The Game of Life

Golf, to most, a bore to watch, to play, and to even hear about in general conversation. People spend hours on end hitting a ball and chasing it around for several hours only to get sunburned, drunk, and ultimately frustrated at themselves, their clubs, and their playing partners who either cheat, hustle, or elaborate their scores beyond recognition.

But, the few people in the world who actually see the game of golf more than just a game see it as an art form that can only be experienced when you actually truly love the game.

Like the majority, I hated golf when I was younger. I wanted to play baseball. I wanted to play for the Texas Rangers. I could care less about the game of golf. My dad encouraged me to go play with him, but I didn’t want to go play because it was boring. My mind needed constant stimulation and golf didn’t provide that to keep my mind from rotting. Never got into it, but my dad would just go on and play with all of his friends and coworkers hoping that one day I’d get into the game.

As I got older, my dreams of playing in the majors faded and were replaced by playing for the Dallas Cowboys in the fall, the Dallas Mavericks in the winter, and being a kid in a small town between times. My dad still encouraged me to play the game of golf, but I never got into it. He didn’t play much anymore, but I’d hit a bucket of balls with him every now and then when he’d have some free time. He showed me a basic swing, grip, and alignment just so I could at least look like I knew what I was doing. That was about as much golf as he got unless someone called him to go play one afternoon, which wasn’t that often.

One day my classmates and I were all talking in our eighth grade math class and one casually mentioned golf and one by one my friends said that they’d love to go play golf sometime. I believe at that moment, I wanted to play golf. All my friends were going to go play, why not me? I came home, told my parents that some of my friends were going to go play a round this weekend and I can remember the look on my dad’s face when I told him. It was a sense of excitement, joy, happiness, and all positive words of contentment rolled into one facial expression. His voice was perky and shaking with merriment as if he’d won the lottery. He went into the attic and pulled out some of his old clubs and a bag and cleaned off the years of dust and age. He was frantic in gathering balls and tees and head covers as if someone gave him a shot of adrenaline. At the time I didn’t realize the magnitude of the situation and thought that he was acting silly.

Our first round of golf was terrible. There were 4 or 5 of us trying to play the game that we really had no idea how to play, slowing up people up who actually had something to play for. We lost balls, clubs, and almost killed each other on more than one occasion with an errant shot, thrown club, or bare knuckle fists being thrown at one another when one person would call another a liar about the score on the hole. At the end of the day though after the dust had settled, we’d all just laughed it off, making fun of one another for bad shots and scores that we all had as we waited for our parents to pick us up from the course. It was a good day.

We started to make it a regular habit after school we’d all go home and beg our parents to take us out to course and play. They’d cave and we’d all meet up and play as long as the sun would allow it. We’d hit range balls and all progressively got better and had little charms about our games that we all developed. One could putt really well, one had a descent short game, mine was that I could hit it a long way off the tee. I could even hit it straight. The rest of my game was crappy, but in the eyes of an eighth grader, hitting it long and straight was like nothing you’d ever believe.

One day my dad shows up one day while we’re all out there and asks if he can join us. Of course we couldn’t say no, so we invite him in to play. He was like nothing we’d ever seen before. He could hit it straight and far, he could chip and putt, he was everything we weren’t and we were in total shock and awe from the severe beating we took from him.

Later that night, he told me that I needed some help on my game. He said that I have a lot of potential and just needed some help on the details of my game. Slowly, but surely, I got a little better each time that I played. I’d learn a new tip, a new shot, and a new situation with every round that I played and range ball that I hit. I eventually stopped playing football and basketball so that I could focus my time on my game. That’s what I wanted to do now.

As I got into high school, my dad and I went out on the range and chipping green and kept doing the same thing over and over. I started playing in more competitive tournaments and I would get rattled. I wasn’t used to it. I was playing guys that were a lot older and better than me. It frustrated me that I wasn’t getting better. I just kept hearing my dad say, “One day it will click. Just keep grinding.” That day kept never coming tournament after tournament. I saw my dad shake his head in discontent after a bad shot so many times that I thought I was disappointing him. I couldn’t tell you how many times I wanted to quit and give up the game that had taken up so many hours of my life and time, but I just kept thinking of that one day were it all falls into place. It was hard, but I kept going.

My senior year of high school was a memorable one. I was consistently shooting in the mid-80s, and I made it to the regional tournament as an individual. Every day after school after school I’d drive myself out to the course and hit a bucket of balls and practice my short game. As the tournament drew near, I grew more and more nervous. I couldn’t eat. I lost sleep. It was tearing me up inside of how big this moment was in my life and my game.

The morning of the first round, I was shaking. My mouth was dry. My palms were sweaty. I didn’t hit a descent shot on the range nor on the practice green. Here was my big moment and I was about to embarrass not only myself, but my school and ultimately my name and my father. I felt sick, but the last thing my dad told me was “No matter how you play today, I’m proud of you and have always been proud of you working so hard to get here. I’m glad that I’ve got to spend all this time with you playing the game just like me and my dad did. No need to be nervous. Just play your game.”

All of a sudden, I had a sense of relief. My dad was never disappointed in me. All those things that we did together wasn’t about me getting better at golf, it was about us being together, father and son sharing a game that can be passed down through the generations. I finally got what golf was about. It’s more than a game of teeing a ball up, hitting, and chasing it around for hours, it was about being with a good friend, having fun, and living in the moment.

I looked at him, gave him a hug, and said “I’ll see you at 18.”

April 22, 2008, I played the best round of my life at Raven’s Nest in Huntsville, Texas. I hit long straight drives, crisp irons, and rolled the ball as pure as I ever have. On hole eighteen, I two putted for a final score of 76. It was the day that everything came together. The bear hug that followed from my dad was the cherry on top.

The second round wasn’t as glamorous. I shot an 82 and ended up missing the cut to go to the state tournament by 10 shots. I was disappointed, but if you were to look at my dad, you would have thought I just beat Jack Nicklaus in a playoff for the green jacket. He had a tear in his eye and a crack in voice when he told me that he was proud. I wasn’t disappointed anymore.

Since that day, I’ve played many rounds with different people from all over the state, country and world, but the one person that I really enjoy playing golf with is my dad. We’ve been all over playing the game and being in each other’s company. There’s always a teaching point that we both can learn from each other during the round and he always makes a point to tell me. “You can learn a lot about life from the game of golf,” Dad always says to me, “no shot, lie, or situation is the same. It’s true just like in life. No day or moment is ever the same. Live in it and enjoy it.” Golf has taught me a lot about life and who I am as a person, all the things a father teaches his son.

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