Yesterday I had the pleasure of getting the clubs out of storage, lacing up the spikes, and venturing out toward the shore of Lake Michigan. Every year as Spring peeks it’s little head out of the soil I go through a similar ritual. My mind begins to be permeated by idyllic images of smooth golf swings, sweet chips out of dew soaked rough, and putts being dropped from ungodly distances. These thoughts transition into an excitement about the coming summer, and the prospect of assured improvement of my game. The anticipation reaches a figurative fever pitch; I book a tee time, and like every other year I head out toward the rolling hills of America’s finest links (okay, the hills aren’t rolling, and the “links” are shitty public nine-holers).
Nearly 24 hours ago this perennial prank of my mind played out once again. As I entered the grounds of the course (parking lot of dejected souls) I had myself convinced that this was the year. This was the year I would actually play more often, hone my game, and at the very least be able to quote my score on any occasion with humble happiness and joy.
It typically doesn’t take long after I arrive at the course that I have an overwhelmingly different feeling take over, and that is a feeling of apprehension. This is coupled with a tinge of nervousness. It was no different this year. You would think I was preparing for something far grander than just a simple nine hole jaunt around the course, but for whatever reason I get a little tense.
I had a good twenty minutes before my tee time, so I decided to stretch, swing a few of the clubs around a bit, and prepare for the round by gathering up tees, balls, and a glove. I also sought to search out who were the most likely people standing around that may be paired up with me for the next two hours. I spotted three guys that appeared to be in their early twenties, and I figured that was a logical match. That thought was confirmed when they shouted out to the starter that they had the same tee off time as that of the Hound.
I continued on with my routine of preparation, and decided I’d introduce myself once we got up to the tee box. As I swung the clubs I started to realize that it felt incredibly awkward. This would be normal to anyone I guess, as I hadn’t pulled an iron out of the bag in probably nine months. For some reason though, it felt even more unfamiliar than usual. I did some self-analysis, slowed down the swing, and reviewed my grip. Nothing really looked right, nor did it feel right, and I began to come to the realization that all of the conjured images of golf greatness that filled my mind prior to the arrival at the course were merely illusions. Mirages, produced within a desert/being of golf futility.
I instantly stopped my prep work, and looked up at the sky. It was cloudless and the sun was bright, and a cool breeze came off the nearby waters. I smiled a little and realized that regardless of the outcome you need to just have fun with it. I have never been all that good at the sport, and so it is easy for me to cement my mind on the idea that it is about challenge and fun, and that there is no need to get upset. Plus, I don’t really practice, so what can I possibly expect to happen. It would be an insane disposition to believe that anything other than borderline mediocrity would come from my attempt at play, and honestly, that is okay. I went back to practice swings of the club and repeated a mantra that was taught to me as a golfing youngster, “Let the club do the work.”
I have discovered a great number of things while out on the course over the years; both about myself, and about the game. One key thing, and it should relieve the tensions of any player, is that as long as you are in good spirits, nobody really cares how you play. When looking at the world as whole you could be doing far worse than topping a golf ball, slicing it into the woods, or missing a three-footer. I tend to spend a significant more time trying to make sure that I keep my emotions in check and have a good time, then I do trying to knock down the flagsticks. I think the outcome has been pretty average play for the greater portion of my life, but I believe I’m definitely much more fun to play with than when I was younger, and more importantly I am able to leave the game and go home satisfied.
Eventually the time came for me to meet my playing mates, and to soon tee off for the first time of the year. The guys that were to join me were talking amongst themselves near the tee box, and I thought I heard a tidbit about school. It surprised me, as I was sure they were already out in the workforce. So, I opened the conversation, and given the mention of school I introduced myself and said, “Are you guys in school, working….?” The reply was a stunner. “We all just graduated”, one of the young men said….”from high school”. I really couldn’t believe it, as I was sure they were like twenty-five and ditching the daily work grind for the afternoon. I’m a terrible judge of these sorts of things, and I think it stems from the fact that I am like five foot tall. Each of them towered over me, so it’s always difficult to believe that I could possible be like twenty years older than anyone. The quick discourse continued, as they were kind enough to ask about myself. “So, how ’bout you?”
I haven’t really been asked this type of inquiry in a while, and I had no idea what to say. I mean, I do part-time financial work for a friend of mine, I write a little on a blog, sometimes work on a book, and more than anything I pick up and dispose of ‘Little Helper’ poop. I paused for a moment, tilted my head, and said, “Well, I’m kind of between things. I guess I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.”
They chuckled a bit, and the same young man that asked the question said, “You’re just like us then.”
I laughed. “Yep. I guess so.”
The guys were great the entire round, and I was tremendously impressed with how mature they were for their age. They didn’t play all that well, but not one of them really got upset at all about anything. Maybe it was because they were in the honeymoon period of being done with school, but either way they just seemed happy to be out there. Kudos to St. Ignatius High School and to their parents I guess. We talked about their summer plans, as we poorly hit the white ball around, and I asked each where they were planning on going to school (Emory, Miami, and either Michigan or Illinois were the responses). I was excited for their respective futures. We had a great time.
The round by quantifying measure was a debacle. I shot a 58 with 21 putts, and remarkably for me that was without hitting one out of bounds or losing a single golf ball….which also tells you just how bad of a round it was. This poor play was compounded by the fact that I hurt my neck on the sixth hole. I don’t know how old you have to be to hurt yourself swinging a club, and before yesterday I would have said maybe eighty-three. Apparently, it’s 36 years-old. Oh well, I’ll take a little discomfort for what was a good experience. I’ll fool myself again very soon, as I’ll lace ‘em up, throw some tees in the pocket, and go out and shoot a round of………..I’ll have fun.