a big grin on his face. “You’re going to be so mad at me if I tell you.” He continues.
This is weird. Mary thinks to herself. You need some minimum knowledge of the other person to find some grounds for envy. They literally just met and are total strangers to each other.
“I’ve told you my score and you should tell me yours.” Mary insists, fair is fair.
“Okay, my GA score is 26.” The man answers.
The answer baffles Mary. What? 26? A GA score of 26 is nothing to write home about. It is not good. It is like a C- for school. It is practically embarrassing. Why would I be mad at him for having a score that is even more pitiful than my own? Mary thinks to herself.
At this point, Mary should sense that she is probably not dealing with a healthy well-adjusted individual. However, her curiosity gets the better of her. She looks at him for more information.
“My score was 36 a year ago.” He continues.
“Oh I see, you have dropped 10 shots in 12 months. That’s impressive. “ Mary finds a positive angle to this mildly weird conversation.
“So what do you do for a living?” The man asks.
“I have actually just retired. I retired last year.” Mary answers.
“You seem a bit too young to be retired.” The man gives her a surprised look.
“It’s a little on the early side but when I see so many people my age fall ill and die. I get scared and decide that I will throw in the towel early.”
This is the story that Mary tells everyone. The truth is that her workplace has changed a lot in the last five years. The belief that she is serving doctors and saving lives has gradually turned into serving finance masters and growing share price. It gets more and more difficult to feel good about going to work.
“So what did you do before you retire?” The man continues his line of questioning.
“I used to work for a medical technology company.” Mary answers.
“Which one?” The man asks.
This man’s curiosity is insatiable. Mary thinks to herself. Most people ask what she does for a living as a screening question and are not really interested in the details. He is asking for more information. Mary tells him the name of the company.
“I know them. I know some of their products. I am a surgeon.” The man says.
This is a surprise to Mary. She has never met a surgeon that behaves like this. Her observation of surgeons is that they are generally aloof, somewhat melancholic and almost always condescending. This man behaves more like a puppy. Very eager to please and to make friends with people, very un-surgeon like.
“Which hospital do you operate in?” Mary asks to check that he is not making things up. When he replies, she makes a mental note to check up on it later.
“Where do you live?” The man asks.
Mary tells him the suburb that she is in and in turn, learns the suburb that he lives in.
“We should organise for a round of golf at some point.” The man suggests.
“Sure”. Mary says without meaning it. She is just being polite.
“What’s your phone number? It’s just for golf of course.” The man asks and grabs his own phone to take down the number.
Mary does not feel comfortable with giving him her phone number. However, it also feels awkward to say no suddenly when they have already exchanged so much information. She feels the pressure rising within her. Her body stiffens and she swallows hard.
The next thing she knows, her mouth calls out those familiar numbers whilst she endures a knot in the pit of her stomach. When it’s done, she justifies it in her mind by reminding herself that the members’ phone numbers are published data anyway. If he wants to know, he can look it up himself.
“I am a guest here.” The man says.
Oh SHIT. A guest? Mary’s heart sinks.
“I want to join the club though. We will play a round of golf together and you will sponsor me.” The man continues happily.
Oh NO. So I have given my phone number to a pesky stranger. Why am I such an idiot? Why do I always let others steer me around like a hapless sheep? Mary berates herself. She feels a sense of shame come over her. She is disappointed at herself again for not being able to stand up for herself. She is not a young girl anymore. She is a retiree for goodness sake. She may be older but she is still a coward.
Annoyed with herself, Mary returns to her putting. She starts to move away to end the conversation and to distance herself.
“Do you know how to putt with this technique?” Not sensing her body language change, the man waddles over to her again this time holding his putter vertically at shoulder length.
“No.” Mary replies.
“Let me show you. ” The man looks around and shuffles a few steps back. He is so round that when he walks, his whole body rocks side to side.
“Find something vertical, like that light pole over there. Line it up with your putter. Pick a point on the putter. Now, look over to the pin and hold the putter up like this, just as we just did to the light pole. Remembering the point that you have picked? Now see where that point is in relation to the pin. That’s your line.” The man explains.
“Now try it”. He gestures for Mary to copy his action.
None of her coaches in the last 20 years have ever taught her to putt with that technique. She has also only seen the older golfers hold their putters up like that. It must be an ancient technique. Again, she does not know how to say no. So, Mary goes through the motion to keep the peace. She has no idea what he is talking about and has no interest in it.
“Did you get it?” The man asks.
“No”. Mary confesses.
“Now, try it again. Come on.” The man insists. He repeats the entire process to her.
Mary feels that this is enough. He is getting pushier by the minute, more and more controlling. She asks herself why is this man telling her what to do and how to putt? I DO NOT want to putt this way!! She yells out in her mind.
“Look, I need to get ready for my tee time.” Her courage finally makes an appearance. Mary stops putting and looks wildly around for Andy and Mike. She spots two men at the first tee and wonders if they are the ones.
“Hey, are you Mike and Andy?” The man runs in front of her towards the first tee and calls out to them. The man really has no idea that Mary’s body language has changed. He is still being eager and helpful. The two men on the tee shook their heads. Then a voice calls out from behind.
“I am Andy.” A young man walks over with a smile.
“Oh great, I am Mary”. Mary intercepts quickly and looks at Andy with tremandous gratitude. What a sight for sore eyes. She thinks to herself. To be fair, in that moment, even a gargoyle will be a sight for sore eyes. Anything is better. Mary is desperate to get away. She walks over to Andy as fast as she can and immediately engages him in a conversation. She then urges Andy to go to the tee with her. She is not going to stay in this patch of green with this man for another minute.
“Hey, she is with me just one minute ago and now you are taking her.” The man calls out to Andy.
“She has gone to you because you are younger. I am letting you have her because you are younger than me.” The man continues laughingly.
WHAT? What did he just say? Mary cannot believe her ears. What does he think I am? What a chauvinistic PIG! If she has not been so shocked and so desperate to get away, she will have felt more offended. It is incredulous to her that she is hearing this.
With an escape path in front of her, Mary just wants to take off and forgets about the encounter. The interaction with that man has gone downhill faster than a champion skier.
Unfortunately, she has a nagging feeling that she is alone in that assessment. He probably thinks that the encounter has gone extremely well.
The next morning, a WhatsApp message appears on her phone.
“Hi, it’s Tom. It was very nice to meet you yesterday.”
Oh NO. Mary sucks in a breath of air through her teeth. I knew it. He is the type that will call and pursue what he wants. There is no way that I will support him in becoming a member. I will ignore him and see if he will go away. Mary tells herself.
A few hours later, a SMS arrived. It’s him again.
A few more hours later, the phone rings and voice mails are left. Yes, it’s him.
The next day, more WhatsApp messages, SMS and calls are received. Still him.
OMG, that’s like over a dozen contact attempts over 48 hours. He is psycho. Mary shudders at the thought.
Mary was right about him not knowing that he has spooked her. She is probably also right that he is not an easy person to deal with. A regular person will give up after a couple of attempts and get the hint. This man, on the other hand, does not seem to have that sensitivity. His behaviour does not reflect someone thoughtful or considerate.
I need to tell him to stop. But what if he gets angry and abusive? Worse still, what if my own fear of confrontation leads to more interactions? People like that are very good at putting words in other people’s mouth and manipulate them. I don’t trust myself here. Mary becomes more paranoid.
There is only one way to deal with this. Mary finally decides on the only action that she is capable of taking. That is to ghost him.
His messages and phone calls continue for the next 10 days. Nobody responds. Nobody lives here.
This is a coward’s way. Mary is sorry. Then again, he is probably a bully and fully deserves it.
Tom puts his glass of whisky down on his very expensive designer table, and lets out a big sigh. Feeling worried and confused, he tries to reason with himself.
“I wonder if she is okay. I have been calling all week and she has not answered. I hope that I had just gotten the number wrong and nothing untoward has happened to her. What a shame. She’s such a wonderful person.
I don’t know how many more good years I have left in me. As much as I want to deny it, this is the autumn of my life. I have worked like a fiend, obsessed with success. I have something to prove. The teasing, the name-callings and the snickering behind my back are humiliating. SMS (Short Men Syndrome) they say. Don’t people know that I know what they are talking about, and it hurts?
I have to become more successful and richer than all these people. I have to. I have to show them. This anger has driven me all these years and I guess it has served me well. I have made it. I have what I wanted. My wife has what she wanted from me. I have done my bit for king and country and I am exhausted. What if I die tomorrow? Enough is enough. I want to be care free for a change.
I wish I could contact her. She’s so relaxed and easy going. When I asked her where she lived, she told me. When I asked for her number, she handed it over. No um or ah. Just straight forward. Easy. She trusted me.
Everything else in my life is a fight. I have to sell myself to each of my patient and convince them of my skills and knowledge. I have to work to get them to trust me. With her, it’s effortless.
She didn’t care that I was a beginner. I didn’t have to be perfect around her. She even gave me a pat on my back for dropping my handicap by 10 in a single year. I’ve hit tens of thousands of balls off the mat. I gave it a good go. It’s so refreshing to be acknowledged for just trying. I liked that. She’s so supportive. How rare is it to find people that genuinely wish you well?
It was really funny to see her face when I showed her how to putt. She was so lost. I hope that she appreciated how I took my time with her. I showed it to her again when I knew that she didn’t get it the first time. She was annoyed but I was very patient with her. She was worth it.
I thought it was very cool the way I paid her a compliment by pretending that I was fighting with a younger man over her. What woman does not want to be desired? It was fun. I hope she liked that. I think it will be really good to play a round with her. It will be relaxing and good for the soul. I can be myself. I can look stupid and she will not judge me.
I hope that she is okay. I wish I could get through to her. Why didn’t that phone number work?”