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GOLF-US-MASTERS-PAR 3As a child, I despised calling on other children. I dreaded the awkward interaction with parents, the strangely inherent sense of authority held over me by a complete stranger and the feeling that I was interrupting or presenting an imposition with my request to hang out with their offspring.

I vividly remember an uncomfortable moment from my childhood in which I knocked on the door of my friend Mark, who lived in my neighborhood. His mother answered, and when I asked her if Mark could come and play, she said something incoherent to me about baseball. I informed her that yes, it was entirely possible that we might play baseball, and then we stood silently in the foyer of her home for what seemed like ten minutes.

Finally, she told me to come back another time, and so I left, certain that Mark’s mother was a little bit deranged. Walking home, friendless, I pieced together the words I knew she said to me from our awkward exchange with the words she might have spoken. The results of my word investigation revealed that I had failed to understand Mark couldn’t waste time with me because he was practicing baseball.

I thought about how absurd it was to practice something like baseball. It seemed like homework, something I avoided by playing baseball. In my mind, putting effort into getting better at a game defeated the whole purpose of playing the game. Later, when Mark emerged as the best player on our baseball team, I justified his superiority on the field by the fact that he practiced. I reconciled the gulf in ability between us by saying to myself that I could be just as good if I was willing to lower myself to actually trying to do so.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but my internal rationalization was similar to the underlying principles of the grotesque modern Olympic ideal. Masked in the false virtues of amateurism, superior athletes who competed professionally were outcast in favor of those who leaned on their own means to fund a more leisurely training, or had the political gravitas of an aristocratic surname that was able to induce government investment in their recreation.

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gambling header14-years-old is an awful age to go on a family vacation. No one understands your oh-so-unique struggle to grow up. Your body’s chemistry is changing more than Barry Bonds on a regimen of Victor Conte-prescribed elixirs. And you hate everything.

You hate school. You hate your teachers. You hate your friends. You hate the person on whom you have a crush. You even hate the band that like totally gets you. You hate the world. But above all else you hate your family and you hate restrictions. Traveling and living in close quarters with your mom, dad, brother and sister or whatever combination of that set best describes your specific situation growing up is nothing short of detestable.

We’re pretty disgusting creatures when we’re 14 – old enough to be cynical, but too inexperienced to properly apply our criticisms to anything constructive.

It was at this age, on a family vacation to Florida, that my first experience with gambling occurred. On a day in which the rest of my family was going on a helicopter tour, motivated by the $100 in savings found in not having me along, I was allowed a day to myself. Of course, I spent the afternoon at a greyhound racetrack, where the adage that misery loves company is tested by the collective self-loathing making those in attendance incapable of loving anything.

It took a dozen races for me to work up enough courage to attempt to place a bet. I was underage, and if my pimply baby-face didn’t give that fact away, my complete and utter lack of confidence would have. I stood in line for less than 30 seconds before an older gentleman – a gentleman only relative to the others in attendance – pulled me aside to inform me that a greyhound had a better chance of placing a bet on himself than I did. He offered to wager for me.

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