Gunga Galunga -or- Failure on the Back 9

This is the story of how I came to fail at golf.

In the spirit of fairness–let’s keep in this athletic theme and call it good sportsmanship–I’ll confess that I am not an athletic person. As a kid, I was an uncoordinated nightmare. I ran into and tripped over everything: doorknobs, chairs, bedposts, book bags, and even the dog from time to time. I couldn’t dance (that’s another story). Couldn’t run. Couldn’t catch or throw a ball. My eye-hand coordination was excellent, but its application was limited to marathon games of Tetris and that weird little ball-bounce game you played on old computers. I tripped at jump rope, hated football, and swam in crooked lines.

My parents never pushed me into a sport. I played H.O.R.S.E. with the neighborhood kids and enjoyed sweat-bursting games of hide-and-go-seek tag. I wasn’t sedentary, but I was also that cool kid who argued that school plays and Accelerated Reader were my sports. I was a real package after you added in the headgear I got stuck with in 7th grade.

Image: HitFix

One day, inspired by some divine intervention that I will never understand, my dad decided that I should take up golf. My parents played on weekends, my sister was on the high school team, and my brother was dragging around a kid’s set with decent agility. Dad figured that I could handle it. After all, the balls didn’t come flying towards me, I wouldn’t immediately affect (read: hinder) another player’s performance, and it wasn’t high stress.

I considered the suggestion. Many of my friends played as part of a clinic on weekends; they were actually good and had their own clubs, and I’d always see them eating lunch together when I showed up to the club for an afternoon swim. I would join them from time to time, but I always felt left out of the loop since my swimsuit was showing through my oversized t-shirt while their collared shirts were still dewy with the morning’s exertion.

I gave in and said I’d give it a try. Dad clapped his hands and declared that lessons would start on Saturday.

The golf pro was nice. Like most in his trade, he was trim and nicely tanned, and from the looks of his gloves he’d held a lot of drivers. I shook his hand, and Dad waved goodbye as Nicely Tanned Pro led me down to the driving range.

“We’re gonna hit it as far as we can,” he said, pouring some balls onto the Astroturf and looking out at the pins on the distant green. “Just to see your form.”

“Form?” I thought. I laughed anxiously, but Nicely Tanned Pro just took a seat and asked me to hit the ball.

“Bend your knees.”

Okay.

“Line up your heels.”

Doable.

“Choke down on the ball.”

What?

“Now take a strong swing back, and we’ll see what you’ve got.”

I was hearing what he was saying, but I was also having scarlet-colored flashbacks to a viivd incident in my neighbor’s yard. I was five years old, and little Michael was playing with his dad’s driver. He took a swing, thinking I was out of the way, and the next thing I knew I was at the emergency room getting stitches in my head while Mom promised me a donut if I’d stop crying.

I decided it was best to get rid of those thoughts. I tried to think of myself as one of the awesome female golfers on TV, the ones with cute ponytails and ironed shorts who look so poised and confident as the ball sails overhead. The notion was calming, so I attempted to choke the club and kept my eye on the ball.

I took my swing, looking up into the sky with that dramatic sense of expectation, only to realize I’d skipped the ball off the tee to land about fifteen feet in front of me.

I reached out to get it, but Nicely Tanned Pro sprang to his feet. “No, no! Can’t walk in front of other players in the range.”

Most of the so-called “players” were talking amongst themselves and leaning on their clubs like Mr. Peanut, but I played along. If Nicely Tanned Pro wanted to pretend this was serious business, I’d be game. Unfortunately, it all went downhill from there. He took a decent stab at trying to show me how to hold the club, placing my hands on top of each other and telling me to hold it like a baseball bat (I nodded as if that made sense). He watched me hit five balls, but by then I was dripping in sweat from the sheer fact that I felt like everyone there was watching me.

After ten minutes, I realized Nicely Tanned Pro had stopped caring, pausing only to offer clichéd votes of confidence and reminders to line up my heels. I could have treated the clubs like Lincoln Logs and built a fort, using the driver sleeve as a flag in the wind, and I doubt he would have even noticed.

I finally met Dad at the pro shop, dragging Mom’s clubs behind me and stepping out of my sneakers.

“How’d it go?” he asked, bursting with fatherly pride.

“I’m not golfing anymore,” I said, shoving my feet back into sandals and scowling into the sun. “Can I have some chicken fingers and a Diet Coke?”

And Dad, realizing his defeat but hopefully congratulating himself for at least giving it a try, sighed and handed me a five.

A few months ago, Charles came home with two fancy bags of golf clubs.

“I thought this was something we could do together!” he chimed. I looked at them dubiously, remembering the Nicely Tanned Pro and the incident with the stitches. “Want to go to the driving range?”

I considered the offer.

“Can we get chicken fingers afterwards?”

“Sure.”

“I’ll give it a try, then.”

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