Almost a decade ago, I put my golf clubs down for good. I've never looked back. For many years prior, though, my free time was shared between fly fishing and golf. This split was never even. Considerably more of my time away from work and family went to fishing. But still, a couple evenings and weekend days each month were stolen by golf.
I took lessons. Went to the driving range. Sat with friends over a beer talking about swing issues and improving my putting. And then I'd hit the links, soak up the sun and fresh air, often making it through three, four or even five holes before the afternoon descended into a profanity-laden, club-throwing horror show.
The reality, which I eventually stepped back to perceive, was that golf made me miserable. It wasn't that golf was an inherently bad sport, it was that I wanted to enjoy golf more than I actually did. The occasional, slowly-climbing long drives straight down the fairway, those 80-yard wedge chips that land softly on the green, the graceful exits from nasty bunkers -- you know, the shots that everyone says are "all it takes to keep you coming back" -- just didn't do all that much for me.
Though I had some raw golf talent, in truth I wasn't any good. And I was never willing to invest the significant amount of time required to improve. Golf just didn't have enough to give. Not when the alternative was days spent wading through a stream, water tumbling over nearby rocks, sun peeking through the trees and the hope of rising trout.
Once I stashed the clubs, there was a palpable sense of relief. There were no second guesses, no occasional returns to the sport, just relief. In fact, before long, it became hard to imagine how I ever tolerated the game in the first place. Looking back, golf was just time away from fishing.
Fantasy football, it seems, is my new golf.
I run the league, one for which I've spent years perfecting the rules and adding in every sort of complication -- auction drafting and free agency, salary caps, player contracts and so on -- in an effort to make the game more skillful and thus more rewarding. I stay up to date on player news, scouting reports and "expert" analysis (which seldom is so). Three days each week, I obsess over realtime statistics. I watch wealthy grown men play a child's game, count up the metrics of their performance and hope that the sum of those metrics for the make believe "team" I've assembled is greater than that of one of my friend's make believe teams.
When it all goes well, it's pretty good. That 200-yard day by the running back you signed long term is golf's long, slowly-climbing drive. The supposedly over-the-hill receiver that you got on the cheap that breaks off an 80 yard touchdown romp two weeks in a row is that perfectly placed, floating wedge chip.
But it's not enough. Fantasy football, like golf, just doesn't have that much to give. In between those highlight moments, it's mostly just a self-imposed torture session propped up on a pedestal of false importance. Players get hurt, suspended and inexplicably turn in terrible days. My "team", in turn, suffers. We lose.
This, of course, leads to a second-guessing, depressive lamentation of my bad luck and woe. I peer across the void of the league, single out the one guy who's team didn't have a calamity of a day, and know it could have -- nay, should have -- been me. Of course, it's all out of my control. There's nothing I can do. I can't go down to the locker room and yell at my players. Because it's all a fantasy, some more socially-acceptable, mainstream version of Dungeons & Dragons with points-per-catch and yardage bonuses instead of hit points and dexterity.
Still, I pout. And at some point, during an embarrassingly superficial fit of self pity, I think about golf.
If only I could stash fantasy football down in the basement and leave it in the corner to collect dust next to my clubs, there'd be more time for fishing.