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Growing up with golf

By Bret Matthew

Section: Sports

April 30, 2010

I remember a warm spring day. I walked onto the mat tee—a green square made of beat-up Astroturf—and carefully placed a small white ball onto the rubber tee. About 60 yards ahead of me, a yellow flag with a large number one blew in the wind.

Dad sat on the bench behind me, watching as I approached the ball, club in hand, and centered it in my stance. With a wild windup that almost knocked me off my feet, I took my shot.

The ball bounced off my club at a downward angle and rolled for a few yards until it came to a stop in the tall grass that separated the tee from the hole.

I was 11-years-old, and this was my first time on a real golf course.

Dad and I began playing golf at about the same time. I received my first exposure to the game the summer before sixth grade while participating in lessons offered by the local police. They weren’t actually very good players themselves and probably only played once a weekend, but all they needed to do to get me hooked was give me a club and tell me to swing. Dad didn’t have much more experience, having only played once before with a few co-workers, but he decided to learn when it became clear that I wanted to continue. Before long the two of us had our own clubs—I a shortened, lightweight seven iron and a cheap putter, he a rudimentary set from Wal-Mart.

We started playing at a small course in the neighboring town of Lancaster. Known as “The Links,” the course at Lancaster Golf Center did not contain a hole longer than about 100 yards, and most were between 60 and 80. Though you could still play real golf on it, the length gave young players like myself a fair chance.

But it was still frustrating. Being far younger and much less coordinated than Dad, it took me longer to learn the precise swing mechanics that are necessary to hit long, accurate shots. While I watched him work on his shot consistency, I was struggling just to hit my ball in the air. At times (most of the time, in fact) I let my short temper get the best of me as I tried to figure out what I was doing wrong.

While it must not have always been pleasant to deal with my behavior, Dad still took me to play almost every weekend. We found new, longer courses for us to learn on, sometimes driving an hour or more just to find a good one. After more rounds, more lessons and countless hours in the front yard working on my swing, I was able to hit far enough so that I could play on a real, full-length course. We moved to Twin Springs, a nearby course that contained some of the longest holes I had yet to play.

We both improved, I perhaps quicker than he, but only because I had more ground to gain. I acquired more clubs and learned about the situations in which to use them.

I could drive a first shot more than 200 yards down the fairway, stick a high approach shot on the green, and then putt across its smooth, curved surface. Soon our scores became closer and we (or at least I) became more competitive. I even managed to beat him a few times.

To Dad’s relief, as I got better I learned the most important skill golf ever taught me: how to calm down and accept bad games without losing my temper. It helped my game tremendously. I was able to join my high school’s golf team and move on to competitive play.

Armed with a full set of clubs and plenty of experience, I played some of the best rounds of my life, against teams from all over Central Massachusetts. It required a lot of practice, but I played Twin Springs to death during our off-season, so much that my coach took notice and let me start in more matches.

Meanwhile, while Dad was proud of my progress, his was starting to lag. He had begun to notice a pain in his shoulder that wouldn’t go away when he moved it the wrong way. It turned out to be a torn rotator cuff. At first, he tried to ignore it, playing and wincing at the same time. But eventually he found himself having to stop in the middle of a round when swinging a club became too difficult.

He slowly became a spectator. When my team played home matches Dad would sometimes sit outside the clubhouse with binoculars, waiting for me to finish the last hole. He was watching the day I hit the longest drive of my life, a perfect, down-the-middle shot on Twin Springs’ ninth hole that we talked about for hours afterward.

I haven’t played much golf since high school—surprising, I know. I gave it up when my schedule became too busy for me to find the time, and when friends began to lose interest in playing.

But I think springtime has done something to me. Or maybe it’s uncontrollable nostalgia. I have a growing urge now to go into my garage, pull down Dad’s dusty set of clubs from the perch where it hangs.

I wonder if I can still hit the way I used to. I wonder if Dad would like to come along and find out.

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