Anecdotes from a New Golfer
Learning to play golf is tough enough. But try injuring someone with a wayward swing on a driving range if you really want to consider quitting before you start.
That’s exactly what happened to me, before I was brave enough to play on an actual course. I was standing at my mat. Behind me was my friend Matthew. To my right was a woman teeing off just in front of her mat, I assume so she could use an actual tee. In my hand was my 7-iron. I lined up, swung, made contact, and immediately heard a thwip.
This, it turns out, is the sound a golf ball makes when it pelts a person on the back of their exposed leg, just below the hem of their shorts, when she is mid-swing. I looked at her wide-eyed as she slowly brought her club to the ground and let the pain wash over her. She turned to me.
“Sorry,” I said weakly.
She gave me a look that made it clear that she did not accept my apology. Behind me stood Matthew, shaking with laughter. My fear of playing on an actual course was affirmed.
Months later, this time on an actual golf course, my desire to get off the range outweighed my fear of embarrassing myself (but only barely). As my friend Charlie and I took to the first tee, I fervently hoped that we’d remain a twosome so I could at least limit my humiliation to a friendly audience of one. This did not happen. A man I’ll call Ron joined us.
Ron was cordial but not warm. This may have been because he had just undergone hip surgery and was still “not yet feeling like his old self.”
I’m no doctor, but swinging a golf club right after hip surgery seems ill-advised. Ron immediately confirmed this: At the end of his first swing (and each swing thereafter) he grimaced and kind of soft-screamed in pain. Charlie and I stared, wide-eyed, half-expecting to have to cut our round short to cart him somewhere. But he powered through.
The defining moment of my relationship with Ron came on the second hole. We were all on the green — Charlie and Ron after 3 shots, me after around 9 — and I ambled toward my ball. I heard Ron grumble, and then from Charlie: “Dude.”
Both men were looking at me and I didn’t know why. Charlie patiently explained to me that I’d stepped in Ron’s line, and why that’s something I ought to avoid. Of course, I spent the remaining 16 holes jumping around the green, paranoid I’d end up in someone’s line. Charlie looked at me hopelessly. At the end of the round, Ron told Charlie he was fun to watch play. He told me maybe I’d get there.
These two vignettes, I think, serve as a useful distillation of the current state of both my technical know-how as well as my ability for navigating the etiquette of the game.
I can’t quite remember why I picked up golf as a first-year law student. Part of it was probably that I enjoy being outside without exerting myself too much. (Any semblance of an athletic “career” peaked in my sophomore year of high school, when I played second-string center on the JV basketball team simply because I stand well above six feet tall, netting a career-high 12 points and 10 rebounds at the season’s midpoint and then coasting for the rest of the season because I knew that was as good as it was going to get.) I also like to be in pretty places, which golf courses generally are.
Part of my reasoning was also professional: As an aspiring attorney, I thought it couldn’t hurt to know how to play golf, forgetting completely that junior associates generally don’t take clients to the golf course. Or have time to play.
What I like most about the game is the “maybe” factor — the unrelenting optimism that drives even me to believe that my 10th shot could be beautiful, even if the first 9 nail the player standing next to me on the range. And even if that “maybe” doesn’t end up happening, I’m still outside with a beer in hand.
One final anecdote may prove illustrative of that “maybe.” I was playing in a scramble before a friend’s wedding rehearsal dinner. The rules required that each player’s tee shot be used at least twice over 18 holes. I approached the first tee, lined up my driver, and swung. Whiff. I missed it completely, and my response was to sweat through my shirt instantaneously. Then I reset, swung, and hit one of the best drives I’ve ever hit. My foursome used that tee shot.
The next tee shot of mine they used was on the 18th hole, and that was solely to comply with the rules of the scramble.
I’ll take it. Because maybe the next shot will be beautiful.