Driving Myself Crazy: Misadventures of a Novice Golfer


Adventure writer Jessica Maxwell loves a challenge and decided to tackle golf the way she had tackled skiing and fly-fishing, two demanding sports she took up in her early thirties after a life as a confirmed "non-jockette." Surely golf couldn't be that much more difficult?could it?

In this irreverent memoir we have a front-row seat as Jessica struggles to learn golf's etiquette, traditions, and complex rules -- from her first comical attempts to coax practice balls out of a ...

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Adventure writer Jessica Maxwell loves a challenge and decided to tackle golf the way she had tackled skiing and fly-fishing, two demanding sports she took up in her early thirties after a life as a confirmed "non-jockette." Surely golf couldn't be that much more difficult?could it?

In this irreverent memoir we have a front-row seat as Jessica struggles to learn golf's etiquette, traditions, and complex rules -- from her first comical attempts to coax practice balls out of a golf ball machine, to just hitting the damn ball, to acquiring her own set of Nancy Lopez clubs!

Among her coaches are Peter Croker, a revolutionary Australian teaching pro, Cindy Swift Jones, his partner and putting guru, and Al Mundle, the Harvey Penick of the Northwest, as well as seventy-eight-year-old American women's golf legend Peggy Kirk Bell and the queen of golf herself, Nancy Lopez.

A willful celebration of what one golf coach called "the atrocious first year," Driving Myself Crazy is an often hilarious, always inspiring tale of one woman's obsession with proving to herself that golf -- played right -- is a beautiful game ... at least for that moment.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"As entertaining, lyrical, and amusing as she is inquisitive, exuberant, and daring, Jessica Maxwell is the Empress Tizzie Izzie of adventure writing."
-- Tom Robbins

"When the fly-fishing instructors' hectoring fades away and the inevitable big fish is duly subdued, and the wiggling, jiggling, and tiggling is over and done, this rookie's sweet discovery is the same as that of every fly fisher I respect: it was never about the fish; it was about the joy."
-- David James Duncan, author of River Teeth

"La Femme Jessica lurches from one improbable, hilarious, and outrageous adventure to the next in a style she herself calls 'girl gonzo stuff.' No one does it better."
-- Tim Cahill

An Alternate Selection of The Literary Guild and Book-of-the-Month Club

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Until her mid-30s, Maxwell considered herself a nonathlete. Then she mastered fly-fishing and skiing, gaining enough proficiency to write about these sports. So how difficult could golf be? wonders Maxwell in this chronicle of her first year playing. Initially, she can barely hit the ball and doesn't understand when her coach tells her to "read the ball." (While Maxwell was looking for some philosophical message, the coach simply wanted her to stare at the name on the ball until she made contact with it.) Fortunately, Maxwell has help from some of the most accomplished golfers as she learns the game. She spends time in Hilton Head with one of the first great women golfers, Peggy Kirk Bell, as well as with champion Nancy Lopez. Her coaches include the Australian Peter Croker and Al Mundle, one of the best American golf coaches. Maxwell finds humor and frustration in the game; she admires the beauty of the spectacular championship courses, but she's baffled at the phrase "carry water," which she mistakenly imagines means that she'll have to cart bottles of water along with her clubs. And it takes a while before Maxwell is able to recognize and ask for the appropriate clubs. Fledgling golfers and even some more advanced players will identify with Maxwell's experiences and laugh along with her. For those enamored of the sport, this lighthearted read makes a nice addition to the coming golf season. (June) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Having written humorously about learning to fly fish in I Don't Know Why I Swallowed the Fly (LJ 4/15/97), outdoors writer Maxwell turns to her rookiedom in golf. Utterly ignorant of golf terms, etiquette, and mechanics, she meanders along the tortuous golf learning curve with help from coaches, friends, and gurus from Alabama to Scotland, including her patron saint, Nancy Lopez. While few readers can enjoy these opportunities, they will recognize her grasping at all offered advice. In this book, the reader discovers how golf is related to tricksters, boll weevils, Van Morrison songs, the Tao of Pooh, and, especially, fly-fishing ("Fly fishing and golf. Thy rod and thy staff"). Maxwell's colorful writing keeps readers in stitches for most of the book, until she gets bogged down in golf lore during a pilgrimage to Scotland's legendary courses. Recommended for public libraries where readers are seeking an antidote to golf instruction.--Kathryn Ruffle, formerly with Coll. of New Caledonia Lib., Prince George, BC Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553379907
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/27/2001
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.17 (h) x 0.62 (d)

Meet the Author

Jessica Maxwell, formerly a columnist for Audubon magazine, writes the "Great Outdoors" column for Millionaire magazine and publishes regularly for Esquire, Forbes, and Travel and Leisure. She is the author of I Don't Know Why I Swallowed the Fly and Femme d'Adventure: Travel Tales from Inner Montana to Outer Mongolia. She lives on Oregon's McKenzie River.
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Read an Excerpt

Read the Ball

"What on earth are you thinking about?"

The sexy southern underbuzz of David Taylor's voice cut slowly through Alabama's insect opera.

I was afraid to tell him.

What I was thinking about had nothing to do with the golf drill he had just set up for me. But it was related to the neat line of golf balls waiting patiently in the grass just north of my right foot. In a connect-the-dots sort of way, they had led my mind to a stunning discovery: The theme song of Lawrence of Arabia when hummed double time becomes the theme song of Ozzie and Harriet. In that irrefutable truth, I was now sure, lay the key to understanding Western Civilization, and the shock of this discovery had kept me hovering over golf ball number one for several minutes.

"The point is not to think," Taylor coached. "Just hit the ball."

I had never hit a real golf ball before, so it was hard not to be nervous. And when I'm nervous I hum. The calming notes of Lawrence of Arabia surfaced first. Then the golf ball started to swell like an inflating airbag coming at'cha, and extreme nervousness pushed the foreboding notes of Lawrence of Arabia into the peppier, safer upper atmosphere of Ozzie and Harriet.

Hence my discovery.

Taylor wasn't impressed.

As director of marketing for Birmingham's SunBelt Golf Corporation, he had dealt with beginners and their excuses many times. In fact, his company actually built the rookie-friendly Robert Trent Jones Trail upon which we were standing. The Trail, as it's called, is an 18-course, 324-hole, 100-mile Alabama golf mecca considered by many to be the world's finest public golf offering. A 1990 survey showed that it had become the number one tourist draw in the state. Quite an accomplishment, since a 1980s survey had revealed that the only time people used to visit Alabama was when they had to drive through it to get somewhere else.

The Trail is why we were there. Or, why Taylor was there. I was there to go bass fishing. A certain golf magazine editor had dangled it in front of me as bait to get me to cave in on the golf part of an Alabama golf-and-bass-fishing story she wanted. I knew I could do the fishing part; the editor said I could just "walk the courses with the pros" for the golf part.

So there I was, a mere twenty minutes from downtown Birmingham, standing on the driving range of the Robert Trent Jones Trail's first course, Oxmoor Valley, where SunBelt Golf—and David Taylor—are headquartered.

By rights, I had no right to be there at all. The only eighteen-hole golf I'd ever played was miniature golf at Camp Putt with my ten-year-old nephew, who had made s'mores out of my score despite my hole-in-one on "Beaver Dam" (the secret is to putt between the two chewed-up "trees").

What Taylor had in mind was real grown-up golf with full-sized golf clubs and serious distances. Surely he knew the harrowing intimidation a tiny, waiting white ball inspires in all rank beginners. It seems so small, so far away. This inaccessibility tends to hyperfocus our attention on it, and soon the Airbag Phenomenon occurs: The golf ball grows to unmanageable proportions. As we watch in terror, our gaze takes on a laserlike intensity under which the ball's pale skin begins to crumple and smoke. Eventually its molecules compact until its mass finally collapses upon itself like a miniature black hole. So, by the time a beginner actually swings, the ball has pretty much become the hole, which explains why rookie golfers invariably miss the ball on their first swing.

Would that my problem were so simple.

Taylor was right about the thinking-too-much part. I was stuck in intellectual overdrive. It was clear that I wouldn't get over the shock of the Lawrence of ArabiaOzzie and Harriet revelation anytime soon. But maybe I could do some sort of mental transference that at least would make my hands actually do something.

"Okay," I thought. "Just pretend you're Peter O'Toole galloping by and . . . um . . . playing polo."

Britain. British actors. Polo. Polo ponies. Hitting balls with sticks. It could work.

It didn't.

I continued to stare dumbly at my equally dumb—or at least mute—golf ball. "Okay," Taylor said finally, his southern hospitality careening dangerously near the Bronx zone. "Just read the ball."

Read the ball?

I brightened. If reading the ball was anything like reading the water while fly fishing, then Taylor was on to something. Maybe he wanted me to fully consider its position, the particular way it was perched upon a certain tuft of grass, lending it that extra bit of elevation. Or perhaps he was referring to its symbiotic geometry, its mathematical relationship to, say, that tree, this bush, my shoe. A golf-ball-as-center-of-the-universe sort of thing, which would, somehow, manifest in certain logarithmic assumptions and implied swing corrections.

"No," Taylor corrected. "I mean read the ball. Read the writing on the ball. The brand name. That name right there," he said, pointing to tiny black script scrawled across the ball's stippled surface.

"Okay, I can do that," I proclaimed with new confidence. "I like to read."

"Well, keep reading until you make contact with it."

"With the brand name?"

"With the ball."

My mind could almost hear his mind add: "you moron."

"Okay," I replied. "Read the ball."

To be honest, there wasn't all that much to read. Just the strange word

"Titleist." It looked like a secret golf code, but I figured this was not the moment to ask David what it meant.

"Read the ball," I told myself. "Just read the ball."

Then I started doing it. Actually reading the odd little word on the ball over and over. Titleist. Titleist. Titleist. Suddenly the word took on a tempo of its own, a one-two-three waltzing gait that began dancing slowly around my mind. TIGHT-elle-list. TIGHT-elle-list. TIGHT-elle-list!

Just as suddenly, but without my instruction or permission, my hands moved! Pulling the club—a seven-iron—up behind my right shoulder, then, just as automatically, pushing it down hard, the club head aimed directly at my unsuspecting golf ball.

Then I hit it.

To my complete amazement, the ball went helicoptering into that moody springtime air with serious Michael Jordan hang time. Real time didn't slow down; it accelerated. My life didn't pass before my eyes; my future did. And David Taylor, I noted, wore a gentleman's grin that split his handsome face like an Alabama watermelon, intent on this moment of ripe perfection.

"That's golf," he declared. "Now, hit the other ones."

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2000

    Amusing, Non-Threatening Story of Golf Indoctrination

    While attempting to convey the allure and timeless majesty of golf to my just-learning-the-game girlfriend, I chanced to spy this nicely presented short novel. Purchasing it as a gift with her in mind, I definitely wanted something gentle and compelling to hold her attention and not overwhelm. Curiosity got the better of me, and rather than turn it over, I took three days to pour through it, ostensibly to verify its claim as a humorous anecdotal journey. I found myself laughing along with the author at many of her nascent exploits, showing newbie golf from a woman's point of view [clothing, equipment, and romantic issues abound]. After meeting the mysterious, but benign golfer-Svengali, Graham, she goes through a series of neo-mystical encounters with a variety of teaching pros and golf luminaries like Nancy Lopez. She comes to a deeper understanding of the game and its hold on its practitioners. Parts of this journey have her visiting golf meccas on the East coast, as well as playing her NW home courses. As a fellow north westerner, having played those great courses too, I caught myself nodding with appreciation at her descriptions of Sandpines, Salishan, and Pumpkin Ridge. Eventually she even makes the ultimate pilgrimage to Scotland, to visit St. Andrews, the home and heart of golf. Presented rather whimsically, and with good-natured humour, the book ranges about, just as the author did, touching on various philosophies of golf. She absorbs and assimilates each one, combining and piling them upon each other until she has a two minute litany before each ball address. Her light humor throughout this indoctrination never detracts from her bourgeoning respect for the game and its tradition. The Tao of golf inclusion was particularly endearing, as many golfers feel the game fits that line of thought perfectly. So, after smiling many times during the read, I can pass this on without hesitation with a positive recommendation.

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