A day as an amateur golfer is much more exhilarating than a non-golfer can ever imagine. People ask why are you so obsessed with chasing the little white ball. If we are not playing golf, then we are practicing it. If we are not practicing golf, then we are watching it. If we are not watching golf, then we are reading about it. And if we are not reading about golf, then we are dreaming about it.
I grew up in a predominantly blue-collar neighborhood. Middle class America in the 70’s. Very few men worked on Wall Street. Some businessmen, others were contractors and factory workers. Many families were migrants from Brooklyn and the Bronx. Some mothers didn’t even drive, like mine. We waited until the weekends to go food shopping, bank and maybe pizza or Chinese food. That was our big day out. We played ball in the church-yard or someone’s backyard, rode bicycles until our tires were bald, traveled through the backwoods in Old Bridge building forts. We stayed out until the street lights went on or until we heard our names echoing through the streets.
I will never forget the first time I picked up a golf club. I was 14 years old. A bunch of us just finished watching Caddy Shack for the first time and decided to take Uncle Bob’s clubs for a spin. Out on the lawn in front of the corner church were four 14-year old’s with no clue how to hold a club, let alone hit one, stood laughing. 10 bucks says you slice, one friend yells. The other one swings and sure enough, sliced it…right into a stained-glass window. We never ran so fast. The next day, headline news, “Vandals Mare Methodist Church with Golf Ball – Widow in excess of $3,000”. The four of us never peeped a word. That was the last of our golf experience for quite some time.
About 10 years later I was at a neighbor’s party a couple months after my son was born. There was chatter about a golf trip and I curiously listened. I noticed a sense of passion about a sport like no other. Yea, guys talk about football and basketball, but THIS, this was definitely different. It was about themselves and their friends physically involved in playing a game. It was described with such pure enjoyment and obsession. They played it, they admitted they were terrible at it but they wanted to go back for more. It was the agony of defeat and the desire to get better. They talked about it for hours. I was excited about golf just listening about it and right then I knew I wanted to play. I knew nothing about golf, but I was intrigued to learn. My thought was, if I was good at sports and played competitively in high school, why not golf? Hey, I can learn this game just like the guys.
I went home that night and did nothing but think about golf and strategized on how I was going to learn. The next day I went trudging through the snow right to the library and got every “how to” book on golf. I went to K-mart and bought myself a cheap set of pink, Dunlop’s for $49 bucks. Ok, give me a break. I didn’t know anything about golf, remember? Plus, it was winter, and clubs were hard to find. Money was tight since I was home with a newborn in February 1991 and I was scolded for spending $49 on something I knew nothing about and not going to use until the snow melted. But, I was determined to learn. When the baby slept, I read. I read, and I practiced it. I started with the grip. I read and I gripped and re-gripped a million times. Then I chipped. I read and chipped. I chipped balls on the living room carpet into an ice bucket, a million times. I putted. I read, and I putted, across the carpet into a red plastic cup, a million times. Now longer irons were a bit difficult. My husband only had to patch one hole. I had to wait until spring for those.
After reading every book there was and watched “how to” videos, I was ready to go. Yup! I was ready…to go hit the range. I went almost every evening and I brought my books where I sat and read. I watched what others were doing and eves dropped in on a lesson or two. After a couple weeks, I brought the clubs out from hiding and started on my short game. I chipped a million chips to a short pin just like the ice bucket. I worked my way up through my mid-irons and then to my 3 and 4 irons, and then my woods. I hit’em all. Only took me 6 months to learn every club. Yup, 6 long months; of being afraid to actually play. So, I had a plan. I needed a part time job to help support the bills and a way to afford the expensive greens fees, which I failed to research while reading about golf. So, I got me a job…at the local golf course…bartending. Yup, bartending. Thought, I could listen, ask and learn more. Not about actually swinging the club but more about the game. See, most books just give you technique, they don’t actually teach you how to “play” or compete. There are rules and etiquette and strategy to playing golf. It’s not just about hitting the cute little ball with dimples. There is a certain finesse to the game. I never thought this, four-letter word “golf” would be so complex. I think that is part of the addiction. You are always learning about the game. It keeps you interested to want more. Even the pros are always learning. They don’t know everything there is to know. Have you ever seen a pro on TV call over an official to get a ruling? Because they don’t know. I believe that no one has ever learned everything there is to know about golf. There are 34 rules in golf, but it takes 121 pages to explain them all because there are more sub rules than actual rules. The best way to learn the rules of golf is to break them. No seriously. Someone will call you out, you will feel humiliated and learn from it.
Working at a golf course had its perks. I figured out that I can go to the range before work and/or after work and practice for free. I did that for about 6 months, as long as it didn’t snow. That next spring, my boss saw that I had an interest in golf, so he asked me to work in the pro shop booking tee times and helping out, which I was thrilled to do. I got to know the pro and he saw me reading and practicing all the time. He also noticed I never asked once to go out to play. He said, you know you can play for free, right? I just looked at him and with embarrassment said, thank you but I have never played before. He bellowed a laugh out loud. He was shocked to hear that from me. He said how long have you been practicing? I told him, about a year. Shaking his head, he said you need to pull the trigger. The next day I was in the practice bunker after work and he drove up in his cart, grabbed my clubs, strapped them on the cart and said, get in. You, my friend, are playing golf…TODAY!
On the first tee box, my knees were shaking, hands sweating, and I was short of breath. All I could think about was, don’t hit left, don’t hit it right, don’t look like a fool, just hit the ball down the middle, it’s just like the range. I took the club back and swung down and through the ball, not quite sure because my eyes were closed, and striped the ball right down the center over 200 yards. It was like electricity jolted my body. It was the most fantastic feeling right behind giving birth to my son. The pro looked at me and said, all that reading, and practice really paid off. He said I don’t know anyone who is self-taught and can hit a ball like that. If all my students were like you, I would be out of business. That was a compliment I would never forget.
Today at age 51, with the same addiction to golf that started 25 years ago, I play over 100 rounds a year. If I include the golf simulator I play in in the winter to keep the body moving, then I probably play about 130 rounds. I play in a traveling tournament that is predominantly male members. I thrive on competition but truly love the camaraderie that follows.
Golf is exercise, and it is exciting. Golf is hard, and it is frustrating. Golf is addicting, and it is rewarding. Golf introduces businesses, and creates friendships. For most amateurs, golf is a game you play but never master.
For the love of golf, go play!