By ZACH DUNDAS
As March goes out baahing and cooing like the woolly main course at a Russian Easter feast, involuntary twitchings in the shoulder send unmistakable signals to some deeply programmed parts of thousands of Montanans' brains.
For those who prefer to cut grass one divot at a time, this must be a magic season. The first monster drive, the first forged scorecard, the first opportunity to take a dive while playing the boss-heady days indeed.
But let's get with it-as they say, this is no longer your father's game.
Kaipo Wallwork, a trainer at the Missoula Athletic Club. points to the fact that the number of people interested in golf-specific conditioning has shot up over the last few years. She says most of today's players are aware that they must be as flexible in muscle as they are with the scoring of their four-putts.
"There are a lot of people paying attention to this now, which is good," she says. "You're not talking about pure brute strength here, like you are with a lot of sports. You're looking at preventative measures, making sure your shoulders and lower back don't get hurt."
For those who spent winter thinking "18 Holes" is the name of a low-rent strip joint in West Spokane or log more time on the proverbial 19th green than at the indoor driving range, a few over-zealous spring swings can screw a whole summer on the links.
"Golf is more of an endurance sport than people realize," explains Wallwork. "People will just walk out to that first tee-box and start swinging away. They feel great.
"They don't notice the soreness in their shoulder until a few holes later. If they're not careful, they can do some serious damage to their shoulders and backs over the course of a day."
Wallwork and other local professionals, both in and out of the Sport of Tiger, caution that the early season is a time to take it easy and slip into the groove. Naturally, such advice is often lost on fanatics who hit local courses on the first day their tongues don't stick to their nine irons.
Such enthusiasm has been much in evidence around Missoula lately.
"People are definitely raring to go," says Bob Veroulis, a pro who teaches at the University Golf Course and at his own Academy of Golf. "Larchmont opened last week and was just packed, as poor as the weather was, and the University opened last weekend and was steadily full."
Veroulis and Wallwork both caution that this drive (ah, yes) should be tempered with a little common sense. Stretch dem muscles, they say.
"I try to get students to stretch out all the big muscle groups and to do it right," Veroulis says. "All these stretches need to be long and slow. You see people just sort of twist to their left, twist to their right and get going. I try to impress on people that it takes quite a long time for the muscles in the shoulder and back to warm up and get to their full length.
"You've got to take your time and hit some range balls before you start playing. You've got to figure out what you're doing."
Veroulis adds that, just as greens and fairways might be a little choppy this time of year, getting a solid feel for the sport's fundamentals is more important than ripping up the course the first few times out.
"Greens are really slow this time of year because all the courses take their time in mowing them down. So even people who've been hitting drives inside all winter should work on their short game, their putting and chipping, in addition to their fitness. That combination is what lets you start scoring right way."
Both professionals stress that golf, rekindled by that fellow named Woods, has become a year-round endeavor for those with the most serious chops. Wallwork says a golf-specific conditioning class is gearing up at her club for those who regard the pastime with all the seriousness of hardcore sport.
Though the greens may be calling, she cautions, it could be wise to start off with a few indoor sessions before bracing that fresh spring air.
Larchmont Golf Course has been packed since golfing season opened.
By DAN OKO
Yes, there's been a lot of talk lately about the feelings of fish.
There is, of course, the PETA petition to stop fishing in the national parks, as if animal rights activists alone have worked to preserve trout habitat, while evil fish hunters have been out torturing the little beauties.
Think again, because sportsmen and -women have long played a role in preserving habitat. They may want the animals alive so they can kill them, but this strange logic has nonetheless allowed plenty of biotic matter to thrive-including lots and lots of fish.
Meanwhile one has to imagine most national parks were fished before they were tourist meccas. And I'd venture to say that if People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals interfered with this inheritance, fishing Montanans might form a militia which could finally accomplish something aside from bank fraud, getting shot at or thrown in jail, and threatening the lives of elected officials.
Forget the Freemen. If you lock us out of Yellowstone, we're forming the Fishermen, a group of like-minded individuals interested in protecting our constitutional right to pursue a sublime pastime in some of the finest waters on Earth.
Still, to my green mind, there remains a troubling question over how we resolve the impact of all that catch-and-release fishing. Most of us want to catch fish, and lots of them if possible, which means taking responsibility for more piercings than you could find at an S&M convention in Seattle.
I'm not convinced fish feel pain the way we do, but that didn't stop me when I began thinking about this matter. Between the damage caused by handling the fish and the potential for them to feel pain, it seems we would want to be cautious about how many fish we come in contact with. If there are tens-of-thousands of people massing on streams throughout the West, hammering away with nymphs and dry flies, lashing the water with floating line, we must ask, how do the fish feel?
Sports Afield contributor Ted Kerasote's suggests that we fish exclusively for food, which presents a potential solution to my quandary. On the surface, quitting when dinner-maybe a fish or three-has been caught, even if that means laying up after an hour-and-a-half, sounds like a defensible ethic for what some deride as a cruel sport. It could return fishing to a most primal root, giving it the sort of legitimacy hunting derives from those who utilize, in a native fashion, all parts of their prey.
As David James Duncan, author of The River Why and a catalogue of stories and essays about conservation and fishing, reminded me this week, there are worse paths I could follow. The computer I type on uses electricity produced by a hydro-electric dam, which kills more fish than I could catch in the eight hours, give or take, that I spend chained to my desk most weekdays.
It's like that annoying bumper sticker, "This Car is Polluting the Atmosphere." So, what are we going to do about it?
Duncan, who says he usually only fishes for a couple of hours at a stretch and rarely has a "30-fish day," has thought hard on this question. To his mind, in fact, the act of fishing itself is salvation, because it connects us with rivers and the life they carry.
"At times," he admits, "it upsets me, as one of my non-fishing friends puts it, that I am just fucking with the fish.
"There is pain you inflict when you hook a fish. But every time you're fucking with the fish, you're becoming wiser.
"You become the nerve endings of the river, and you begin to love the river as the Gospel says. I love it as I love myself."
Duncan adds that although he's not about to put forth any political programs, conservation and fishing to his mind go hand in hand.
With rod in hand, he says, people are more likely to make it to the water, and only then can they get in tune with the strength and necessity of the river. Understanding that is the best step, he says, to understanding what the fish might be feeling-and more to the point, figuring out what they need.