I can’t remember when I first became fascinated with hitting the perfect golf shot. It must have been sometime during the summer of 92’. That year, I had bought a set of Taylor Made clubs and began summer break mowing grass and shanking balls.
I remember being on the range of the local par three and positioning my feet to align with the fish bowl-perched at the hundred and fifty yard flag. The thought of a fifty dollar prize, for breaking the bowl, was motivation to continue golfing even though the blister on my thumb had ruptured. The drizzling rain soaked through my socks and my mind was tired. I had not yet realized the devotion the game required. However, I was about to. This day, I had my first lesson with a true golfing spirit, the pro at Boca Real par three, Chipster.
Chipster was late for my first golf lesson. The chain smoking lady at the club house gave me a bucket of balls and told me to wait. So, I went onto the range and shanked every ball with desperation. I had only been playing golf a month. I had struggled. However, I kept at it to please my mother. She got me lessons thinking of my future as an engineer or corporate executive.
“Golf lessons are an investment,” she would say. Thinking back, she was right. Though, I did not become a CEO, the five lessons I had with Chipster paid invaluable dividends. Such that, my social and spiritual growth corrolated directly to my pefecting the eight iron shot.
Half way through the bucket of balls on that miserable day my hands hurt, I was tired, and embarrassed. The drizzling rain compounded my frustration. So, I took a break from my labor and looked up from the divot scarred ground. I moved my eyes towards the club house thinking, is this really worth it?
My brain said, “no.”
My pride said, “yes.”
My heart ached and that’s when I saw Chipster. He walked out of the club house with a casual stride and approached me with confidence, with ease. He was a golfing messiah come to calm the storm.
“Hey Brett, how you doing? I’m Chipster.” He said extending his hand. I shook it with humility. I was exhausted from bad golf and his smile comforted me. In fact, his whole tempermant was loose and relaxed. I suddenly felt at ease the moment we met.
“Hey,” I said hiding my shame. Chipster would soon find out how terrible I was at golf.
“Looks like you’re hitting an eight iron,” Chipster reached for my club.
“Yeah,” I diverted my eyes, placing the worn rubber grip of my iron in his hand.
“Well,” Chipster said searching for nice patch grass. “do you watch much golf?”
“No, not really.”
Chipster silently swung my club in a smooth controlled motion. I watched and dried my hands on my shorts. My fingers ached. I quickly examined the blister on my thumb. It was nice to have a break, and Chipster’s effortless swing gave me inklings of hope.
“Nick Price has the best swing on the tour.” The club head clipped the damp grass. I could see droplets of water rise up from the ground.
“Yeah.” I didn’t know what else to say. I hadn’t followed much professional golf. Though, I had seen old film of Chi-Chi Rodriquez which led me to believe golf was easy.
“Have you stretched?” Chipster asked.
“If you want to play as long as the Golden Bear, you need to stretch!”
“O.K.” I hoped that Chipster would tell me the secret to golf before the fifth lesson.
I bent at the waist and touched my toes. I felt dissatisfied, but as I watched Chipster twist his torso right and left holding my eight iron in both hands, it lightened the mood. So, I continued to warm-up-flexing my hip flexer. I felt anxiety leave my body. I took a deep breath, shut my eyes, and all was quiet. The rain stopped. I looked towards the sky. The sun was peeking through scattered clouds. Summer showers never last long, I thought.
“The rain stopped,” Chipster proclaimed.
I responded with a sarcastic, “Yep!”. Then Chipster handed me my eight iron. I looked at him and could see his eyes smiling. He motioned his head, and I moved to hit the yellow range ball that had fallen out of the plastic bucket. I maneuvered my club into prime striking position and aligned my feet with the fish bowl. Then I slowly exhaled and swung with courage. I heard the club face make contact, and I raised my eyes to watch the yellow ball take a line drive towards the hundred yard flag.
“That was good,” Chipster said, “try another one.”
I lined up another shot. This time I expected to impress Chipster with my power. I swung with all my might. However, I missed the ball completely, took up a big chunk of ground, and an explicative slipped out of my mouth. I tried to hide my shame, but tears formed in my eyes. I was humiliated. There was no hiding it, I was truly awful at golf. I immediately picked up another ball and lined up a third shot. I was wanted to knock it out of the park. I gripped my eight iron tight and blood started to trickle out of my blister. With anger and frustration, I thought to myself, If I don’t make a good golf shot now, I will quit forever.
“Hold it, Brett,” Chipster said relieving the tension. “Step back from the ball and regroup.”
I listened to Chipster and stepped back. I took a deep breathe and my composer returned. I realized how defeated I had become. The game of golf was beating me: the game that Chi Chi played without effort, the game that was the source of Chipster’s calm, the game I so badly wanted to learn. I was at my breaking point and my teacher knew it.
There was a restless silence. Then Chipster spoke in a low voice, “Brett this is your first lesson and the first thing you need to learn is an universal truth of golf… It takes patience to play.”
* * * *
The golf swing is a thing of beauty, an extension of ones self, and an accumulation of muscle memory and analysis. Beyond that, however, it is a feeling. It is common for golfers to talk about the rhythm of their swing and a round of golf must be played at a tempo. A golfer must achieve a mental pulse which is crucial to elite play!
In the summer of 1992 Nick Price won his first major. He held off Nick Faldo at the Bellerive Country Club to win the PGA Championships. Price came from behind in the final round, parring every hole on the front nine, and winning with a pair of birdies on the sixteenth and seventeenth holes. Price had the best swing on the tour and he was a champion. I on the other hand was a “duffer.”
Even after five lessons with Chipster and a summer of toiling at the municipal course, I still didn’t have the feel of the game. The decent golf shots I hit were few and far between. I lost balls out of bounds and in water hazards. However, if anybody ever asked, I was playing bogey golf-which was completely fraudulently. Despite its fabrication, I was not shy to show off my lamented score card which recorded a 45 on the front nine of the city course. Looking back on that summer, I might have been too young and immature to take on the game of golf. However, there was something redeeming amidst the misery and that was Johnny.
It was me and Johnny that summer, and Johnny could make you laugh no matter how many mulligans you took. He could make you laugh when you were teeing off. He could make you laugh after you hooked one over the road. Then Johnny would be laughing hysterically after he persuaded you to take an eight iron shot from some one’s front lawn. Johnny would make you feel good even when you were at your worst, and Johnny would always be up for a game.
We played the entire summer and well into the fall. We ran out of sun on the back nine and lost all our balls. We never really got any better, but even bad golf was fun when you were playing with Johnny. During our school years golf was our common ground. Then when we grew up, Johnny would come from out of town to play best ball in the snow. Eventually, I learned to live my life and hit my short irons. Even a bit of patience came my way, and thanks to Johnny when things got really bad, I knew I could always laugh. God, I hope I never forget how to laugh.
Written by: Brett Wiley