I used to golf. A lot. My grandparents were avid golfers. My uncle and brother were avid golfers. Turned out, my friends were too. So it was logical that I would put myself on a similar path of a lifetime of frustration, lost balls, abused clubs, made-up on-the-spot swear words, and a lot less spending money.
Starting around age seven there were multiple lessons with the local golf pro. Good guy, but he never stood a chance in correcting my Mike Schmidt-styled home run swing. On the course itself, my grandparents would sometimes let me hit a few balls when we were away from the clubhouse and other prying eyes (because of my age, I couldn’t actually tee it up and play a normal round.)
That soon turned into a yearly junior membership that allowed virtually unlimited weekday play.
Carrying our clubs, my friends and I would literally walk to and from the course – 1.5 miles each way according to Google Maps which didn’t exist at the time. After finally being allowed to cross the busy highway that split our town, we started riding our bikes; making the 3-mile round trip much easier. Then one day a light-bulb turned on somewhere and someone had the idea to rent a locker (we obviously weren’t the smartest kids in town.)
And so it went. Every summer, several days a week, for quite a few years, we played golf.
If the course was crowded, we would follow the rules and strict etiquette. In our case, that meant quieter cussing and no club throwing.
If the course wasn’t crowed, what rules? One day my friend Steve hit the longest drive of his life on a long par four. On his second shot, and against all rules of golf, he teed it up again in the fairway and rolled it right up to the green. Steve became a trendsetter that day as we all started teeing up balls in the middle of the fairway. Our scores immediately dropped a few strokes.
On our off days, we would go hunting for lost balls hit in the farm field nearby or in the woods along the third hole. We kept some and sold others; probably back to the same people who lost them in the first place. The membership and locker rental cost money after all.
Then golf became popular. Insanely so. Company outings, scramble tournaments and a Thursday woman’s league reduced our unlimited weekday play to very limited weekday play. That is not to say women can’t play golf. They can. However it was my experience these women could not and did so in a very social, talkative and painfully slow manner.
Then high school hit: summer football practices, an increased baseball schedule, girls, driving and everything else that goes along with not having enough time (and money) to play golf. Our very unlimited weekly play now became a never-ending conversation in optimism of “Dude, how about next week…”
Then, for me, it all just stopped. Completely. I went to college. My friends did not. School, life, jobs, marriage, moving, kids and 25+ years passed with barely a trip a putt-putt place.
A couple of years ago, my uncle asked if I needed a set of clubs. He knew a friend of a friend who was selling a set for $50. He probably won’t like this admission but at the time I think I was just humoring him when I said “Sure! That sounds great!”
However, little did I realize it would be somewhat life changing.
I live in Arizona. That’s applicable here because in Arizona there are nearly as many golf courses and driving ranges as there are guns, climate deniers and swimming pools.
The 7-year old in me was born again and as it turned out, I still could still knock the hell out of the ball. Sort of. There were hours spent at the driving range, multiple worn out golf gloves, an abused Summer Membership at Top Golf and a lower back that hates my frickin’ guts.
I recently read the book Missing Links by Rick Reilly (courtesy of that same uncle) and have started on Chicken Soup for the Soul. Tales of Golf and Sport. I might be turning into someone I once wanted to beat up.
My wife says I needed a hobby yet, as I have been explicitly told, that hobby cannot include recent female college grads and/or a motorcycle. So as a distant third on the list, there is golf.
Life, as they say, is good.
I miss that group of guys that played together all those summers. A lot of good stories, laughs and memories were made on that small 9-hole course on the edge of a small hick-town in Illinois.
And though it has been over 20 years since I last seen – or even talked to – my friend Josh, I have no doubt, none at all, that at some future high school reunion our conversations will pick up right where they once left off and he will inevitably ask: “Hey Miller. Remember that time you hit yourself in the head with a golf club?”