But after some valuable time in the sport spent with his grandson, he may change his mind
By George Valadie
I hate golf. Again. This is at least the fourth or fifth time. We’ve battled often. I’ve lost every time. Soundly defeated.
Vanquished not by an opponent with better skill but beaten by nothing more than a stick and that dang little white ball.
Time and again, I have entered into this on-again, off-again relationship with a positive outlook, bordering on optimism, determined that we can surely come to some mutually beneficial arrangement in which the sport will gain another follower, another patron, or at the very least another sucker willing to spend his money.
And on my end, I will have added an activity to my life that relaxes my mind, reduces my stress, and provides a personal enjoyment not able to be experienced by merely watching on TV.
Apparently, though, we cannot peacefully coexist, though believe me, we have tried.
Rather, I’ve felt way more like Sisyphus, doomed by Zeus to roll that boulder up the hill, almost reaching the top, only to have it fall back to the bottom.
And start again.
Well, minus the “almost reaching the top” part (which has never happened), nor has there been any Greek god dooming me to this frustration.
I just keep doing it to myself. Zeus and Sisyphus rolled into one.
So here I am again. Back at the bottom of the hill. Optimistic and determined to defeat my opponent.
I began this golfing experience when I was 13, invited by two friends to join in as we played our first rounds together at a local municipal course.
I knew absolutely nothing about the game—not really. I watched them tee up their ball on the first hole, and I followed suit. Grabbed my club like a baseball bat and swung for the fences.
Grip it and rip it as the commentators say.
As we parted ways walking down the fairway, each to find our own ball, I found mine in the woods and proceeded to tee up my second shot just as I’d done moments before. I quickly discovered that such was an egregious violation of the rules I did not know resulting in a friendly reprimand (Are you cheating!?), and the accompanying embarrassment I’ve never forgotten.
Probably the first time I hated golf.
The fee to play was $2. That’s likely all I had, except for maybe another 50 cents with which to buy a Coke and some cheese crackers at the halfway mark.
Where my mom found the money to purchase my starter set of clubs, I have no idea. There were days I know she struggled to find money for food.
So, lessons were out of the question. They wouldn’t have made sense anyway, because I was busy year-round playing team sports. No time. Golf would just be a fun little thing for my free time.
Well, minus the fun.
When we were 22, my best friend had been the victim of a car wreck and had finally advanced to crutches after a lengthy stay in traction and rehab.
He played less golf than I did and didn’t even own clubs, but he wanted to play at the local par-three course. We walked, and I carried the clubs we shared.
For 18 holes he’d hobble to his ball, drop his crutches, balance on his one good leg, and then proceed to soundly whip my behind.
I hate golf.
A few years later as a high school teacher, our school’s team had been blessed with more than a few unbelievably talented golfers. One in particular had played his way through college and had tried to give it a go on one of the smaller “minor league” tours in hopes of earning a spot with the best of the best.
I asked this former student of mine to meet me at the local driving range for what would be my first real lesson, though I was now 30. We hit a bucket of balls while I tried to absorb every last tip he offered.
We’d never mentioned money, but when we finished, I pushed some cash toward him.
“Thanks for your help; here, take this.”
“Nope, absolutely not.”
“That’s really nice of you, but I don’t want to take advantage. And I might want to call you again. Take it.”
“No, that’s OK, call me anytime.”
“Please take this.”
And then he said, “George, look, I can’t take your money. I didn’t help you. You’re not one bit better than when we started an hour ago.”
I hate golf.
As a result of such continued humiliation, there’ve been more than a few years my clubs gathered garage dust. Yet other times I’d get re-engaged and re-obsessed with the sport.
One such Saturday morning, while in charge of our two oldest girls, then 7 and 5, I took them to the range. I gave each a club, a few balls, and hoped they’d occupy themselves.
What got my attention was the wailing. The youngest had stepped in the way just as the oldest buried the edge of her wildly swinging club in the side of the little one’s skull.
I’m embarrassed to say, I ran over hollering “Shhhh! Shhhh! You have to be quiet here; people are playing golf.”
A bunch of stitches later and yes, my wife has hated golf, too.
Most recently, after 15 years of not taking a single swing, I have decided to once again do battle with this sport. I’m now motivated by the fact that my three sons-in-law have invited me multiple times, and I’ve opted out, secure in knowing I couldn’t embarrass myself if I didn’t play.
Stupidly, I know I’m missing out. And not to be morose, but time’s running out as well.
So, armed with the same optimism and positivity of the past, I’ve been back at the range trying to teach myself. This time I’ve purchased some video lessons for my iPad and plastic balls for my backyard. Bound not to be beaten, it actually feels like I’ve been getting better.
And to ensure my success, for the first time in my life, I paid a real professional for a real lesson. Yes, I’d been improving, but I’d convinced myself some fine tuning was all I really needed to get me and this boulder to the top of that darn hill.
“Well, let’s start with your grip,” he said. “Try this, because you hold the club wrong.”
“But it feels like I’m doing what you say.”
“And let’s talk about your stance. You do it wrong.”
“But it really feels like I was already doing it your way.”
“And when you take the club back, you do it wrong.”
“This is crazy. All these things feel like I’m doing exactly what you’re telling me to do.”
“What can I say? In golf, feels are bad. Watch this video I’ve just taken of you. What do you see?”
“Well, you’re right. I can see what you’re saying plain as day.”
“What do you think?”
“I’d have sworn I was already doing what you told me. But you’re right, ‘Feels are bad.’”
Our grandson is learning the game, too. Brady’s 12, and he’s blessed that his mom and dad are able to do for him what my folks couldn’t—he’s taking lessons as well.
His folks both work, so I pick him up and get him to his lessons. We hit balls together and have lunch together and chat about our stance and our drills and hitting in the backyard.
But we also talk about sleeping late and summer reading and basketball camp and what middle school might be like and being on the soccer team with the big kids and how he worries about his sister Emma because she worries about storms.
Time together . . . I’ll have to tell my coach—not all of golf’s “feels” are bad.
I love this game.
Dear God—Life’s not golf. When it feels like the right thing to do, please give us the strength to do it. Amen.
George Valadie is a parishioner at St. Stephen Church in Chattanooga.