I love the game of golf. Plain and simple it has been an unrelenting obsession for the last 20 plus years of my life. Even when I had to reduce my playing time significantly with a young family, I still found the time to hit the occasional bucket at the local range. Although I was introduced to the game at an early age by my grandfather, I never made it to the course inexplicably. My golf experience was limited to chipping with a 9 iron in the living room to a coffee cup or putting down the plastic runner that ran the length of the room to the same cup. Competition was fierce in those days with my little brother and my grandfather. Though to be honest, we never had a chance against my grandfather. More on that later. I can blame a good friend for the introduction to this fascinating game. Literally, kicking and screaming he dragged me out to the course.
We were on a couples trip to Florida just out of college, his wife and mine are childhood friends. Visiting his parents in Ft. Myers, Florida in the summer of all times of the year. He was looking to move down there to start a business with his father, I was looking to drink a little beer. So as the story goes, they planned to go out to a local executive golf course and play a little golf as they did a couple of times a year. Neither of them were what you would call “players” but they enjoyed the game when they played and especially the bragging rights that came with the random good shot. Under the guise of “you guys enjoy the father/son time, I don’t want to intrude”, my plan was to hang out at the house and drink a little beer. Well, my buddy was having none of it. To paint the picture, he is 6′ 4”, thick, like you know Wisconsin thick. A massive person not easily dissuaded. I on the other hand am 5′ 8” legit, 5′ 9” when I want to impose my will. They found a fourth to join us who just so happened to have a spare set of clubs for me to use. Now, I’ve learned over the years a spare set of clubs is really a dubious distinction at best, a misnomer if you will. In this particular case, it was all of the above mixed with a sadistic zeal for the initiation of the damned. The bag, lime green and white…..leather, weighing approximately 42 pounds without clubs. The clubs were blades of a Spalding variety if I remember correctly. The year was 1994, these clubs had seen their better days in the 50’s I suspect. I didn’t bother with golf shoes, my Nikes would do just fine on this track, I did have the collared shirt as those were still required in those days.
So we make it to the course around noon. Players in Florida know the time to play is early in the morning during the Summer months. Like, work early, trying to beat the rising of the sun if you can. If you can beat the birds and the worms all the better. Needless to say, we had the place to ourselves. I don’t even remember seeing another living human being out on the course, besides our group of course. My guess is the forecast calling for temps in the high 90’s scared away the meek. Also, keep in mind, this is the pre-Tiger era when golf was generally played by older white dudes with money. So us young hacker types were still a minority. We get a few buckets and my buddy proceeds to give me some tips on grip, stance, and swing. Oh, and the solid foundation of any good golf swing, keep your head down, nothing to see here, just keep it down, understand? I’m sure the statute of limitations has expired on my ability to seek restitution for injuries sustained to my game, but if they haven’t, I still wouldn’t pursue it….I owe him a debt of gratitude. He showed me the overlap grip, the interlocking grip, and his personal choice, the double interlocking grip. When you have hands the size of medium pizzas, I get it (not really, that is still fundamentally flawed), but why would you share that with other people? It’s like introducing someone to crack when you just saw New Jack City. So I tee one up, I have a brand new Wilson glove I bought in the pro shop, a brand new tee in the ground, the ball is sitting high, probably 6 inches off the ground begging to be crushed. Of course, my buddy tells me I should start with the driver to get a feel for the game. The ancient persimmon woods lets off a crack, like the crack you hear when you stand up too fast in your 40’s as your spine races to catch up with your intention. The ball sails prodigiously, reaching an ungodly altitude, like Phil Mickelson flopping a 64 degree wedge to a tucked pin over a 6 story building. “Not bad, you didn’t miss it completely” he razzes me. I laugh, “thinking who could miss a golf ball, it ain’t even moving, I mean I can hit a baseball”, give him the whatever look. I prop another one up on the tee and I really set up to give it a lash, the kind of which the golf world should never see. I held the club, caveman style with a vise like grip draining all the blood and feeling from my extremities. I take the club back fast and return it even faster creating a centrifugal force equal to maybe 2 gs. Escaping a career ending injury, I miss the ball entirely, I miss the tee, I miss everything almost planting myself in the ground in the process. My buddy is roaring now, bent over laughing, his dad is laughing too, even the anonymous well meaning friend is laughing at me.
The range session continued with some additional ill advised instruction. I faired even worse with the irons, digging potholes a spade shovel would envy, yet I became more and more enamored as I began to actually make some contact. By contact, I mean blading several worm burners that even on this warm day stung my core as blades are meant to be hit on the sweet spot. With a couple of minutes left before we are going to play, I tee up my remaining balls to finish with the driver. Once again, I set up intent on putting a good swing on it….at least what I was told was a good swing. I reared back and smoothed one out there about 175 straight as an arrow. Somehow with all that was wrong, I had actually found the sweet spot and the ball reacted accordingly. I tee up another one, same awe inspiring the result. I felt the nothingness of a cleanly struck golf ball, even got a couple of “atta boys” from the my playing partners. I felt ready now to conquer the golf course. This was going to be easy, “figured it out you have”, channeling the wise Yoda. The mind is such a terrible thing. Already, my glove was done, ripped in two different places and I had opened a good size blister on my pointer finger to boot. I run in to the pro shop to get another glove and a band aide for my hand. The addiction was set. The needle embedded deep into the vein, powerless to this damning elixir.
No earthly idea what I shot that day. Those little boxes on the score card weren’t meant to hold double digits easily. Hit a few good shots, maybe 3 or 4 on the button all by accident. Pretty much, 3 putting was automatic which at the time made me proud. First time out, getting them down in 3 ain’t too shabby. My grandfather taught me some about putting and I absorbed a lot through watching him do it in the family room. I would later find out he was a scratch golfer at one time, often playing and hustling for money in Cleveland, Ohio making ends meet at the local munis. I did manage to hit the same house 3 times hitting it with various clubs from different holes. Not sure how that’s even possible, but those are the kind of memories that stick with you. All in all, it was a great day. Both of my hands were bloody with some scary looking festering blisters. The second glove was dead as well. My body was severally sunburned and I had a dull ache in my back from doing so much wrong that day. Regardless, from that point on, all I wanted was to play golf. To learn this whacky game, to get better, to play whenever I had the chance.
Within a week of my return home to Atlanta, I had secured a good set of second hand clubs that cost me $125. Found a pair of used golf shoes….weird I know, but my budget was so non existent those days….that cost me $9 and had real honest to goodness metal spikes. Sometimes I do miss that click clack of the metal spikes, but the game is better without them. Not to mention, walking like a normal person on a green has it’s merits. Ready to play golf, but first I would spend a few weeks absorbing as much as possible about the game. Read so many books on instruction, giving me a pretty good foundation about mechanics. Hours and hours at the local range. Most important, I convinced another buddy of mine to take up the game. Finding a player on equal footing helped me in the process of becoming a lifelong player of this silly game. After all, one of the tenets of this game is camaraderie. More on the journey to come. The process has been intriguing and continues to pull me deeper to learn and achieve. Golf is a game for life, embrace it.