I did not receive my introduction to golf from either of my parents. I think most of you might say your first introduction to the game came from your fathers, but my introduction came from my paternal grandfather. My father and grandfather were on good terms, but my dad never showed interest in the game until after I started playing. Oddly enough, I was the one who officially introduced my father to golf as my grandfather had done for me, and my father now plays everyday in his own retirement. I thought, since the Holiday season is upon us, that we might remember those first few swings we took with a club, and the kind wishes of those who shared their joy of the game of golf with us.
My family (parents and two siblings, both younger than me) visited my grandparents one Spring at their home in Florida. Just as Northerners do when they visit Florida with young children, the rest of my family had gone off to DisneyWorld except for me (I was “too old” for Disney, after all, being 14 whole years of age). With the two of us left, my grandfather was about to step out (and I was about to walk down to the beach to admire “the view”), when he receives a phone call. After hanging up, his mood apparently having turned sour, “Gramp” turns to me and says, “Get in the car.”
The old man (meant respectfully) was quiet on the way to “wherever we were going” and I honestly thought we were just running some errands; except that we turned in to a local golf course. In a classic Judge Smails bark he informs me that, “You are playing golf today.” The problem is that I had never played golf before in my life. I didn’t even know what the numbers on the clubs meant! I knew not to mention the obvious to him, as he already knew that. I just helped out as he took two sets of clubs from the trunk and walked to the range.
What followed next had to be the most intense crash course in golf ever delivered to a single individual. “Gramp” pulled out an 8 iron, showed me a grip, and told me not to move my hands out of that position till we were driving out of the lot. If you think I am kidding – I’m not! He even made me walk to the first tee with my hands on the club after we were done practicing. To be truthful, what we did on the range could never really be described as practice; it was more like “EPIC FAIL” with a grumpy old dude watching me. Seriously, I totally missed the ball on the first three swings and barely got out of the tee box the rest of the time. Towards the end of the lesson (which might have been a half hour or an hour, I don’t remember) I was able to at least elevate the ball in some meager approximation of a golf shot.
“Okay, that is enough,” he said. I asked him, “Gramp, don’t I need to learn how to putt?” He responded with, “Anyone can figure out how to putt, including you.” Okay…off to the tee, then!
Come to find out, my grandfather had a weekly money game going with another twosome, but his partner had come down with an illness (cancer) so he couldn’t make it that week. He told me that he was confident he alone could beat them both, but they insisted that he have a partner, ”Because they don’t want to have to admit that I beat them both by myself. They get embarrassed easily.”
Our two opponents turned out to be a gentleman about my grandfather’s age, and his son, who was about my father’s age. Despite being a well rounded, fearless, and a possibly immortal 14 year old, I was a little intimidated by the situation. I was playing against some older guys (older than me, anyway), playing golf for the first time, and I didn’t want to let down my grandfather. I thought about what he said about beating them both by himself, but that didn’t take the pressure off of potentially being embarrassed in front of “Gramp.”
Unfortunately, that was not to be, because after the first six holes I only had one hole on which I broke double digits, and I had to pick up on two others, which (at that point) was fine with me! The worst part was hitting the snack cart off the tee with the (very) cute cart girl still sitting in it.
The good part was that Milton Sr. was a golfing beast that day (or at least as I recall), having beaten the other team after seven holes on his own steam. So, as the intended 9-hole match came to a close I figured I could relax a bit. However, the group decided to play on anyway and finish out the nine. As we came to the ninth tee, the elder opposing gentleman offered a new challenge to my grandfather:
“Hey Milton, double or nothing. My kid versus yours.”
This resulted in a raised eyebrow from my grandfather. Not a sight often seen, just so you know. In hindsight, (not knowing at the time) this might have simply been an off-the-cuff reference to Caddyshack. I wasn’t aware of the movie at the time, but always get a chuckle when I watch the end of it because of this situation. Anyway, I was thinking there was no way he was going to take the bet, having already won the match and having a total hack (me) as a playing partner, but… he did:
“Okay, you’re on.” he replied.
I looked at my grandfather, knowing there was no point in arguing (like I could with my father) so, with a grimace, I approached the short par 4 teebox with 8 iron in hand and managed to keep the ball in play down the right side. My opponent, being somewhat miffed that I took the honor (I didn’t know any better) gruffly approached the tee with driver in hand, and took a monstrous swipe that duck-hooked into the water on the left. Two more angry swings yielded the same result before his fourth attempt reached the fairway.
I miraculously hacked my way up to the green in four (having been gifted consecutive “flier” lies) and took three to get down; winning the hole with a triple bogey to my opponent’s quintuple. I couldn’t believe my fortune; I shouldn’t have won that little playoff hole. I couldn’t believe my grandfather even took the bet, let alone that I won it. However, I felt an immense surge of pride at my own (meager) performance. “I can do this, golf isn’t so hard,” I was thinking. I thought also that my grandfather must be some kind of sporting sage, who somehow managed to foretell my unlikely victory over our opponent.
As we were enjoying an after-round Coke, (our opponents sitting across the room, not wanting to hear my grandfather brag about how his first-timer grandson beat them in a playoff) I asked my grandfather why he took the bet. He said, “Daniel, even a blind pig finds an acorn,” and got up to use the restroom. I knew he was proud of me, but he wasn’t going to directly brag me up either. No swelled heads in the Ross family!
While he was away, I noticed the “son” (the guy I had just beaten) get up and come towards our table, still looking angry. I am thinking, “Oh crap, he was waiting till my grandfather left to get a piece of me!” Instead he handed me a dollar bill. I said, “What is this for?” He told me that it is the winnings from the match, and to keep the change. I was speechless.
I thought my grandfather had some real money on the line with that match. Turns out that he was playing a nickel per hole! Double or nothing pulled in ninety cents, and I actually owed the dime. He walked off just as my grandfather got back. Gramp says, “Oh, there it is” and picked the dollar out of my hand and plopped it down on the table as part of the tip for the waitress and turned to walk to the car. I was thinking, “You have to be kidding!” I was feeling “all-important-and-stuff” and suddenly, that disappeared.
I know now why he didn’t tell me that the stakes were pretty low; he wanted me to try my hardest even when there wasn’t much to be gained. I think he was curious to see what I could do. I played a LOT of baseball, but not much else. There actually was something to be gained, though; an appreciation for the game of golf and the desire to keep playing, the opportunity to impress gramp, and the knowledge that I could succeed even when the odds were against me.
And my family thought they had it good when they went to Disney. God, I miss my grandfather.
Happy Holidays WRX. Remember…life is short. Say what deserves to be said while you can.