A break from all of the hustle, all of the chaos, all of the different directions I have been pulled this entire week/month/life, a break from everything. Today I’m taking a break for myself, lacing up a pair of fancy shoes, and I’m going to drive around a golf course for three and-a-half hours. In fact that’s actually where I’m at this very moment, staring down a hole in the ground and debating in my head how much the ball is going to break on this next putt.
Everyone has their own form of therapeutic stress relief. For some guys it means taking a protein shake and maxing out their bench press. For most women it’s binge-eating bags of Kit-Kats meanwhile shopping for 27 different pairs of shoes. For me, and I never thought I would say this in my entire adult life, it has now become putting on a polo and seeing how far I can smack a golf ball down the middle of a giant fairway.
Now I’m really not the best golfer. In fact, my hand-me-down clubs were gifted to me from my Great-Grandpa Ralph who in his own words was “one helluva golfer”. I’m talking about a wrinkled, blind, toothless 96-year old man who L-worded golf more than he L-worded his own life. This is a man who when he was 90, accidentally got his hand stuck underneath a lawn mower and chopped off the middle and ring finger from his right hand, and the first question he asked the Doctor in the E.R. while holding his bloody stump was “How is this going to effect my golf swing?”
Dr: “Um, I’m not sure how to tell you this, but we’re going to have to just remove your two damaged fingers, basically making it so you’ll be permanently flashing ‘I Love You’ in sign language to the general public. Golf is pretty much out of the question.”
If I remember the story correctly, I think at that point Ralph spit his dentures off the doctor’s forehead and went out and won a long-distance drive contest the next day.
One of the best things about golf is it gives you plenty of time to yourself. Time where you can tune out the rest of the world and just think about the bigger pictures you probably should be focusing on anyway. You’re isolated. Alone. Detached from anyone else, and oftentimes the only person out there swinging a club. In fact, that’s how it is right now. I haven’t seen another face on this course in over two hours. I could play these last three holes naked if I wanted and not a soul would know about it.
The only problem with being alone though is that you are many times your worst enemy, and you beat yourself up over every tiny mistake you make. Ralph tried to teach me to get over my blunders and just play more focused. “If you think about your screw up on the last hole, how the hell are ya gonna do anything good on the next one?” he once told me. I wasn’t sure if we were talking literally about the sport of golf, or metaphorically about our grand perspective on life. Either way, Ralph sounded like an intellectual genius.
This last hole isn’t my favorite. There’s a water hazard on the right, a pretty narrow fairway, and the green isn’t very big. But somehow I’m able to get the ball close to the pin and will be putting for par to end the night. I’m no championship golfer by any means. Not like Ralph anyway. That guy had his living room stocked with amateur trophies he won all throughout the depression, and would tell me the story over and over again about when he won a tournament that had all the Pros coming in second. For me to land a long pitch on the green of one his favorite courses, that’s about as close to a Championship I’m ever going to get.
I raise my club into the air as my 15-foot putt drops into the 18th hole meanwhile the sun dips below the mountain behind me. I don’t think you can paint a more poetic ending. With a shot like that I’ll go ahead and tip my hat to the man who signed his last scorecard earlier this week. A man who found God only two months before he took his last breath. A man whose funeral I couldn’t make it to this morning, and so instead I thought I would dedicate a round of golf in his memory. I’m sure he was smiling as he saw that last putt fall in the hole.
Nights like this make me understand why he would call this “one helluva game”.