On Writing

"Every fine story must leave in the mind of the sensitive reader an intangible residuum of pleasure, a cadence, a quality of voice that is exclusively the writer's own, individual, unique."
Willa Cather

Monday, August 10, 2015

Why I Never Became a Golfer Like My Siblings

My immediate family could be called athletically inclined:  During my parents’ early years they both played on their high school basketball teams, and although my mother gave up team sports when she started a family, she walked regularly and managed to play a fast game of softball in her eighties.  Dad was on several teams sponsored by the company where he worked; he had workouts with friends at handball; and eventually in his middle years to the end of his life, he bowled on a team.
Bette and Jeanne
            But on to golf.  My two brothers and my sister have always enjoyed the game, playing until ill health forced the two older ones to give it up.  So during the summer of my senior year in high school when I heard that the City of Des Moines was offering free golf to those under the age of eighteen, I thought it would be a kick to practice during the summer and then join the girls golf team in the fall.  I needed to have a confederate join me and managed to talk my friend Bette into the plan.  My dear accommodating father would drive us several times a week to Grandview Park Golf Course, meeting the further requirement of arriving to play before 6:00 A.M.  Bette’s mother would pick us up in time to get to our summer jobs by 8:00.  It seems a crazy plan in retrospect, and as it turned out, it was not only crazy but ended up disastrously, though not involving life or limb.
            Golf clubs were no problem, a few rejects supplied by my sister and a old, lightweight bag donated by my brother.  These two sibs were twelve and ten years my senior, respectively, so they should have had much advice for me, though neither one offered personalized instruction on the golf course, which might have made a difference—or maybe not!  Bette and I happily shared the clubs and set off around the course on our first golf outing.  It became clear very quickly that Bette had a talent for the game, maybe for athletics in general, that I didn’t share.  Her swing seemed natural and gave the promise of long drives, while mine gave me trouble in hitting the ball.
            Then my putting was equally disappointing.  I couldn’t believe how difficult it was to judge distance in getting the ball into the cup.  We didn’t keep score, but it became evident that my strokes were considerably more than Bette’s.  Nonetheless, I decided and Bette agreed to sign up for the team when school started.  A physical was required to make it official, and in my usual efficient way, I got that taken care of promptly with Dr. Hansen (See post October 3, 2013 "The Good Doctor").  Bette had not done so when our sponsor (not a coach), Mr. Schakel, told us the team was scheduled to play in the All City Tournament almost immediately.  So Bette was out of the play and I was in, though I had not ever once played with my fellow teammates.
            Mr. Schakel, a history teacher, was also inexperienced, and didn’t realize that the lineup he submitted to the tournament director was to start with the top player and go down the list in expertise from there.  With that reckoning, I would have been on the bottom where I belonged.  As it happened, he put my name first.  In fact, when we all were at Hole One that day after school at the city golf course (an entirely new one to me), we were told that we couldn’t re-hit a topped ball in teeing off, but had to play it as it lay.  Then I got the horrible news, that I was the first one to tee off, and that my teammates were last year’s city champion, and two runners-up!  Mr. Schakel, embarrassed, explained his error and I crumpled inside.
            This was when I should have begged off, but I gamely carried on, even in the presence of scores of people, including reporters from the Des Moines Register and Tribune, I swung and topped the ball, and automatically tried to pick it up for another try.  Of course, I was halted by the loud speaker to desist and play it where it lay.  That was the beginning of the nightmare, lived in full color with no hope of my waking up.  I can’t recall with certainty, but I expect there were at least eight or ten foursomes, all of whom played through us because of me.  My score swelled to a huge number. and my teammates grew more and more angry.  I couldn’t blame them, but I didn’t know what to do except keep on playing.  I remember chatting with our caddies who were from the boys golf teams.  One got my name and number and later called me for a date. Why, I have wondered many times since, didn’t someone suggest I bow out early when it became obvious I didn’t have a clue as to the techniques of the game, nor any real ability besides? 
            The sun was setting when we had to stop playing because of visibility.  We had not gotten beyond the seventh hole, disqualifying the ex-champs.  They couldn’t escape from me fast enough.  The drive home in Mr. Schakel’s car was eerily quiet until he said to me, “I felt so sorry for you.  Will you forgive me?”  I must have muttered something semi-gracious.  Then he asked if he might smoke, saying his nerves were shattered.  I wouldn’t have minded one myself.   It may come as no surprise to hear that not only did I abandon the golf team, but also I never, with no regrets, played another game of golf.