For 13 years after joining Lake Katzelmacher Golf Club in Minnesota, Doctor Benjamin Barron hacked, skyed, skulled, flailed and flubbed his way around the course. As a golfer, he stunk. “All the time I was playing,” he says, “I knew I was no good, but I didn’t know why. Then the course started to make me nervous. As soon as I stepped onto the first tee, my palms started sweating. So one day I just stopped playing and went to the practice tee. And that was it. I never set foot on the course again.”
Doc Barron spent the 19 remaining years of his life as a golfer on the practice tee – taking time off from his medical practice to put in four hours a day three times a week. On weekends it was a full eight-hour day on the range. Foursomes teed off on the first tee and took their last putt five and a half hours later, and he’d still be on the practice range, a happy, tired look on his face, the sun going down behind his back. By his own reckoning, he hit over two million practice balls.
Folks at Lake Katzelmacher Golf Club remember him as the man who hit 10 buckets a day, no matter if it was a scorching 95-degrees or if freezing drizzle made an ice-board of his beard. His clothes might be drenched in perspiration or soaked with rain, but his palm-sweating fear was gone. There on the practice tee he could hit the slitherers, the rain-bringers and the worm burners, the pop-ups , shanks, hooks and slices that would have reduced him to tears had he been on the course. Anything bad you could do with a golf ball, he did. But on the practice tee, they had no power over Ben Barron.
Once he stopped playing, he never missed the golf course. People used to call him the champ of the practice range, but he didn’t like that. He never wanted to be thought of as the champ of the range. “I was on the practice tee, but I wasn’t really practicing. I was hitting balls, I enjoyed hitting balls. I was in heaven hitting all those balls. Heaven.”
Did he ever find out what was wrong with his game? “Oh, yes!” he says cheerfully. “I have a benign brain tumor in the area of the brain that controls coordination. Apparently I’ve had it since birth. I think it messed up my golf game.”
It’s probably a more common affliction that Doc Barron shares with many of us: fascination with the process, but fear of the outcome. Safely off the course and on the practice range, it no longer mattered if he hit terrible shots. He could simply enjoy the feel of his swing and the occasional bliss of the moment of impact. He was glad about those occasional moments. He was grateful for them. He was in heaven with them.