At first the men confounded me. Until, that is, I laid my first shot into the drink. Then one of these guys chased down my now-submerged ball and returned it to me, still dripping wet, before requesting the equivalent of a dollar for his services.
I always paid. After all, there was the question of their livelihoods beneath the international ban. But there was something else, too. Back on the third fairway, Tonto had squashed my own water-retrieval attempts with this: "There are a lot of cobras and other poisonous snakes around here. Did you know that snakebite is a major cause of death in Myanmar?"
Like I said, hardship and danger are everywhere.
I'd love to say I played the greatest golf of my life in Burma, but it's not true.
Yes, I played. And, yes, I thoroughly enjoyed my rounds there. But, in the end, despite the otherworldly surroundings, the gorgeously landscaped courses, the attentive help and the soft, tropical sway of the entire country, my game in Burma remained a little off. This I could not blame on juntas or repressive governments. It had nothing to do with elections and illegitimate rulers. It had to do with my shoulders coming through the swing a little early.
Still, it took Tonto to remind me that, for both him and my golf outing, all was not lost. On the eighteenth hole—a 415-yard par four—Tonto's course knowledge and my staggeringly off-target drives finally meshed. A hundred yards from the tee, the hole doglegged hard left, following the shoreline of a two-acre pond.
Tonto pointed across the lake. "If you hit your long drive out there," he said, gesturing straight down the fairway, "do you think you can hook it over the water?"
"I can try," I said.
He handed me the driver.
The ball left the tee beautifully. By the time it arrived at the lakeshore, it was sailing with that odd, eggshaped trajectory over the water. As it reached the pond's far shore, bounding up the fairway, Tonto clapped me on the shoulder. He was laughing. "In Myanmar, miracles happen every day," he said. "You only must remain patient enough."
Turns out, Tonto was right about that, too. At the end of the afternoon, I tipped him fifty bucks.