After the father’s teaching had given me a modicum of backyard golfing proficiency, the brother and I often joined the parents on the golf course—a family foursome. I did not have a full set of clubs, but I got some pleasure in playing, mostly in seeing how far I could hit a drive. Soon, however, I got the stage where I was as good as I was going to get from merely playing. If I wanted to eliminate some of the frustrations from golf, I was going to have to practice, and not just drives. I was going to have to work on all those components of the game that require “touch”–pitching and chipping and putting. I tried this practicing bit for a while, but I hated it. I was willing to practice other games. I could shag flyball countless times a day, day after day; I could spend hours skating around a rink. I could practice those activities, but golf? No.
Golf was just not active enough. I wanted to be running and jumping and sweating. I loved coming home at the end of a day, stripping off clothes, and finding my ankles caked in that special red dirt of the baseball infield. I liked hitting a baseball hard and then running to first or beyond. Hitting a golf ball solidly and then walking up to it was not the same.
And perhaps there was something more. I played golf only with the parents and the brother. Nothing wrong with that, but I was not a very social kid. My interactions with others my age outside of school were on playing fields, courts, or rinks. I wasn’t aware of missing that when I was playing golf, but perhaps I did. So, at adolescence, I stopped playing golf.
I understand why I stopped, but sometimes I regret it. I regretted it when I returned to golf forty years later. Starting the game again when I was fifty-five assured that I would not be very good at it. (At least that is the explanation I give myself for my lack of skill.) But I still remember much of what the father said about the game and what he tried to teach me. A half-century later, what he tried to impart is still correct. (I absorbed some, but not all, of his golf clothing style. He never owned, nor would he have worn, any of those ridiculous pants and belts many men wore playing golf. I follow him in this, but he never wore shorts on the golf course or anywhere else, even when he lived in Florida. I am fairly confident that in his circles he was not an outlier in eschewing shorts. I don’t remember seeing any of his working-class contemporaries in shorts. I am not sure when growing up that men of his age higher on the economic scale wore them. I don’t remember seeing adult male knees as a Midwestern kid, but I do remember being a bit surprised at seeing bare calves on grown men when I arrived at my eastern college. I, on the other hand, wear shorts playing golf, generally limiting myself to boring solid colors. I wear shorts on many other occasions as well. On a recent trip to Machu Picchu, I was the only man on the van in shorts. One of my new friends said that he had been to an outing where Tim Allen talked. Allen had said that no man over forty should wear shorts. The new friend said this as if he were imparting some useful lesson to me. I thought that Tim Allen had said many silly things in his life. But I digress.)
I also regret having given up the game because I, without thinking about it, was giving up the activity that I might have continued doing with the father. I have now learned that sometimes you can learn a lot about someone when you play golf together. Perhaps if I had played golf with him when I was an adult, I would have learned more about him and he would have learned more about me. At least, maybe, I would have learned how he had learned to play the game.