The seminar leader tells us to turn to page seven in our resource book. He's drop-dead handsome with a full head of perfectly blow-dried hair. He wears a full frontal smile and a yellow short-sleeve dress shirt under an argyle sweater vest. His name is Troy Campbell. He's holding a pitching wedge.
I'm not sure which of my handouts is the resource book, because I've arrived late. The morning rush-hour drive to Oak Brook took longer than I thought it would and I just assumed the Marriott would be visible from the highway. A glance at the woman next to me reveals that the resource book is the Macintosh special, the one with the cover that says "POWERGOLF: America's Corporate Golf Seminar--'Because golf is not just a game...it's a business strategy.'"
I don't know who said that but I'd bet it was Peter Braun, the former commodities broker who founded POWERGOLF. Peter has a 4.0 handicap. He is disinclined to reveal his age but says I can call him "a young entrepreneur." He has held eight seminars so far and plans to roll POWERGOLF out to the top 20 golf markets next year. He has a POWERGOLF program designed especially for women. He is getting lots of publicity. His promotional brochure asserts that, like the power tie of the 70s and the power lunch of the 80s, POWERGOLF will give you a competitive edge in the 90s.
I'm trying to regain my edge, but the 34 other students--29 men, 5 women--are already seven pages ahead of me and Troy is dividing us into "teams" of four to "tackle" the golf rules quiz.
Troy says it's a very hard quiz. My team's question is a baffler about "loose impediments." True or false: they are "natural objects such as leaves, twigs, branches, stones, worms, and insects, and nests or heaps made by them (provided they are not fixed or growing and are not solidly embedded)." Fortunately one of my teammates knows the answer, so we don't have to kick it around much. Troy walks us through all the answers, then has us practice using the index in our official PGA rulebook, which we should always carry with us. He's cable-TV smooth, making eye contact, modulating between soft-spoken sincerity and full-throttle enthusiasm, peppering his presentation with anecdotes from his experience in tournament play years ago. It occurs to me that this could be the only job in America Dan Quayle is truly qualified for. But he couldn't do it better than Troy.
Each time he fields a question, no matter how dumb, he says it's a good one. He asks the questioner's name, uses it in his answer, and remembers it when he calls on that person again. I suspect Troy is a graduate of the Jerry Lucas seminar on memory dynamics.
"You must announce your intention to play a provisional ball, and you must use the word provisional," he reads from the book. "These are the things," he says, "that build your credibility."
Seconds pass like minutes, but my classmates seem riveted. One of them finally tires of Troy's rulebook thumping, saying the last thing he's going to do is lecture a business client about the rules.
"Aha! Your name is..."
"Good point, Jack. But you're getting ahead of us. Rule number three in POWERGOLF is don't be a rules cop."
Jack appears satisfied. This may be just enough positive reinforcement for him to feel his $149 tuition was well spent.
From rules we go into "the five etiquettes," again splitting off into groups to list and "prioritize" infractions according to severity. I'm assigned to the "dress etiquette" team. I know from flipping ahead in my resource book that, as someone who wears sneakers and T-shirts on the links, I'm a POWERGOLF scofflaw. But there are more serious offenses.
"There's nothing more frustrating to those of us who love this magnificent game than to see abuse of Mother Nature," Troy says solemnly. POWERGOLF etiquette requires us to practice "leadership" on the course, picking up garbage and replacing our divots. We should always carry a ball-mark repair tool to fix dents in the green. Troy carries an extra in case a partner doesn't have one. A student named Doug volunteers that he carries several and they have his company's logo printed on them. Troy says Doug is already POWERGOLFING and thanks him for sharing that with us.
Troy warns against foul language: "When the Japanese came to America, they thought the name of the game was Oh Shit!" My classmates respond with appreciative chuckles. Next Troy cautions--at length--against throwing clubs. It seems an odd subject for would-be POWERGOLFERS. But there's a bigger story here, and Troy tells it in hushed tones.
Here's the short version: Until he was ten, Troy was paralyzed with polio. At 10 1/2 he caddied for the first time, for a foursome of doctors. One of the doctors blew four putts in a row. He hurled his club. It hit his caddy and broke the kid's collarbone.
"My father," Troy confides in a penetrating whisper, "has never thrown a club again."
He pauses just long enough for the murmurs to abate before moving on. The next section is entitled Eating for POWERGOLF Performance. Troy gives a few diet tips and then informs us that for only $150 we can arrange to have a complete nutritional analysis done by Teri Fredericks, author of Performance Nutrition. Troy reads an actual letter to Teri from Jack Nicklaus, who says her program is not just a diet, it's a way of life. Teri also has worked with Troy on his diet, and his game has improved markedly. A one-page handout provides a sample golf-day menu, including a POWERGOLF Survival Pack (whole wheat bagel, apple or banana, almonds and raisins or tuna on whole wheat, banana or apple) for after the ninth hole. I shudder. By that point in a game, I'm usually ready for a six-pack.
I duck out for a smoke, and when I get back the class has already left for a nutritionally balanced lunch. I retire to my car for Dunkin' Donuts and coffee and contemplate how it would feel to have a client and what one would think if I pulled a tuna fish sandwich out of my golf bag.
I flip ahead in my resource book and come across a section on "strategic questions" one might ask while POWERGOLFING. These include "Do you have any kids, Bob?" "How long have you been playing golf, Bob?" And "How is this economy treating you, Bob?"
After lunch we're halfway through the course and we still haven't covered the most intriguing-sounding subjects in the POWERGOLF brochure: behavioral psychology, power communication skills, rapport building, alliance formation. We haven't learned about Powerzones or "how to size up an opponent and use psychological strategies to our advantage."
I'm not disappointed. We open our resource book to a page headlined "Who Are You?" Below it are five shapes: triangle, rectangle, circle, squiggle, and square, which is called a box. We are entering the realm of "Psycho-Geometrics," developed by Susan Dellinger, who Troy says has an MFA and a PhD in communications. He has us rank from one to five the shapes we think represent our personality. Each shape has certain traits and, curiously enough, Troy says, people are able to correctly identify their own shape 86.6 percent of the time without even knowing which traits the shape represents. By learning to identify shapes, we will be able to Power Flex with our golf partners.
Troy describes the characteristics of a box. He asks if we can name a golfer on the PGA tour who's a box. Hands go up. Tom Kite. Curtis Strange. Troy says he once had the privilege of golfing with Gary Player, and he's definitely a box. Troy tells us to think of a box we work with and write down his or her name. My classmates begin writing.
I slip out for some air and run into POWERGOLF founder Peter Braun. I hint at my dissatisfaction with the morning session. Peter tells me he overheard one participant say he was pleased to be getting "years of experience in one day." I confess that I play in sneakers. He draws a distinction between social golf and POWERGOLF. Since I've decided not to stay for the whole day, I ask him to explain Powerzones. He says they come in red, yellow, and green, but he cautions that the "curriculum" is copyrighted.
I don't think I'd be violating the copyright if I revealed that if you hit your boss up for a raise right after he's blasted out of a sand trap and into a water hole, you need to do some work on identifying red zones.
Back in class there's a spirited discussion under way about whether Seve Ballesteros is a triangle or a squiggle. I decide it's time to head for the 19th hole. I don't think I'll ever be a POWERGOLFER. In fact, I'm about 86 percent certain that we circles simply aren't cut out for it.