For the watchers, golf is packed with potential

IAN GILLESPIE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:58 AM ET

Les Lofgren and Del Allison are sitting in the shadow of the grandstand, just behind the big bunker at the back of the 18th green.

Armed with backpacks, bottles of water, bars of chocolate and binoculars, the pair survey the expanse of green before them like generals at a battle site -- ready to praise or pillory the events .

"Oh, he's over there by the trees," says Lofgren, peering toward an errant shot. "Now somebody's behind the sand trap. Or in the sand trap.

"And he duffed it."

If golf is a good walk spoiled -- as Mark Twain so famously put it -- then what prompts people to sit and watch a spoiled stroll?

Maybe Lofgren and Allison can help me understand.

The two London men have claimed a vantage point at the London Hunt and Country Club for the championship pro-am, which is an uneasy pairing of poised professionals and well-heeled amateurs.

"Didn't even get up here," says Lofgren, as three shots fall short of the green. "Didn't even get on."

Both men are avid golfers, although Allison says health problems prevent him from playing much anymore. Both men watch golf on TV; Lofgren even admits that on Sundays he'll often watch an LPGA tournament before switching over to the men's match.

Allison says he's played courses on both Canadian coasts, Bermuda and Jamaica. Lofgren says his grandson is enrolled in a Florida golf college, where he'll be taught course management.

"Ouch, ouch, ouch," Lofgren says as one player's putt rolls past the hole. "Ouch."

So I ask them: What's the attraction? What is it about this bedevilling game that keeps them so enthralled?

"You hit a few good shots and you know you can do it again," Lofgren says.

Or rather, you hope.

Lofgren says that last year, he parred the front nine at a local course on two separate occasions.

"That's what makes you come back," he says. "To do that at my age, that's good."

He makes it sound more than just good.

"Most of us can have one good round," Allison says. "But to put them together consecutively . . . "

To be fair, the pair seems a bit disappointed with some of the pro action they've seen in the pro-am.

"I expected to see them three, four, five feet from the pin," Lofgren admits. "But most of them have been 10, 12 or 15 feet away."

Still, I get the impression these two guys would rather be sitting here behind the 18th green than, well, just about anywhere else.

"I just admire the skill," Lofgren says. "The straightness of their drives and the length of their hits. It's really, really good."

So why are they here? Why will Lofgren be back for today's round? Why does Allison admit that despite poor health, it's hard for him to turn down a chance to play?

The men don't come right out and say it. Not in so many words. But I don't think their passion for golf will ever be ruined by a squibbed shot, a bad hole or a disastrous round.

Because golf isn't about what happened last time. It's about what might happen next.

Possibility. Potential. A chance at a moment approaching perfection: Those are the intangibles that are present every time a golfer lines up a drive or leans over a putt.

Hope, faith and unalloyed optimism -- those are the things that keep people coming back to this most vexing game.

Maybe it works with other things, too.


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