Spring break in Connecticut means a visit from the grandkids to South Florida. Just completed a wonderful week of swimming, shopping, general chaos, and taste-testing every ice cream parlor in Palm Beach County. No time for a new essay, so I’m reposting. With my repaired left shoulder ready and able to do my bidding, I’m once again turning my attention to golf, with the wistful hope of achieving at least my prior level of incompetence. Therefore, I present, fresh from the archives…
The Golf Lesson (or Lessons from Golf)
I don’t mean to deceive. It’s not my fault if people assume that I’m athletic. I certainly don’t encourage this. I never discuss sports, my scores, my best game ever. Not even how the team I was on always won at Color War. (That would really be deceitful, since I never went to camp.)
So I figure it must have something to do with my appearance. Maybe it’s my broad shoulders, my long arms and legs, my straight posture. And perhaps the fact that I used to be tall, at least until my spine began celebrating more birthdays than I have.
The funny thing is, I never thought about athleticism one way or the other until I was in my thirties and tried to learn tennis. (Is “athleticism” a word, or have I just elevated “athletics” to the status of a religion or a philosophy?) For the first time, I was made aware that there was actually a right way and a wrong way to achieve a result in a sport. My inability to rise above a minimal level competence made it quite apparent that I was going the wrong way.
Nothing in my prior history had prepared me for this. Growing up as a city kid, I did what all city kids did. On the pavement of Brooklyn, I jumped rope, played potsy (known in more refined circles as hop scotch), and roller-skated. At age seven I learned how to ride a two-wheeler. My pink Spalding ball (pronounced “Spawldeen” in Bensonhurst) was always in my pocket, and I could throw and catch as well as any other girl. In fact, I was allowed to join the stick ball games as I was always good for a single or a double.
So at what age did I outgrow eye-hand coordination? I really couldn’t tell you. I just know that it happened.
After my humiliation at tennis, I took a sabbatical of indeterminate length from my athletic career. This decision was definitely a mood lifter. I was learning to embrace my klutzdom, and was successfully dealing with the fact that my upper body and lower body would never be friends, and that the one half would never tell the other half what it was doing.
So you can imagine how I received my husband’s suggestion that I learn to play golf. He, who went to camp, and could play a very good game of tennis, had suddenly decided to renew his interest in this other pastime. I tried to hide my inner terror with a smile, as I posed what was for me, a terse, but very significant question: Why?
“It’ll be fun,” he said, “something we can do together.” He started sharing fantasies of wonderful golf vacations we could take and how this was an activity we could do even when we reached our golden years. (Reached our golden years? We were already several karats into that journey.) Could I shatter his dreams and tell him that golf was definitely not on my bucket list?
My reluctance notwithstanding, I signed up for my first lesson. On the morning of, I pulled on a pair of shorts and a shirt with an alligator who sat jauntily upon my left breast. (I had chosen the alligator over the little man with a stick riding horseback.) I looked at myself in the mirror and knew at that moment that, without a doubt, this would be a complete failure. I looked terrible in golf clothes!
Nevertheless, I actually showed up for my appointment with the golf pro. He was cute. This was a good start. He placed a club in my hands and began explaining how to address the ball. By the time he finished locking my fingers, adjusting my shoulders, bending my knees, and tilting my head, I felt like my body was contorted into the most unnatural position I had ever experienced. I no longer cared that he was cute.
I decided then and there that the person who invented golf in all likelihood had some serious postural deficits and had created a game that compensated for his unusual bearing. And that he did this because none of the other boys wanted him on their rugby team. If only they had been more sympathetic!
Trying to adjust to the appropriate golf stance was just one challenge. The other was trying to decode the language, which sounded like English, but made no sense. Did I hear him correctly when he instructed me to put my weight on my front foot? I had a front foot? My dog had a front foot. Two of them, as a matter of fact. And two more in the back. I, on the other hand, had only a left foot and a right foot which were, as far as I knew, still next to each other.
By the end of the hour, I knew precisely what was meant by a golf handicap. This was definitely going to be another uphill struggle. When it came to addressing the ball, I could think only in terms of four-letter words. My poor bruised ego desperately needed some TLC. I had to think of some compensation, something I could do really well. So I went home and took out the vacuum cleaner.
I won’t bore you with the details of my subsequent lessons. Suffice it to say, they were not successful, and I happily walked away. Until one day I opened my eyes and, same as Dorothy, found myself in a magical kingdom. Not exactly Oz. This one was called Florida.
Like the winged monkeys, golf was everywhere. And since I knew I wouldn’t be going back to Kansas any time soon, I decided to try again. I did so reluctantly, regarding this decision as a socially acceptable way to express my masochistic tendencies.
Much to my amazement, I found my Wizard. A golf teacher who reached me, and with plain and simple talk, made it all make sense. Well, some semblance of sense, anyway. Golf would never make complete sense.
All of which brings us to today. I actually like golf. Shocking but true. It and I have reached an understanding. I approach it with respect.
For me, achieving the level of precision, control, and concentration that it requires is a rather zen-like experience. My mind needs to be clear of all other thoughts. It’s not about competition. It’s just about me and that little white ball. Start thinking about what to have for dinner, and I’m toast! (The truth is, I’m often toast anyway, in spite of the intensity of my concentration.)
I’ve also learned that golf is very fickle. You can count on nothing. One day you play really well, and the next, all you have to show for your trouble is an aching back. But it’s the successful days that make you want to return.
I accept that golf is difficult, and that I’ll never be really good at it. But that’s okay. My ego is a lot tougher now, and my floors a lot dirtier. As long as there are enough accurate shots to compensate for the back pain!
But there is a major factor that continues to detract from my pleasure. I still hate how I look in golf clothes!