Fairways columnist David Goodman rediscovers something about the game of golf when he teaches his aging cousin to play.
As we inch closer to a new golf season, I’m reminded that the word ‘new’ can be used to describe hope, dreams, goals, and in the case of my cousin David, new life. David reminded me just how nuanced and exciting golf can be.
My cousin and I were never that close, our relationship being both casual acquaintance and professional. As my lawyer we’d meet every few years to complete a business transaction, a house purchase or will change. Following my most recent purchase of a home in Newmarket two years ago I went to his office to sign the papers and was met by a man hunched over looking tired, and to be honest, pretty much dead. He was only sixty five, but at 6 foot 3, with a chronic bad back and who had difficulty getting out of a chair, he asked me if I thought he was capable of swinging a golf club. He saw retirement in his future and needed a hobby.
My memories of cousin David took me back to our childhood and ball hockey games on his driveway. He always loved sports but a bad back always prevented him from being the athlete he would have liked to be. Knowing that I was a certified golf instructor he sought my help.
It was with great trepidation that we met at the Golf Dome, me fearing his back would be wrecked forever and that his darling wife would sue me for all my earthly possessions. His first attempts to hit a golf ball resembled those of a three year old trying to throw a ball. It was ‘cute’ but had no chance of doing any damage.
His large framed arthritic body with little flexibility struggled to maintain balance. He took his club back perhaps two feet but the athlete in him was extremely determined, and he proceeded to hit about 40 balls that evening, his swing eventually getting longer with some power, once he starting using more wrist.
After hitting six in a row of decent quality, he announced “I got it” and I said “oh oh”!
He was so excited, even more than I had seen him on his wedding day. I have to admit I was quite impressed, but my biggest fear was that he would be immobilized and stuck in rehab forever. In fact, he was only mildly sore the next day, and two months later, following numerous practice sessions in the Dome, he called me to join him for his first round of golf.
He invited me to play at Cresthaven, and that was the beginning of two beautiful friendships: the two of us and the game of golf.
Cresthaven is a good choice for beginners, and an easy walk. David is a very confident lawyer, so you can imagine his feelings of distress when we were teamed with two strangers. His tension mounted as we walked to the first tee with three groups waiting and watching.
“Do they have to stand there and watch? Is that allowed,” asked my tremor filled cousin.
“Just hit the dam ball and don’t worry. Most people here are beginners,” I said.
To my great surprise (and his) he made a swing and hit it quite well, maybe a hundred yards, 20 paces short of the green. Excellent contact. After an accidental good chip to 15 feet, he two putted for a bogey, and thus began the next phase of his life.
He learned three important lessons that day; 1) it’s quite proper to pee on a golf course; 2) golf provides a quality excuse to escape from your spouse for five hours; and 3) it’s acceptable to ask total strangers you’ve been teamed up with for their phone number to set up a future game. He also learned that as nice a guy as I am, do not ask me to share your five remaining Cresthaven Groupons, free or not.
We did play again at Cresthaven following more instruction and a new 5 wood and sand wedge (my gift for the legal discounts through the years). To my amazement he had improved dramatically, hitting many fine shots, some with good height, which was impressive considering his limited range of motion and flexibility. He loved the new 5 wood and was able to sting them 150 yards fairly consistently.
He got so excited he wanted more. “Could we play a more challenging course? Could I come over for dinner and some backyard pitching? Could we get together for lunch to discuss golf psychology? What about watching the US Open together?”
Frankenstein could not be contained.
In June we played Bathurst Glen twice, a monster for him at 4500 yards. He was very impressed, and by the fourth hole he figured out how frustrated I must have been playing Cresthaven. The one thing I insisted on was that he pick up his pace and not slouch.
“Stop walking like an old man. Golf has to be played in less than four and a half hours,” I admonished.
My control freakish nature aside, he had to understand the etiquette of pace of play, which meant eliminating all his redo’s, lining up putts, and practice swings. Ahhh, the sacrifices for friends. In return I had to honour his request of keeping my distance and look the other way during his shots because I made him nervous.
In a short time David had improved to the point where I thought he would enjoy a bigger test, so I booked a tee time for nine holes at Don Valley. He arrived five minutes late and couldn’t fathom why we lost our tee time.
Another lesson learned. As a lawyer he never had to spar with a judge the way he did with the starter for another starting time. One doesn’t usually win a plea bargain at the Valley.
After playing though, he felt exhilarated. Green rolling fairways, streams, woods, a lake, and tough holes; it was as if he had witnessed the birth of a child. Although the course proved to be too overwhelming for his game, he loved each one of the thirteen holes he walked before retiring to the snack bar. His growing love for the game compelled him to make a commitment to improve, starting with a new set of clubs.
We spent a couple of Golf Town hours for more than just a club fitting. Every aisle was scrolled, each gadget, device, umbrella and shoe closely scrutinized. To him this was Disneyland. I don’t know how much money he spent that day, but with clubs, shirts, pants and shoes, he made fast friends with the store manager. And I was treated to a couple of new golf garments, which I’d otherwise be too cheap to buy.
This past fall I treated David to a round at Cardinal, and with a cart he completed his first full eighteen holes, with many good shots on the record. He was also looking fifteen younger than when we had started out. His game had really improved but he was troubled.
“Is the nature of golf to be forever inconsistent? Even you (me) hit some poor shots from time to time. Why do I have such negative thoughts in my head when I’m about to hit the ball? Why is law so easy and golf so mentally draining? Why do I lay awake at nights worrying about my game? Why is Rory so bad from 125 yards in?” (Can’t believe he knew that stat). He wants to beat the big mouth condo board president in Florida this winter on their par 3 course very badly, can I offer up some advice? Can he break 100 before he dies?
As I was about to address his questions while gulping down my suds at the nineteenth, he intervened by answering his own questions. “Now I know why you and my clients talk golf all the time, and why you love this game. It’s a screwed up game. It’s the most screwed up game there is. It can drive you crazy. Now I understand. And I love it!”
Welcome to the world of golf cousin David. You’ve learned the most important lesson in the game. And in case I had forgotten, you’ve reminded me and those who take it for granted, how awesome golf is.