Growing up, playing a round of golf would have been as likely for me as competing in a polo match or participating on a rowing team. Sure, these were things that some people did – but not a kid from an average-middle-class family in Indiana. For me, golf was 1) an annoying TV program on Saturday afternoons where boring commentators whispered and rich spectators condescendingly clapped for preppily-dressed “athletes” who whacked a teeny tiny ball where no one could see it; or 2) something that rich, old, white men did to lubricate the pockets of their clients and subsequently facilitate better “business” transactions. As a nine, eighteen, twenty-two-year-old bleeding-heart liberal girl/woman, I didn’t care at all about either of these scenarios.
When I graduated college and moved to a metropolitan city for my first ‘real’ job, I met (then dated) a man who was several years older than me. After a few months of participating in usual “date” activities (meals, movies, walks, etc.), one weekend my then-boyfriend stated that he was going to play golf with one of his friends and the friend’s wife; then asked, “Would you like to play with us?” From his tone of voice, I could tell that my then-boyfriend wanted me to respond, “Yes, I would love nothing more!” – but that simply wasn’t true. Golf seemed like an incredibly frustrating and boring experience designed for snobbish rich people who had too much time and money on their hands – why would I voluntarily subject myself to that? I gently responded, “Well, gosh… I mean… I don’t have any clubs… and I’ve never actually hit a golf ball before… so… you know… it probably wouldn’t be a great idea… for me to play with you and your friends, I mean… Like, I’d probably be really slow… and I’d probably hit the ball in all the wrong places… and I don’t want you guys to have to wait for me the whole day, you know… I mean, I wouldn’t want to hold you guys back or anything…” My then-boyfriend took the hint, and played 18 holes with his friends as a threesome.
Ultimately that individual and I ended our relationship (though not because of our lack of mutual interest in golf), and I went on to meet, date, and marry a wonderful man whom I affectionately refer to as “my sweetie”. My sweetie has a plethora of varied sports interests – and yes, one of them is golf. For a few years my sweetie spent at least three weekends every month playing golf; and over time, I began to wonder: what did he do during all those hours on the course? I mean, what was it like to smack a tiny white ball around miles of super-short grass for hours at a time? Was it really super fun? Was I missing out on something totally awesome? I seriously doubted it – but part of me was curious…
So when I crafted my list of 101 things-I’ve-never-done-before-but-have-wondered-about, I plunked “Get a golf lesson” on it. I figured before I dismissed something I’ve never actually experienced (a personal pet peeve), I should probably at least attempt the thing I was pushing against to see what it was really like.
After spending just ten minutes of research online, I located a female golf pro less than five miles from my house who charged a “reasonable” rate for an hour-long private lesson. (“Reasonable” being a relative term, mind you…) I asked G if she was willing to instruct a complete beginner, and she cheerily replied, “Absolutely!” Fantastic. I made an appointment with her for the following weekend – which occurred yesterday.
However. The morning of the lesson, I was jolted awake at 3 am by a huge crash of thunder and an impressively frightening bolt of lightening. Rain dumped on the house in gusty sheets for five full hours, accompanied by frequent booms and cracks. When the rain finally ceased the sun came out – which transformed the morning from sloppy-wet-but-cool to semi-dry-but-hot-and-sticky. Ick. I suspected that my lesson would have to be rescheduled (as the city had received about three inches of rain overnight); but when I asked G if our lesson was still on, she cheerily replied, “Absolutely!” Oh, um, well, okay…. I guess I’ll see you in an hour? “Yup, see you then!”
I arrived at the golf course five minutes before my lesson was scheduled to begin. I checked in at the club house – and G was patiently standing there, waiting for me. We exchanged smiles and a polite handshake, then she walked me to the club house entrance, where she had a golf cart and two sets of clubs ready for us. As we drove to the driving range, G confirmed that I had no previous experience with golf – and I assured her that yes, I am 100% a novice to this sport. She gently nodded and smiled – and then unleashed a fury of information at me. In the three minutes it took us to get from the club house to the driving range, my head spun trying to keep up with all of the knowledge being spewed at me – and there is absolutely no way I can even begin to summarize it all here. I heard something about wedges and shaft lengths and toes versus heels of the head of a golf club (which doesn’t even make sense – how can a head have a toe??)…my ears took in something about graphite versus steel shafts and how men need stiffer clubs than women but that seniors need an element of “give” somewhere between the two….I caught something about par and birdies and eagles and bogeys and double-bogeys and handicaps and how if I play in tournaments I might not win the gross score but I could win the net one [I laughed at how this woman already has me playing in golf tournaments when I hadn’t even set foot on a green]… Through this barrage of strange terms and concepts, I just nodded my head up and down, and tried my best to keep my expression from appearing too blank.
The tidal wave of information continued as G and I stepped off the golf cart and onto the driving range. After another five minutes of one-sided chatter, G put a club in my hand and showed me how to hold it. She then demonstrated a beginner’s swing for me, and I spent a good 30 minutes practicing how to hit the ball. As G demonstrated each drive she made, she talked me through what she was doing: how she was aligning her feet to be a certain distance from the ball, how she was assessing the direction and arch she wanted the ball to achieve and adjusting the angle of her club accordingly, how adjusting the rotation of the club in her hand yielded different results… As I heard and watched G hit drive after drive, I realized that golf was like pool: a game strongly based in geometry and physics. Which means that I actually could learn to be very good at it – if I wanted to. But I’m not exactly sure that I want to…. After G made several beautiful drives, she had me step up to the tee, and I began my series of attempts. As I hacked at the ball time and again (establishing contact about 90% of the time), G had a million ways of explaining the motion she wanted me to take. She described actions like tossing a bucket of water, throwing a ball to a child, moving like a metronome…and she articulated every analogy in her repertoire, likely hoping that one might stick. So I’d hit the ball, then G would tell me how to think about the swinging movement she wanted me to take. I’d nod, and do my best to emulate that action on the next swing – and G would tell me a different way to think about the movement. I’d try again, G would share a different image, and I’d nod and try again… After a while of making little progress, G tried to be more specific, and told me all of the things I should adjust: bend my right knee keep my shoulders square don’t move my head do move my arms relax my shoulders keep my arms straight pivot in the spine but not in the hips keep my arms closer to my body look at the ball after I’ve hit it connect and follow through… Oy. God love her, G was trying to be super-helpful to me; and after each poor shot I made, she gave me upbeat encouragement in addition to instruction. Her motives were only good. But still. An encyclopedia of golf-related information thrown at me for 30 minutes, with zero down time to process it all? Oy.
A few times during this portion of the lesson I felt frustration starting to surface – to which I quickly employed some internal self-talk that went like this: “Stef, just calm your Type-A ass down. Seriously girlfriend, just chill the f*** out. It’s a game, for God’s sake. Sheesh!” After chiding myself good-naturedly, I’d smile (and a few times I almost laughed out loud) – then walk back up to the ball with a renewed sense of lightness and levity. Stef, seriously, it’s just a game. For reals. 🙂
Forty-five minutes into the lesson, G videotaped my swing, and we then sat in a tiny office next to the driving range to watch it. After viewing the 20-second clip, G pulled a book from the desk: “How I Play Golf” by Tiger Williams. She flipped to a full page spread showing Tiger at various moments of completing a swing, and compared my form to his. I looked at G, smiled, and in a light tone said, “Yeah, that’s fair!”, then laughed. G smiled. I could clearly see the differences between Tiger’s form and my own – but getting my body to do what my eyes saw was an entirely different matter.
With ten minutes remaining in the lesson, G took me to the putting practice area of the golf course, and I attempted to hit a small bucket of balls into the hole. This experience was very reminiscent of putt-putt – only minus the windmills and clown mouths. G gave me pointers on how to grip the club, how to stand, and how best to align my body to the ball and hole. After multiple near-misses, I finally knocked a ball into the hole – at which point G stated that our time together had reached an end. I appreciate that she made sure we ended our lesson on a positive note. 🙂
Even though G gave me way too much information for my very first lesson (I can’t possibly recall even 25% of what she told me, much less actually retain that amount of knowledge), she was incredibly patient in her instruction, and wildly generous in her encouragement and praise. She did everything in her power to make sure my first lesson was both informative and enjoyable – and I appreciate her tremendously for that.
As G and I walked back to the club house, she shared one final piece of information that I did retain; in fact, I think it’s probably the most important and smartest piece of content from our time together. She explained, “Now you have a start on some basic golf technique: how to hold the clubs, how to stand, how to drive, how to putt. But when you go out to play, you should know that etiquette is just as important as skill. As you arrive at each hole, let golfers who are playing faster move ahead of you. Don’t drive a cart onto the green. Be respectful of the people and the course, and that will make you very successful – no matter what score you have at the 9th or 18th hole.” Absolutely. And I assert that this advice applies well beyond golf: if a person lives in a way that respects other beings and environments, he/she will be wildly successful in life – no matter what the end results of money, fame, or other common ‘score keeping’ mechanisms might say. Wisdom can be found everywhere, if only we are willing to stay open and recognize it…
I doubt I’ll ever play golf again, but having a lesson with a real professional was a cool experience to have. And, should I ever have to knock around a small white ball on a summer afternoon, at least I’ll have a tiny inkling of how to enjoy myself during the game. But given a choice, I’d prefer to spend my time in the yoga studio than on the golf course. 🙂