By Jim Wilson
It had been one of those weeks. Several bad calls, some equipment failures, a patient complaint, and a critical medication shortage had all led to my now wanting to get a round in; I needed to get a round in. Big difference. The weekend could not come soon enough.
By Friday afternoon I was already in play mode. A quick check of the weather and I proceeded to go online to make my tee time. I had already called my normal foursome and none of them were available but there was no way I was going to miss out. The weather was supposed to be incredible, the rates are low this time of year here in Florida, and I was determined to marathon it at least one of my two days off.
We’ve all been in this situation. You don’t like the idea of arriving at a course that is crowded alone but at the same time you need the time on the course. Sure, I could head to the range and hit a few which would be sort of relaxing. But it isn’t the same as actually playing. Nothing is.
I arrived at the course a little over an hour before my scheduled tee time. At the tender age of 51 there is no way I can just hit the first tee without stretching and warming up. I might be able to get away with doing it once but odds are I would pay for it afterward. So, after paying for my round and a large bucket of balls, I headed over to the range.
Approaching the range there is this indescribable anticipation. The outcome in golf depends on a lot of factors. Some we can control and many we cannot. For amateurs repeating a consistent swing is sort of like buying a lottery ticket. You just never what to expect from your swing. When I was younger I somehow convinced myself that when I got older I would somehow magically have a more consistent swing. Now that I am older I look enviously at the younger players who are limber enough to have a more consistent swing. But no matter, it is still golf afterall and even bad golf is better than no golf at all.
As I was warming up the starter came over and pointed to three other gentlemen who I would be joining. I recognized two of them and had played with them before. The other young man was not familiar to me. The three of them were already chatting it up and getting to know one-another and so I decided that I too should amble on over and make some introductions. As I walked toward them I could see that the younger man, whom I had never seen before, was playing with a bit of a unique swing centered on using his one remaining arm. He didn’t hit it far but he hit it straight. And most important he managed to make consistent contact.
I walked up and said hello to all three and we shook hands. Were it not for how Jack handled himself and accepted his injury this would have been a really awkward moment for both of us. I wear a glove on my left hand and, because Jack only had one hand – his right, I quickly worked to remove my glove to shake his. He smiled and said that I “could leave it on as long as it isn’t all wet.” It was this kind of outlook and temperament that really made this round a special one.
The starter called our group to the first and we were off. I had placed my stuff into the cart with Jack and he actually asked me to drive.
“I can’t signal for left turns, ya’ know,” he said.
The entire round Jack actually made all three of us feel comfortable about just being around him. We are all, afterall, guilty of sometimes looking away. The woman disfigured by burn injuries. The man in the wheelchair. The homeless man on the corner. It is sort of human nature to try to avoid making those who in our own measure are less fortunate feel uncomfortable. Which is the irony of this sort of situation because we probably are making them feel exactly as we don’t intend. Not that we do it out of malice but the act of looking away prevents us from staring and I guess that somehow we convince ourselves that looking away is the lesser of the evils.
But this day of golf with Jack was far different. As opposed to feeling a need to look away one could not help but watch in wonder as this man accepted the challenge of playing an extremely difficult game with a physical disability. Part of the wonder of it all was his incredible attitude. It did not matter if he ball went into a hazard. And it didn’t matter that we were outdriving him by 100 yards or more. All that mattered was that it was a beautiful day and we were playing golf.
Near the end of the back nine I finally had to ask Jack about his arm. Turns out it was something rare that caused the doctors to opt to amputate. A rare form of bone cancer had left them with little choice.
“It was my arm or my life, so no brainer,” he said. “I signed the forms and told them to take it.”
There was an irony in his signature; turns out he was left handed and that form was the last thing he ever signed with his arm before they removed it. As we were finishing up Jack tapped in a short par putt on the final hole. Perhaps this was the absolute perfect finish to this round because it so perfectly defines golf, life, and how Jack has managed to accept his new life.
Both life and golf offer no guarantees nor do they offer apologies. While there are times of elation and joy often both can be unexplainably cruel. The better moments may, at times, seem outnumbered by the dark times. The key lay in placing more emphasis on those better times in order to help to make it through the difficult ones. Jack has the art of living down to a tee. Literally and figuratively.