I had big plans for this past summer. I was going to make a lot of progress writing my new book (and I did!); I was going to organize my house and my life (and I sort of did); and I was going to have fun with my friends and my family (and I definitely did.) But I also did something else this summer. Something unexpected that I never thought I would really do. Don't get too excited. It's not anything that big, and I am sorry to report it didn't impact society in any meaningful way. I'll save that for next year. This summer I learned how to play golf. Actually, I became a golfer.
Golf has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I was a golf orphan all throughout my childhood as I patiently waited for my parents and my brother to finish their rounds on family vacations and on the weekends at home. My mother was even late to pick me up one Saturday morning after I took the SATs because of a longer than expected golf game. She apologized incessantly, but I was fine with it. I was really just used to it. Professional golf was always on the television at our house. One family holiday during the Master's finals, the small kitchen TV was brought out into the dining room at my Aunt and Uncle's house and placed at the head of the table so that we could all see the top two contenders walk up to tee off on the 18th hole.
I married a golfer. My parents celebrated our engagement by buying my future husband a new set of golf clubs. Despite the long weekend at golf school 15 summers ago that my husband dragged (I mean took) me to, I still didn't want to play. I had no interest. Golf seemed boring and too slow for me -- no fun at all. And so I became a golf widow. I got used to Saturday mornings at home by myself. Before we had kids, it was great. I'd sleep in, go for a run or take a yoga class and then read the paper or meet a friend for coffee. I didn't mind it at all. In fact, I was happy. I was reminded of something a friend of my father's (also a golfer and a very good one at that) told my husband and me before we got married: "The key to a good marriage is moments of separation," he said with a smile one night when he and his wife (also a golf widow) took us out to dinner to celebrate our engagement. My husband's golf game gave us our moments of separation. He was happy playing the game he loved. I was happy that he was happy and perfectly content to have time to myself. It worked... until we had kids.
When our kids were babies, my husband didn't play nearly as much golf as he used to. He was right there with me in the trenches up early on the weekends changing diapers on babies, then helping to make breakfast for little kids and eventually cheering on bigger kids at their soccer games. I knew that I had married a golfer way back when, but also a really good guy, not that the two are mutually exclusive or anything. Remember, all those good guys in my family are golfers.
Then one of my favorite guys in our family became a golfer -- my son. My husband had taught our almost-11-year-old how to play the game, and he had a new golfing buddy. He was thrilled. The boys went out together for hours at a time to play. They loved it. I heard great stories. I saw pictures and videos. I was thrilled for them, but also for the first time in my life, a little bit jealous. I had been a golf orphan and a golf widow for so long, but I didn't want to become a golf absentee parent. I was reminded of my friend's mother who told her why she picked up the game as an adult.
"I have three sons, and I realized that if I ever wanted to see them or get them to talk to me, really talk to me, then I needed to play golf," she explained to her grown-up daughter one day urging her to play.
I knew it was time. It was my chance to finally learn the game that I resisted and sometimes even resented for so many years. If I ever wanted to spend large amounts of quality time with my son (and my daughter too as I can already see my husband trying to make a golfer out of her) I would have to learn to play golf.
And as luck would have it, I had three girlfriends (also golf orphans and widows) who wanted to become golfers too. We were all set. We had a golf foursome, we had golf clubs and we even had golf clothes. We reminded ourselves that if we looked the part, we were halfway there. We compared notes on how short our golf skirts could be (pretty short by golf standards of the past), should we tuck in our golf shirts of not (I still don't tuck) and whether to go with the golf hat or the golf visor (I say both are good.)
We took lessons as a foursome once a week, and after each lesson we went out on the course and played. We started small, which according to our teacher, was the way to go. We first learned how to chip and pitch with our wedges (small stance, choke down on the club) and then how to take a full swing with our irons and our driver (keep your left arm straight on the back swing and hinge your wrist). Our teacher even taught us how to get out of the sand (I may die trying to get out of a sand trap) and how to putt (read the green and develop your own rhythm.)
We took copious notes. As the writer in the foursome, I became the designated secretary as I typed up the notes and emailed them out to the group every week. We studied our notes. We practiced, we practiced and then we practiced some more. On the driving range, the putting green and even in our living rooms. At my Fourth of July barbecue, we swung our clubs, making sure to not hit any nearby children as our husbands held our heads down (don't go there!) teaching us to not look up too quickly to see our follow throughs.
The better we got, the more fun we had. And the more fun we had, the better we got. We were each other's biggest cheerleaders, finding the good in each other's every shot and offering constructive criticism, or at least as constructive as we could make it. We'd sometimes text our husbands or parents in the middle of a round to see which club we should use based on our yardage from the hole, and they always texted us back. Our families were happy that we were finally interested in golf. We celebrated our first bogeys and pars (no birdies or eagles to speak of yet), but I am hopeful we can get there. We even got in trouble together on the course (a true golf rite of passage by my standards) when a twosome behind us reported back to the clubhouse that we were playing too slowly.
I was amazed we could get through a round of golf as quickly as we did and before dusk with the amount of chatting and laughing that went on in our game. There was no cigar smoking for us out on the course as I've heard is the case for some men's games, but we did have our fair share of dirty jokes. When four ladies are talking about swinging at balls and keeping our heads down, those jokes are kind of inevitable. I had the best time playing golf. All I wanted to do was play, and when I wasn't playing, I couldn't stop thinking about it. I finally understood why my family abandoned me all these years for it. I would have abandoned myself too. It's so much fun and so challenging for both the body and the mind. It's also a great way to spend a beautiful day outside with people that you love.
As August approached, it was time to take my game back to those people -- my family. My husband and I played our first nine holes together a few weeks ago. I was nervous, and it showed on the first three holes. I was so stressed about proving to him that I could play the game he loved his whole life that I was playing horribly and taking it out on myself and on him. I was a complete head case.
"Relax, Rach," he said to me as he helped me line up to my drive. "People have been playing this game for decades and still get frustrated. You just took it up this summer. Have fun with it," he said as only he could.
He was right. Wasn't I playing golf to have fun and spend time with my loved ones? After I allowed myself to chill out a bit, I could actually get the ball up in the air and moving generally in the direction I wanted it to go. We ended the round on a high note (for me at least) as I pared the seventh hole and we kissed upon completing the round. My husband smiled as he told me that it was nice to be able to do that with his golfing partner, a true first for him.
I also got to play with my son this summer, and that was a highlight for me. I was there to witness the excitement on his freckled face as he chipped onto the green and then sunk his putt. We had fun searching in the rough for his Nike golf ball.
"Nike makes my lucky ball mom," he told me as he high-fived me after I found it hidden behind a tree. He encouraged me to turn my body more on my follow through, and he was beyond excited when I let him drive the golf cart. I wonder if my parents would have let me drive the cart when I was a kid?
I wonder about all the fun times I missed out on the golf course growing up with my father, my brother and especially for me now, my late mother. I sometimes think about her when I am about to tee off. I see her there in my mind's eye standing right over me on the tee box in her bright pink and green golf outfit and flowered baseball hat, a Tootsie pop in her mouth (her version of Gatorade.) I think she'd be pleased that I've taken up the game.
I hope the rest of my family is too, and that we can make up for all those lost times out on the course. If not though, I'll continue to play with my ladies foursome or even just by myself. Golf's a great game. What took me so long to figure that out?