A boy's ruler takes the measure of the man

By Gene Weingarten, Washington Post
Published September 2, 2007

WASHINGTON - When girls grow into women, they get more mature. When boys grow into men, they get older. This is a significant disparity. It involves, among other things, the persistence well into male middle age of a certain kind of sandbox competitiveness.

Take me and my friend Buzz. We're both guys approaching 60, with fabulous wives, good kids, nice houses, etc. But to me, we are not equal as men. Buzz is better because he has a dump truck.

Buzz lives near Philadelphia, where he runs his own construction company. This means that he not only owns, but gets to operate anytime he wants, major earth-moving machinery. On some level, this fact bothers me. My wife knows of this weakness and exploits it whenever it might be tactically advantageous, whether germane or not.

Me: But I don't want to go shopping with you for linens.

My wife: Well, Buzz has a dump truck.

Somehow, Buzz and I have managed to remain close friends.

My Buzz-related envy was actually on the wane until one recent day when he phoned to say he was going to be in town, and asked if we would like to go to dinner. I should have just said sure, but, unfortunately, I asked why he was in town. It turns out he was going to be competing in a regional long-drive golf tournament, a sport of which I was unaware. For reasons I will never understand, I asked to come along and watch.

I met Buzz years ago through Dave Barry. Dave describes Buzz this way:

"Buzz likes physical challenges. Back when I lived in Pennsylvania, Buzz and I bought 10-speed bicycles, the kind where the seat is basically a hockey puck, but less comfortable. I just wanted to ride around the neighborhood, but Buzz insisted that we ride, with zero training, to the Atlantic Ocean, which for the record is not located in Pennsylvania. For me, it was a horrible experience that will remain forever seared into the neurons of my butt. But Buzz wanted to do it again. I can't imagine what sex with him would be like. Not that I have tried to imagine it! I'm just saying."

Nonetheless, I went to watch Buzz compete.

Long-drive golfers tend to be big guys with substantial bellies this doesn't describe Buzz who aren't the greatest golfers in the world (this does describe Buzz) but who can hit the ball a huge distance (Buzz), often in the general direction of the hole (not Buzz). That's the thing about long-drive golf: You get six balls, and only your best shot counts. This is not a precision sport.

Now, I don't want to belittle long-drive golf, because that could be seen as envy. But I should point out that in your average competitive sport, an athlete is able to see the game unfold as he is playing it. Bowling, for example, is an example of a "can-see" sport. Basketball, too. Long-drive golf is different: A man approaches a tee and swings as hard as he can. Sometimes he misses the ball entirely and staggers away like a drunk fighting for balance. Sometimes he swings so hard his wallet pops out of his pants - this happened to the guy who hit before Buzz.

Usually, though, man connects with ball. And that's where the "can-see" portion of the program ends, because - at least in the competition I watched, with a slightly overcast sky - the ball simply disappeared. For all anyone knew, it had been vaporized. The only way a golfer discovered where his ball went, and how far, was when a report came back by walkie-talkie. There was apparently a man out there. He looked about a millimeter tall.

Buzz hit his best ball. About a minute later the walkie-talkie crackled, informing him that the ball had stayed fair and traveled exactly 300 yards. Do you want an idea of how far 300 yards is? Measured in earth-moving equipment laid end to end, it is approximately 45 dump trucks, a huge distance for a middle-age amateur. It was a winning drive: Buzz went on to the next tournament level, in North Carolina.

So, I'm happy for my friend. And he has been doing this for only a year. As a driver, he's long now, but I imagine he's going to get even longer.

No, wait. I don't imagine that at all.

Gene Weingarten's e-mail address is weingarten@washpost.com.

Washington Post Writers Group