There’s an old saying in the carpentry trade that Maurice “Mac” McKeirnan has lived by nearly his entire life.

“Be smarter than the wood,” he said.

A retired carpenter and surfboard maker, it has served him well for years.

Today, McKeirnan’s craft is golf – a lot of it – and the adage still very much applies.

“I try to simplify the game,” said McKeirnan. “You have a ball, a club, and a golf course. And those things don’t think, but you do.”

McKeirnan is 64 but he didn’t take up the game until nine years ago. And he’s made up for time in a big way. He plays two to three times a week, playing mostly JC Golf courses. He lives in Poway and plays regularly at Carmel Mountain Ranch, his home course, and Oaks North. Woods Valley is also a favorite.

“I’m probably the cheapest golfer on the planet, and the JC Players Card is extremely reasonable,” he said.

“People sometimes ask me if I get bored playing the same courses. I tell them that’s how the pros do it. I want to be able to know where I’m hitting the ball. I play golf to beat the course and you’re not going to do that if you haven’t seen it before.”

McKeirnan has been a surfer his whole life – he owns a surfboard company, Black Talon Surfboards – and he later took up tennis. He remembers facing Michael Chang as an amateur when Chang was just 13 years old. McKeirnan was 32 and “he beat my butt.”

As he got older, he was looking for something more, so he took up golf.

“I didn’t even know what I was doing,” he said. “The Golf Channel was my teacher.”

For two years, McKeirnan never played a round. He just practiced and practiced, hitting balls at Oaks North. At the time, McKeirnan was working at Qualcomm Stadium as a maintenance manager. After work, he would convert the practice field adjacent to the stadium into a makeshift golf course.

“I never played because I didn’t want to embarrass myself,” he said. “I just concentrated on hitting the ball straight. I didn’t care if I hit it far.”

When he started actually playing rounds, he figured he was 40 handicap. Now he’s a 16.

He’s become so enamored with the game that he turned his front yard into a putting green, even adding slopes that emulate tougher putting holes at Carmel Mountain Ranch.

“I wanted to practice putting more and I was getting tired of cutting the grass anyway,” he said.

In his continuing effort to simplify the game, he only plays with eight clubs and a putter. He must be doing something right, as he recently shot a personal-best 79 at Encinitas Ranch. Smarter than the wood, indeed.

“That saying carries over to golf,” he said.

Marc Figueroa is a freelance writer who has been covering golf in San Diego for more than 20 years.