Home, Home on the Driving Range

Yesterday afternoon it was 86 degrees and sunny and for some reason I decided my options were the following:

* Mow the backyard OR

* Go to the driving range at the local golf course.

I chose the driving range.

As I’ve emphasized before in my previous golf posts, for me golf has mostly been something to do with your hands while you talk.

But for some reason I got it into my head late last summer that going to the driving range on a weekly basis could be a fun thing to do. I only went once last summer and yesterday was the first time I’ve been this year.

My two youngest daughters insisted on accompanying me yesterday even though I assured them that watching me hit 30-35 shots would be as boring as could be.

I had hoped that by going on a hot weekday afternoon we’d have the driving range to ourselves but, alas, another person was there, which meant I had to shush the girls regularly.

I put them in charge of handing balls and tees to me, which they did happily, and I proceeded to unhappily hit lots and lots of slices. The vast majority of my shots were 125-175 yards (I only brought a 3 wood with me), so I was pleased about that. But it’s impossible to focus on the good things when you are also making errors (kinda like real life).

I kept making adjustments to my grip and stance and back swing and it seemed the less I paid attention to correcting the slice, the better my shots were.

The downside is that, during those shots where I hit it well because I wasn’t paying attention, I was unable to recreate it for the next shot because I couldn’t remember what I did.

See why I prefer that golf simply be something to do with your hands while you talk? When golf becomes all about golf then it heads too quickly into OCD territory. Before you know it you find yourself coming home from the driving range and doing google searches about how to fix slices when you could be, oh, having a life or something. This is one reason I haven’t ever pushed golf to my kids and encouraged tennis instead.

When I was down to my last 3 shots yesterday I was exhausted and could barely hit them. I secretly hoped I had made golfing as unappealing as possible to my daughters and that they would beg never to come back to the driving range.

But as we left  they both asked about taking lessons.

It’s probably just because they are still young enough to think that the things mom does are worth emulating.

Or maybe they were just taken with my talk of pink Flying Lady golf balls (my preferred golf ball).

But who knows. Maybe it means in a few years I’ll have two golf companions and golf will again assume its rightful place as something to do with your hands while you talk.

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Confessions on the golf course

My most memorable round of golf ever was about four years ago on a warm day in May.

It was a group outing – two other women, their husbands and several other men.

The golf course was about a half hour away so we met at a central location and carpooled. Before I even had a chance to take my clubs out of the van, things became very interesting.

One of the other women was angry. Very angry. Her husband had forgotten to put her clubs in the car for her and didn’t apologize. He suggested it was ultimately her responsibility to bring her own clubs.

She got in the car and raced home in anger to get her clubs. I thought she might not bother to return but she did.

We three women decided to carpool together and an extraordinarily honest conversation transpired, even though these women weren’t my BFFs (although the other two women were good friends with each other).

As is usually the case when someone gets angry about something, her anger wasn’t ultimately about her husband’s failure to remember her golf clubs.  It was pent up anger about all the struggles of recent years.  Struggles of a financial free fall and the subsequent feelings of humiliation and despair. Shattered dreams.

The conversation was peppered with, “I bet YOUR husband would NEVER…” and “Oh yes he does…” type statements. Vulgar language was used, even though the three of us are ladies who are usually all about dignified concealment in public. The preconceived categories we had previously assigned to each other, and to our spouses,  slipped away.

On the golf course we let the men go off in their own group and we proceeded to laugh a lot at our golf game…and at the men, whenever we would notice one of them make an errant shot, which was quite often.  It was therapeutic.

I think part of what makes a golf course a place where confidences are more freely shared and where laughter comes easily is that you get to make a fool of yourself whenever you hit a bad shot. Golf is a great equalizer. Whereas in most other public settings one doesn’t usually have opportunities to put one’s ineptitude routinely on display and therefore it’s easier to look like you have it all together.

The flip side of that is impressing everyone with the occasional amazing shot. Everyone who golfs usually hits at least one amazing shot per round, even if by accident. It’s always fun to hear praise over a great shot and it lifts the spirits. In the real world that kind of praise doesn’t come so easily.

The other thing that helps make the golf course a comfortable place to talk and laugh is that you aren’t next to each other or face to face the entire time, like you are when you go out to lunch or are at a party. You have to go off alone a lot to find your golf ball (if your golf shots are like mine that includes traipsing through woods or looking in streams). There is a lot of built-in solitude even as you are golfing with other people. So there is no forced conversation or awkward silences.

At the end of this memorable round of golf we stopped for a late lunch and a margarita, which I drank too quickly because I was thirsty. I felt the effects of that margarita for the rest of the day but our conversation continued to be very open and honest.

After this day of confessions the three of us didn’t go off and become BFFs and we haven’t golfed together or had a conversation like that since then. You can’t plan such things nor can you recreate them. It was a one-time thing – like a curtain was parted for a time and the three of us just happened to be there to peer in and see that we all share the same struggles more than we realized before. Golf made this possible even though it ultimately had nothing to do with golf.

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What happens when golf is about golf

It’s funny.

As important as golf was to my friendship with my high school best friend, you’d think my college best friend and I would’ve raced out to the golf course together right after learning we both played golf.

That’s what normal friends would do upon learning they have a shared interest.

Except we didn’t do that.

In fact, we both seemed to go out of our way to not talk to each other about golf after that.

We lived together for three years, spent tons of time together and were very open with each other about everything…except golf and our grade point averages. Those were the two great undiscussed topics.

During the spring of my junior year we worked up the nerve to confess our grade point averages to each other. We braced ourselves, fearing the other person would have a much better GPA. We laughed and laughed when we found out our GPAs were identical.

After that confession it became easier to bring up the topic of golf again. We sheepishly admitted to each other that the reason we never talked about golf, much less golfed together, is because we were afraid we would become competitive on the golf course and that it would harm our friendship.

We laughed at the silliness of that. You’d think we would’ve set up a tee time after that, but no. We were still afraid that golfing together would be all about golf.

Finally, FINALLY, about 12 years after college graduation, we decided to be brave and go golfing together at a golf course somewhere near the Twin Cities.

We laughed uncontrollably many times at our silly shots. We kept score (I won by a few strokes!) but it didn’t matter. Besides, we did so much cheating anyway so the scores were’t all that precise.

We laughed so much I think I was literally high on laughter when we finally walked into the parking lot after our game. It was the most fun we’ve ever had together and the most fun I’ve ever had on a golf course…and it had nothing to do with golf.

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When golf has nothing to do with golf

I was an avid golfer for ten years, from the ages of 12-22 years old.

It occurred to me recently that playing golf had NOTHING to do with golf.

Instead it had everything to do with my father, a dead ten-year-old boy and my high school best friend.

When I was 12 years old my dad took me to the driving range.

I had never held a golf club before so he gave me a little lesson. I’m sure I was fascinated by hearing my taciturn father speak so many words in a row.

I teed up my first shot and knocked it about 150 yards. He was most impressed.

Not long after that I scored a 65 during my first round of nine holes and he seemed pleased.

He was not a man to dole out praise so no doubt that’s what fueled my interest in golf in the early going.

Plus I impressed the heck out of the neighbor kids when one of my errant tee shots knocked a squirrel out of a tree. I lived off that story for quite a while.

Anyway, it never occurred to me to ask my best friend to golf with me. It didn’t seem like it would be her thing at all. She was into horses and stuff.

Then, one Friday in May 1982, I cheerfully said “have a great weekend!” to her as we boarded our respective school buses.

Later that evening she hitched her horse up to a wagon and set out for a wagon ride with her parents. Her 10-year-old brother Jeff hopped on his bike and joined them.

He raced a little distance ahead of them. It was near sunset and a driver’s eyes were temporarily blinded by the sun as he drove down that country road where Jeff was pedaling.

His car hit Jeff and killed him instantly. My friend and her parents arrived on the scene a minute or two later.

The next morning my friend’s grandmother called my mother with the news.

My mom came to the table where my 11-year-old brother (who was friends with Jeff) and I were eating breakfast and told us what happened.

My brother started crying. His tears literally splashed into his cereal bowl and he kept eating cereal as he cried, as if he was in shock.

For once, I wasn’t irritated by his noisy way of eating cereal.

For once, I didn’t roll my eyes at the sight of him crying.

It was the first time I saw him cry for selfless reasons. It’s a mental snapshot I feel privileged to have tucked in my memory.

Then came the visitation and the sight of Jeff in his Cub Scout uniform in his casket was too heart-wrenching.

Even my dad cried. It’s the only time I’ve seen him cry. Another mental snapshot that I gently filed away in my memory.

Then came the day that I was anxious about, when my friend returned to school.

What would I say to her? I couldn’t just pretend that life was normal. Plus, I still had a little brother…and she didn’t.

I was only 15 and didn’t have enough life experience to have anything profound or comforting to say.

Inexplicably, I ended up inviting her to the driving range and she accepted.

I gave her a little lesson at the range and she knocked a 150 yard drive before we were done.

A neighbor gave her an old set of clubs and we proceeded to play golf together as often as possible during the next several summers.

Golf gave us something to do with our hands as we talked and laughed. And dissed the Illinois golfers who would clog our southern Wisconsin golf course on the weekends. And rolled our eyes at the drunken twentysomething male golfers who would hit on us sometimes.

Golf also made it easy for us to be quiet together.

In short, golfing had NOTHING to do with golf.

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Tomorrow’s golf story will be more upbeat. Stay tuned!

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The case for pink golf

Today I’d like to address this  question from Snoopy:

This comes from the series of Peanuts strips about tangerine pool tables in yesterday’s post.

A reader wrote to me and said what she’d really like to see is pink golf courses.

So that set me to thinking…and Googling, of course.

It does not appear that there are any pink golf courses. Alas. There are the expected references to breast cancer awareness and golf. This site about pink golf is kind of cool.

So I’ll make my own case for pink golf.

Although I’ve been a devotee of Flying Lady pink golf balls for many years (even before breast cancer awareness), what I mean by pink golf is more along the lines of what Erma Bombeck once said: golf is something women do with their hands while they talk.

This is why I usually only ever golfed when I’ve had another woman or group of women to golf with. Golf is kind of meaningless for me otherwise.

On any given day I’d tell you that tennis is my sport of choice because, unlike golf courses, tennis courts are free,  the fast pace and quick-thinking required in tennis supposedly helps prevent dementia, in just a half hour you get an outstanding workout (golf isn’t much of a workout) and doesn’t take up half the day the way golf does, etc., etc.

As much as I like tennis, however, I can’t say I’ve ever experienced deep conversation, side-splitting laughter… and even healing… on the tennis court like I have on the golf course.

That’s because when I play golf it has nothing to do with golf. Whereas tennis has everything to do with tennis.

I’ll share some golf stories  in upcoming posts. Stay tuned!

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