Mark vs Cancer

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Back Nine

"Golf is a good walk spoiled." --Mark Twain

I think I'd have to disagree with Mr. Twain on this one.

Maybe that's because I usually play golf with my Dad, and we always get carts. Can't spoil a walk when you're riding.

But even when we do walk, and in spite of the fact that I'm a pretty lousy golfer, in spite of the fact that I routinely lose, and in spite of the fact that it costs a lot of money and takes an exorbitant amount of time, I've learned to love golf.

Especially on a day like today, when we had the back nine at Foothills pretty much to ourselves, and the morning sky was flawless blue and the green grass was still dewy wet. Even the fact that I collapsed on the final hole and lost to both my brother and my Dad barely even phased me. I still came home relaxed and smiling.

I owe my love of golf primarily to two men. First, Dr. Dave Smith, a mentor and golfer from my residency in Greeley. "Dr. Foster," he persuasively told me, "Part of becoming a doctor is learning how to play golf, and I'm going to teach you how." Thus, he dragged me to Greeley's handful of courses on many occasions, and under his tutelage, I finally overcame the threshhold of total humiliation that had always precluded me from improving my skills. I've learned that once you get past the point where you can hit at least half of your shots decently and a few shots well, golf starts to get fun.

The other man is my aforementioned Dad. We never golfed until I was done with medical school, but we've golfed a ton over the past six years. I'll admit, he's paid more than his fair share of green fees on my behalf, and my old excuses of "I'm a poor starving resident with young and hungry children," or "I forgot my wallet. Again," no longer apply. (My latest in the age of cell phones is, "I'm running late. Would you pay for me and I'll meet you at the teebox?" This still works pretty well on occasion.) We're both at points in our careers where we can take Friday mornings off, and it doesn't take much persuasion for either of us to meet up at the links. Dad's better than me, but not by too much, and so we always have pretty competitive rounds, with neither of us having a clear advantage.

But as I mellow with age, the competition is no longer the thing for me, at least on the golf course. I enjoy the scenery, the air, the quiet. I enjoy the momentary concentration prior to each shot, the precision required of all my muscles, limbs and breathing acting in unison, and the glory of striking the ball perfectly--as smoothly as slicing soft butter--and watching it sail through the shadows and sky and land within feet of exactly where you were aiming.

Okay, so that doesn't happen very often for me, but when it does, I'm telling you, it's sweet.

The momentary glories of golf don't always obscure its myriad frustrations. Sometimes I still feel like pulverizing some bystanding goose when I skull a chip shot into the lake, or twisting my putter into a knot and chucking it into the bushes when I rim out a five foot gimmee.

But for the most part, I refrain from demonstrative frustrations now. I take a deep breath, look at the surrounding lush foliage, and remind myself that "Hey, this is a game, and it's better than working."

It's a great game, and one I hope to grow old with. I've put my kids in golf lessons early with the semi-selfish hopes that, for at least the next forty years, even when I'm an old, crooked man, we'll be able to play golf together.

I see myself chuckling softly as I sink a putt to ice the round against my middle-aged son, and not minding a bit that he unaccountably forgot his wallet. Again.


Goose said...

The duff chip shot is bad, but the missed 2 foot putt is the worst. I fell like I have finally gotten to the point in my golf game that I don't duff many shots. I have a lot of terrible shots but at least they aren't embarrassing, at least not too embarrassing.
By the way, the last whole was very sweet today, don't you think?

Tankfos said...

I love a good game of golf. The company you play with is the key to an enjoyable game. I haven't been able to play much lately due to the fact that I am a poor student. Do you want to help me out, Dad?

Matthew said...

Golf sucks. Accept it.