The golf bug never embedded itself beneath my skin, but things were different with my father. The sport monopolized his free time: he played golf, read about golf, watched televised golf, and even used a golf club when gesticulating or making a point.
Golf Digest and other publications devoted to the game were found in every room of our house, and white and orange Pinnacles were seemingly hidden like Easter eggs under couches and coffee tables.
Dad religiously used the den’s carpet as his practice green and would rudely block the television from others in the room as he addressed and then tapped golf balls towards a makeshift cup.
Dad tried his best to have me follow in his spiked footsteps when he and my mother bought me a set of clubs for my 12th birthday. I got into the game, but not with the same fervor which he possessed. I smacked buckets of balls at the driving range and shot rounds at the Par 3 course with my friends in the summer.
My swing was fluid and my short game was fair, but nobody was going to measure me for a green jacket. I quickly realized that I was a happy “hit two good shots for each hook” kind of hacker and had no qualms with that laidback attitude. I dug just being out there on a sunny day, walking up an appetite for a burger on the 19th hole.
Some afternoons, Dad and I grabbed some irons and fistfuls of range balls and headed across the street to the schoolyard to practice chips under the dying sun. We took turns hitting balls towards an imaginary green near the soccer goalpost.
We swung, critiqued, and then retrieved our shots until one of my sisters yelled that supper was ready. Dad and I walked home and in between puffs from his cigar, he lectured me about the importance of keeping my head still and we chatted about how I should change my grip.
I humbly nodded like a golfing Siddhartha and watched Dad use his wedge like a professor’s pointer Though usually impatient with everything else, he was surprisingly broad minded with his golfing tutorial. I heeded his advice not only because of the unusual tone he took, but because he was passionate and he was good- very good- and modest about it.
Those are the best teachers.
By the time I was 14, church in the summer was replaced with the worship of a new and dimpled God as I frequently filled out a foursome which played at Sunken Meadow State Park.
Those dewey Sunday morning rides were placid with Dad’s tobacco smoke mingling with the low volume of the oldies station. As our brown station wagon hummed through the dark and deserted streets, I sleepily looked out of the passenger side window and saw the street lights dim and our neighbors’ timed sprinklers begin their shifts.
Sudden rattles of the clubs in the backseat halted any last ditch effort to catch some zzz’s.
We met the other half of our quartet — my uncle Guy and my dad’s friend Mr. Hanley — in the parking lot lacing up spikes and velcroing gloves. After a round of handshakes, we saddled our bags to our carts and headed up to the dimly lit clubhouse like four horsemen.
We got a number from the starter and then killed time with cardboard cups of coffee and sandy-eyed conversation as the purple sky morphed into a robin’s egg blue.
The most daunting part of my round was teeing off on the first hole because addressing the ball between the markers put me in an uncomfortable spotlight. A hushed gaggle of middle-aged and white-collared bankers and businessmen waited and watched as I planted my Chuck Taylors, bent my knees, and visualized my swing.
“Fore” was always ready to spring from my lips as I mumbled the mantras Dad bestowed upon me: “Keep your head still,” “Keep your left arm straight,” “Grip the club firmly, yet gently.”
My opening drive was always a crap shoot and the pit of my stomach harbored the fear of hooking wickedly and ricocheting off ball washers and fence posts which were perpendicular to me.
But for every shot which took a bath, decapitated a worm, or punched an oak, there were two or three lofty beauties which were hit on the sweet spot, rocketed off with arrow-like accuracy, sailed through the bluing skies, and landed ideally in an ocean of crisp green fairway somewhere where I had envisioned.
My game was a hodge-podge of shots and these hooks and drives of my teenage golf round were metaphoric of my adolescence. There were times spent in the rough, days when my game was on par, and instances when I needed to take a mulligan.
It wasn’t the gems that made my day; it was the camaraderie I felt and the congratulatory comments from my fellow golfers. I was a student of the game in the schoolyard across from our house, but I was a peer and a competitor out on the fairway.
The flag was pulled for me and my fellow three golfers stood silently as I lined up my putt on the green. My score was penciled in on the card next to theirs. Once when I was 16, I parred back to back holes and much to Dad’s chagrin, was awarded honors on the subsequent hole. “Nice putt,” he commented through clenched teeth while he busied himself with his golf bag.
Golf, just like life, takes preparation, patience, and passion. I realized that if I took my time and thought about my approach, I’d have much better results. I learned to be tolerant because some days it rained, other days the holes were backed up, and sometimes I needed to work out the kinks of my swing.
Watching Dad’s attitude toward golfing cemented the fact that being passionate about something brought a person to another level.
While my enthusiasm for golf fluctuated between hot and tepid during my teen years, I now realize that the time I spent with Dad on the course was really a course in life. The observations from the fairway and tips I acquired during the front nine of my life helped me get into the swing of things to come.
Matt Kindelmann is a self-described “olde-soul day-tripper” who writes religiously, travels frequently, and brushes daily. He has taught English for the past 12 years and is presently working on a memoir about teaching and living in Brooklyn during the 1990s.