I played golf yesterday for the first time in over seven years. It was my Dad’s love and I’ve avoided the sport at all costs since his death. Besides being completely horrible at the game, the thought of four hours on a majestic course being flooded with memories was overwhelming. But my boss made me play.
The tournament was a benefit my company was sponsoring to raise money for a scholarship program to provide educational opportunities for children of wounded warriors. I was perfectly comfortable working the registration table, driving the beer cart – even picking trash from the course at the end of the day – I was given no choice: get some clubs and play.
My own clubs went in the garbage months after Dad died. While they weren’t good clubs, in hindsight, I realize it was probably not the most responsible way to handle grief. But they were just too painful of a reminder of my hero. So one day, when we were cleaning out the basement, I grabbed the bag and chucked the whole thing into a rental dumpster we had for the weekend. Clubs, shoes, dozens of balls and lord knows what else all went away forever. The sadness did not.
Fast forward to yesterday. I lay in bed late Sunday night listening to the rain coming down in sheets. “Good,” I thought to myself, “this ought to cancel the tournament.” There is no way they will play in a thunderstorm, so I rolled over and tried to sleep away my anxiety. It was a restless night and sleep did not come. Golf, however, did.
I drove on Monday morning to the course at Andrews Air Force Base. Despite the angry grey clouds – which matched my mood perfectly – the turnout was amazing and we set off for a nice afternoon of play. I went to the pro shop to rent clubs. I skipped the practice range and the putting green; I figured there was no hope for me and decided playing “cold” was as good as it was going to get.
My foursome was a client and his guest and an industry colleague I knew well; the latter was an ace golfer who takes the game very seriously. I jokingly apologized to him for his misfortune with me as a partner and tried to use humor to mask my fear of playing for the first time in so long. Thankfully, it was a best ball tournament and we only needed to take one shot from each player to meet the tournament rules.
My game was what I expected it to be. My first tee shot stayed on the tee and I missed more putts than I care to admit. But somewhere along the way, I came face to face with some old memories and found myself enjoying the day and the game again. The weather was horrible. The tournament was stopped once for lightening and many players left the course and never returned to finish. We spent a good 30 minutes at one point waiting out a gully-washer under a massive Oak tree. There were more “instant” water hazards in the fairways and on the greens than I’ve ever seen. But we did get all 18 holes completed.
I even got really lucky and somehow pulled off winning the longest drive contest for the ladies. I know that came with a little help from my golfer angel; as I stepped up to the red markers, I whispered a little, “Ok, Pop, this one’s for you,” prayer and the ball dropped about two inches past the marker of the previous best shot. Isn’t that amazing?
But the absolutely best part of the day came at the dinner, when the prayer was made before the meal. I did not know the person was who was asked to give thanks for our special guests or our meal. I know the words she spoke were not intended for my struggles, but for those of the many wounded warrior guests in attendance, but they spoke directly to my heart.
She likened the game of golf to the struggles we face in life, trying to get from pin to cup, facing obstacles and challenges along the way. How we must figure out how to overcome the hazards and unexpected obstructions that obscure our path and cause us to not meet our goal in the way we have planned. She reminded us that we have opportunity to sit and enjoy nature, enjoy quiet conversation with strangers when we least expect it. That we don’t always get the shot we want, but with practice and dedication, we can turn the unexpected places we end up into new vantage points from which to launch the next phase our game.
Yes, for as much as I dreaded facing an old memory yesterday, it was quite nice. Despite the wind and the rain, the humiliation of how horrible of a golfer I am, I had a nice day. My partner and I shared some great “Dad” golf stories (he just lost his Father a few months ago), I faced a lion of fear and I actually enjoyed the game. While I don’t think I’ll be rushing out to replace my clubs just yet, I might not fight so hard next time I’m asked to play.