Just Shoot Me

March 28, 2005

The other day, while playing the back nine of the Bay Course at Kapalua, I opened a beer, took off my shirt and liberally oiled up my body until I resembled--with my glistening, matted fur--a happy casualty of the Exxon Valdez spill. Only then did I notice, to my everlasting embarrassment, that I hadn't closed my cubicle door, violating the first rule of computer golf.

But then, it's been a very long winter, and shooting a shirtless 67 on the office PC is one of the few pleasures available to us stir-crazy sports fans still snowbound in the North. What does my driveway have in common with your average Detroit Pistons season-ticket holder? Both will get plowed 41 times this winter.

And so I'm housebound, my only exercise a daily pentathlon of running (nose), jumping (car battery), catching (pneumonia), throwing (my back out shoveling) and jogging (my memory to recall what grass, sun, birds, flowers and life look like).

The silver bicycle that I got for Christmas is still leaning against the fireplace, ridden only once--in a snowstorm, in a fit of cabin fever, for one full block. I pedaled and cackled, pedaled and cackled, like the Wicked Witch of the Northeast.

This week, spring fever becomes even more acute as the NCAA basketball tournament on CBS brings endless promos for the Masters, with its teasing azaleas and poker-table greens. Marooned in New England (with 102 inches of snow and counting), I'm feeling less Phil Mickelson than Jack Nicholson. Except that instead of sharpening an ax, as Jack did in The Shining, I'm obsessively cleaning my irons with a toothbrush while the wind howls outside my window.

I did manage to chip a couple of balls in January. But only by stepping on a snow shovel in --9° windchill.

What can one do to cope? The indoor driving range, with its AstroTurf tee box and Teflon sky, is out of the question. It is to actual golf what the blowup doll is to actual dating: an inflatable facsimile that makes you yearn all the more for the genuine article.

Batting cages? The cure for the man who feels like a caged animal is not to spend more time in a cage. Ditto on that human hamster wheel, the health-club treadmill.

Last week I visited family in Minnesota, where I come from a long line of grizzled indoorsmen. On Friday it snowed for 24 hours. Twenty-one inches fell in the town of Kiester. And still kids--adrenalized by the televised NCAA tournament--rushed out between games to their own garage hoops. But each driveway was fringed by snowbanks, and every net hung stiffly from the rim like a frozen skirt on a clothesline.

As any baller from the North knows, dribbling outdoors in the spring causes cracks to form on your fingertips. They look exactly like the smiles on a badly sliced golf ball. And so, after 15 minutes, your spirit, like your basketball, feels deflated. This is the real madness of March: That every televised sporting event is a grim reminder to Northerners that we have--or, worse, that we live in--a frozen Kiester.

And so, while watching the congressional hearings on steroids in baseball, I couldn't take my eyes off Rafael Palmeiro, who appeared to be one part man, five parts tan. Bud Selig, Jose Canseco and Palmeiro were like conjugations of a strange baseball verb: Chuck Tan, Chuck Tanner, Chuck Tannest.

Even the leathery faces of several congressmen appeared to have been softened with neat's-foot oil, bound with rubber bands and placed under the mattress for a couple of months. This was my sole focus for nearly 12 hours, inspiring what ought to be a new network slogan: See man. See tan. C-SPAN.

Me, I'm whiter than the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I look like the love child of Old Man Winter and Edgar Winter.

Speaking of which, I turned on the women's NCAA basketball tournament, saw Wynter Whitley of Duke and was immediately seized by seasonal affective disorder. Basketball also has Tex Winter and Brian Winters; baseball has Champ Summers. But watching spring training games televised from Florida is a cruel tease. Last week on my street a father played catch with his two sons in a snow-covered front yard, evidently believing he could will winter to end. It's the same delusion that compels people to repeatedly press the call button in the hope that the elevator will come quicker, a phenomenon the comic Rich Hall calls "elecelleration."

The truth is, there is little we can do except mix ourselves another March-a-rita--chipped ice, road salt and tequila--and brace for one more week of Indian Winter.

As I write this, a flock of geese is returning north in a flying chevron. It should come as a hopeful sign. But all I see in that honking V is the wedge of a kick-return team. This puts me in mind of spring football practice and, by extension, the green fields that have yet to arrive. And once again I am disconsolate.

For a collection of Steve Rushin's columns, go to SI.com/writers.

My daily exercise this winter has been running (nose), jumping (car battery) and throwing (my back out shoveling).

COLOR PHOTOSIMON BRUTY

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)