For years, I thought golf was only for the country club set, which was pretty much true when I was growing up. The first time I picked up a golf club, I was in my thirties, on an employee junket at a posh country club on St Croix. My partner was an equally clueless novice, and we had a blast cruising the course in our golf cart, listening to the monkeys chatter in the palm trees and drinking pina coladas. The rest of the foursome consisted of our boss and a well-known chef. Making contact with the ball at the tee was a challenge, and whiffs were more frequent that hits, but in the party atmosphere, no one seemed to care. I was left with the impression that golf was sort of like a big open bar, where carts magically appeared and delivered free drinks and frozen candy bars.
As a single mom, I couldn’t imagine golf being part of my budget. But somewhere in my mid-fifties, remarried and financially secure, kids out on their own, my husband bought me a golf club set and suggested I take a swing at it. Confident in my ability to hit other kinds of balls—softballs, tennis balls, volleyballs (when not plied with pina coladas), I ventured into the game blissfully unprepared for the most challenging sport I have ever played.
Though I have good hand-eye coordination and picked up softball and tennis skills easily, golf is a whole different animal. I told myself to just enjoy the views and the landscaping at first as I yanked the ball this way and that, but I’m competitive and it bugged me that I could not hit this little ball down the fairway. I mean, it was just sitting there. Why was it so difficult?
Embarrassment drove me to the driving range for two summers, where I focused on just hitting balls at a driving range with my husband as coach. Despite his instructions, I had a hard time getting the ball up in the air, which is where you want it if you want to get distance. But after going to watch a women’s professional golf tournament, something happened. Rather than feeling defeated at the sight of these players and their seemingly effortless swings, I was able to visualize myself doing what they were doing. I noticed that many of the women teed their balls up high and tilted slightly backward. Somehow, that really helped me make my own drive sail. When I could hit 150 yards or better in a generally forward direction with my driver and 100 yards with my irons, I was ready to go back to the fairways.
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Golf is a multi-layered game, and I could only learn in increments. One skill learned would open a window to dozens of nuances in what else was required to play the game.
Luckily, there’s a rhythm to learning golf that’s not possible in other sports because you’re really competing against yourself and the course, not other people. You’re not on the receiving end of a pounding serve or a fast pitch—you swing at the ball when you’re ready. You can learn at your own pace and with patience, persistence and a continually developing sense of humor, you can improve. I admit to sometimes feeling like I want to cry when I hit a lousy shot, but now it’s a passing feeling, not a mid-course depression I have to haul myself out of.
After three years of diddling around, practicing at the range, taking a few group lessons and playing with my husband and friends occasionally, I joined my first women’s league. Playing every Saturday morning with different women was fun, and we all joked about how we were glad to escape from the endless advice our husbands gave us on the course. I walked the 9-hole course with a hand-held cart—not only did I get more exercise that way, but it was easier on my back than riding in a bumpy cart and helped me stay calm and focused.
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My scores were terrible, but so were everyone else’s. I often had to pick up the ball before I could even try to putt, because I had used up the maximum strokes allowable by league rules. But with the group lessons offered by the league and more practice, I began playing better and gaining confidence. Over time, I stopped botching my drive at the first tee due to my jitters at having three relative strangers watching me. I learned what golf icon Bobby Jones meant when he said, “Golf is a game that is played on a five-inch course—the distance between your ears.”
After I retired this year, I added an 18-hole league on Tuesdays. I also go to a driving range at Lehigh University to practice at least once a week. My husband volunteers there so I can practice drives, chips and putts for free.
I’m 61, and I’m enjoying the game more every season. My drive now averages 150 to 175 yards, two and three putts on the green are more common, and though consistency is still a challenge I feel like I can say, “I golf” without cracking up. But hey, even the best-coached pros have good and bad days. I’ve learned to take the ups and downs in stride.
Page 3 of 3 - The game is no small commitment, physically, mentally or financially, but its benefits are laudable. It’s accessible to all ages; many men and women play well into their 70’s and beyond. Golf challenges your body, brain and emotions, and along the way you meet lots like-minded folks brave enough to step up to that tee. And now I see that’s no small thing.
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