Where have you been? Where are you going? And why?
I love hats. My wife marvels at the time I spend scrutinizing them. Back in high school, a buddy and I dreamed of opening a line of college hats. No one could perfect the look I envisioned, and the world ignorantly carried on without awareness. Some hats fit too high. Others had logos too big. When I spotted a style I liked, the brand carried every team but mine. The perfect hat always eluded me.
This Christmas a student left me an adorned bag outside my office. Guessing either fresh bread or Christmas decoration, I peered inside to find a sharp University of Tennessee cap. Let me stop here to say that attractive UT hats are as scarce as Wonka golden tickets. Given that orange is not the most aesthetically pleasing color, most UT hats resemble prison attire. The joke re-circulated through and through compares a gathering of Tennessee fans to a garbage collectors conference. In my eight years of cheering on the Vols, I’ve discovered just one hat worthy of purchase. So to find this good-looking hat surprised me. Only one problem: it’s a golf hat.
It’s pristine white with very little orange, which only enhances others’ visual experience. A small orange T stands boldly on the right side. On the forefront of the cap the word “Titleist” is proudly stitched. On the back size adjustment strip, “Titleist” again appears in orange stitching. The hat looks great, but my heart shrinks to six years old when I look at myself in the mirror.
I do not know how to wear this hat well.
I put it on and see myself walking into a country club, a world with an unspoken code of conduct. In the parking lot, men laugh as they pull their clubs from Jaguar trunks. The last time they played it rained and still they each shot below par. The older guy nibbles on a new cigar. Other gentlemen, long time club members for sure, pass by and address them by their last names. I continue on and see the lawn mower has finished cutting the greens. The tiny blades of grass adorn his shoes, and he wears a Titleist hat. The course spreads out before me like the ocean. Perfection has few better forms. As soon as I pick up a club I will somehow destroy the heavenly equilibrium. I smell the hamburgers cooking from the restaurant. I step into the pro shop and immediately sense every eye on me, as if I just walked into a fraternity house not my own. $100 Callaway shirts and pants sit on a rack just to the left. A picture of Tiger Woods advertises a new set of Nike drivers. The teenager behind the counter watches as the manager helps a customer. My heart considers my alien status and runs for cover. That’s exactly what everyone on the course will do once I take a swing.
My fears and insecurities come with a history. The day before my wedding, I almost got kicked off a golf course. It all began at the driving range. Five of us lined up with nothing but long 300 yard drives in our optimistic disillusionment. A lone ball picker-upper-machine drove, right to left, way out in the distance. We began taking our hacks while the little white balls laughed hysterically knowing it couldn’t be safer. As the morning wore on, our accuracy improved and soon, driving the ball straight became the new goal. Jonathan made solid contact with one that traveled 100 yards before smacking the machine. The metal clang carried all the way back to us. What are the chances! My enthusiasm erupted into a jump with an unabashed fist pump. To my horror, the machine made a ninety-degree turn and proceeded straight for me. Thirty excruciating seconds commenced when I could not run or hide. If only Caddyshack‘s groundhog could have dug me a hole. The man got out, walked right up to me, and gave me a lecture about aiming at the cart.
On any other day, I probably would have gone home. But this was the day before my wedding.
We began at hole number one. Shocking, I know, but assume nothing when I tee it up. Each hole begins with a choice: Should I use the men’s or women’s tee spot (I know an official name must exist). Caving to ego rather than desire, we chose the former. I can’t recall who hit first. Whoever it was, their shot paled in comparison to mine, unfortunately. I prepared to hit, coaching myself with the few pointers I knew. I refrain from listing them here for fear of embarrassment. One practice swing and I stepped up to the ball. My hands moved backward with swift grace, then whipped them forward through the summer morning air. Ping! A large spherical object flew high into the air and thudded into ground twenty feet in front of me. I looked down. The ball rested peacefully much closer. Laughter escalated from the golf cart. The club head had severed from the shaft and traveled like a 747 into the air. Once the puzzle fit together in my understanding, I hit the ground face first as tears flooded down my face. In hindsight, I can only imagine the red flags rising in the course manager as he watched four men tossing and turning hysterically on his fairway.
The course staff played watchdog on us for the rest of the day. I say “day” rather than morning simply because it took us that long, and we stopped before the 18th hole.
So when I wear the Titleist hat I feel a bit insecure. I think of others that elicit similar responses. A camouflage hunting hat. A construction hard-hat. A Shermin-Williams cap with blue splotches. A UN helmet. I’m left to ponder what it means to bare the image of God as a man when inside a little boy resides.
In the meantime, I think I’ll throw on the Titleist and head over to Willie’s Adventure Golf.