My Relationship With Golf

My grandfather, my father, and all of my father’s brothers belonged to the Derrick Club in Edmonton, Alberta, in the 1960’s.  To me, it was where I took swimming lessons and watched curling matches, and where golf was played.   There was a series of jackets to be won depending on how good you were at hitting the ball and keeping your score as low as possible. I don’t remember the jackets but I remember my grandfather and father competing to see who would get a gold jacket first.  I don’t even know which of them won but I suspect it was my grandfather because he was just a little bit smarter, a little bit better, and a little bit more aggressive than my father ever was or could be.

Before I learned to play golf I got my first job at JF Kennedy Golf Course in Denver, Colorado, where our family had moved in 1968 after selling out of the oil business in Edmonton.  My father was the groundskeeper and I was 14 when I started picking up balls on the driving range and putting them in buckets to sell to the golfers on the weekend.  I earned a small amount for every bucket I assembled. I don’t remember the amount now, but I think it was around 50 cents a bucket.  The golfers would pay for their bucket of balls, practice their swings, and then I would go back out and pick up the balls.  I had a golf cart and a helmet and a long kind of tube made to reach out of the cart and scoop up the balls.  Usually I would pick the balls up after hours, sometimes by hand instead of with the cart.  But if the driving range was popular and we ran out of balls, I would go out in the cart with my helmet, dodging balls, and picking up the ones that had landed.

The next year I graduated to putting golf carts away at the end of every day and filling them with gas for the next day.  I parked carts at both JF Kennedy and Wellshire Golf Courses before I learned to drive a car.  It was the equivalent of my father at 12 learning to drive a tractor long before he was old enough to get a driver’s license.

I am grateful for both of these jobs, my first two paid employment opportunities obtained with connections through my family.   After all this immersion in golf, at age 16 I thought I should learn how to play. My dad was working nights so I signed up for golf lessons in PE at my high school.  The first thing I learned is that it’s very hard as a left-hander to learn golf from a right-hander.  That’s why my father never seemed to have the patience or knowledge of how to teach me to play the game he loved so much.  He got me left-handed clubs and, as it turned out, the instructor at school was left-handed so that worked out okay for me although I never warmed up to it.  Ironically, the other kids in the class who were right-handed had trouble with the left-handed instructor.  Eventually my dad came and helped the right-handed students when he had the time.  It was a win-win situation. By then my dad was a golf pro and teaching golf on weekends.  His scores were consistently under par and he was unhappy if he made par. I remember how happy he was when he beat “The Golden Bear”, Jack Nicklaus, playing in a tournament one time.  Of course my dad had a handicap differential while Nicklaus was a scratch golfer, but it didn’t change the excitement of being able to say my dad beat Jack Nicklaus!

Golf never was my game.  I didn’t continue playing past high school even though the incentives were there.  I’ve never excelled at games where calculating trajectory was key, like pool, golf, or football.  Looking back I think I missed an opportunity to connect with my dad on his terms.  Would we have been closer if I had put more effort and interest into the game he loved, and still loves so much?  My left-handed clubs are still somewhere in my parents’ garage, gathering dust. My father is now 86 years old, and I have never known him to miss a season of playing.

Compassion

Reynisifjara and Reynisdrangar, Iceland. Photo by Martin Falbisioner

Here are three things you can do now to improve the quality of your own life by consciously improving how you interact with other people.

Set a positive example for others. Maybe you do this without even thinking about it, but what if you were to consciously make the decision to set a positive example?  A lot of parenting advice revolves around setting an example for your children and being a model for how you want them to be as they grow up.  But do we follow this advice in our everyday interactions with others?  It’s been proven that kindness rubs off.  Even a smile can brighten the day for someone who is hurting, wrestling with deep issues or problems, or just absorbed in their own “stuff”.

While you may already treat other people with kindness, do you do the same for yourself? It’s important that you treat yourself with kindness.  Accept and love yourself for who you are.  Your view of the world and your place in it will shift significantly if you realize that in the current moment you are doing the best you know how.  Don’t beat yourself up about yesterday or the future. Tell yourself, “in this moment I am doing okay, I am handling this.”  You may find it hard to accept yourself and love yourself if you are dwelling on the mistakes you’ve made, the situation you find yourself in, when the past looks unforgivable and the future looks bleak.    Count your blessings.  What do you have in your life right now that blesses you?  What are you capable of, what are you good at, what blesses you?  Focus on that.

Act with compassion, always. Shift your mental focus to the other person. Act out of pure love.  This is not easy if you are used to thinking about yourself and how something or someone affects you, but if you practice it every time you are interacting with someone, it will start to come naturally.  Think, “how is this person feeling? How is this person reacting to the situation? What can I do or say to help them through it or feel better about themselves?” Then act accordingly.  Not everything that happens in this life or everything said to you is meant to hurt you.  Sometimes the other person is the one hurting and just needs to be heard.

To become more mindful of yourself and your impact on others, to affect other people in a positive way that shows understanding in a world where you would also like to be heard and understood, step back for a moment and practice these three concepts.  At first people may not be able or willing to see the change in you. They may not trust the “new” you or think it’s just a phase.  But if you are consistent and willful in your desire to change how you interact with other people, you will see a shift in how they interact with you and, like a chain reaction, how they treat the other people in their lives.

Compassion
by Miller Williams

Have compassion for everyone you meet,
even if they don’t want it. What seems conceit,
bad manners, or cynicism is always a sign
of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen.
You do not know what wars are going on
down there where the spirit meets the bone.

From The Ways We Touch: Poems. Copyright 1997 by Miller Williams.
Used with permission of the University of Illinois Press.

Unusual Solutions

I’ve never passed a kidney stone but I’ve heard it’s very painful.  A friend of mine once passed one the size of a grain of sand, and in his words, it was the most excruciating pain he had ever felt.   I hope I don’t have to have that experience, but it’s nice to know that recent research has discovered that passing a kidney stone might be a lot faster and less painful if you take a ride on a roller coaster.

I believe it! First you have the long slow climb up to the top of the track, and then the brief hanging seconds when you are anticipating what comes next, and another few seconds when the roller coaster begins to drop, picking up momentum and throwing everyone into a heart-stopping, jaw-clenching scream as you barrel down the track.   If not a heart attack, why not a kidney stone?  According to the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association,  research on kidney stones and roller coasters began after a patient reported passing a stone while riding Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller coaster at Walt Disney World.  The scientists built a 3-D model of a kidney complete with kidney stones and tested their model on both front seat and back seat rides.  Those in the back seat passed nearly 4 times as many stones as those in the front seat.  So, I guess if you have a small kidney stone and want to avoid the stress and cost of surgery, going to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Walt Disney World might be a more fun and less costly option.

What does this have to do with writing?  Have you ever written an article, paper, or story that felt like passing a kidney stone?  So painful you wish you could avoid it, but so inevitable that it’s going to trundle its way through the small narrow path to its final destination?  And doesn’t writing sometimes feel like being on a roller coaster? The long trudge uphill as you fight procrastination and the need to start putting your words on paper, until you finally get to the crest…hit your stride and plummet full force into your writing, forgetting time and space until you reach the end and the car pulls up short, the attendant unlocks the bar, and you stumble a little dizzy into the rest of your day.   The message I take away from this is to keep on writing even though you may feel like your story is being pulled from you like a kidney stone, excruciatingly slowly, because the high you get when you top the hill and find your stride will cause that story to dislodge itself from your inner being onto the page and into the light and there is no better feeling than being able to look at your work in front of you and exclaim, “What a ride!”  The ache inside of you is gone for the time being and the next time you are struggling to get your stories out and heard, it won’t be so painful if you remember to strap yourself into that roller coaster car and hang on for dear life.

Photo courtesy of Brandon Wholey 2004
Photo courtesy of Brandon Wholey 2004