This golf story needed a rewrite before the first sentence had been put down because even with the most radiant light there are shadows.
Mine was a childhood spent in Payne Stewart style knickers (possibly the origin point of the Bogle cuff) walking upwind to avoid the long tail of my dad’s Optimo Palmas cigars. It was a youth spent zigzagging across rolling hills of emerald green that had been dotted only with sticks, colorful flags and kidney-shaped beaches tucked into man-made depressions positioned precariously around a dozen and a half tests of will and belief.
Much to the chagrin of the cigar smoking 6-handicap, the game wasn’t designed for an individual of my temperament. Those were tests I failed time and time again.
My oldest daughter, on the other hand, has an effortless grace in her back swing and a violent beauty powering forward into the future. This was true before any instruction.
She was told to look at the grown men on the driving range in the distance. She was told that those players, men who spend thousands on equipment, membership fees, lessons and bucket after bucket of striped balls, still don’t have and will never posses the inherent skill she owns without even a lick of effort. The game of golf is without a doubt in her blood. Everyone who sees her swing once can see it clear as day. Yet she doesn’t seem to believe it or worse, care.
I’m hoping this weekend’s Kia Classic might move the dial, if only a smidgen. We have never, and this is my fault, watched an LPGA event. In preparation for watching on TV the 3-day LPGA Kia Classic golf tournament at the stunning Park Hyatt Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad, California, the Bear and the Mouse each had a private lesson (arranged so kindly by Kia to help me tell this story) with renowned golf educator Eric MacCluen.
While still inside the instructional cabin that was being warmed by a wood burning stove on a sunny yet crisp March afternoon, the girls looked up at an assortment of college golf towels and shirts hanging above the door — Lehigh, Georgetown, South Florida, Tulsa and our beloved Michigan State Spartans. Each article represents a student, many of whom are girls, who has received a scholarship to play golf at university level after being taught by Eric MacCluen. Did I mention Michigan State?
My eyes flickered for a brief moment between the present as it existed in front of me and the future of limitless possibility. I saw the Bear clad in a green and white collared shirt, a bag of clubs with an embroidered Sparty cartoon draped over her right shoulder, golf spikes clicking and clacking on the cart path, a mess of blonde hair being tossed side to side in it’s tight pony tail. The sun was hot in the future, her chin was up as confidence radiating from this young woman. That future started right here in the present, with an ice cream and a lesson.
And then we were outside. It was time to hit.
A year ago this time, Cristie Kerr won the Kia Classic one week after the father of her caddie passed away. This feels especially significant this week.
For years I’ve been seeking a connection with my dad and I’ve been trying to use spectator sport as the way in. Sure, we had participatory golf at times when I was young but golfing with me wasn’t an enjoyable experience for him…or anyone. Last year I had him on Pebble Beach for the annual pro-am there but that day didn’t come off as planned. I wanted to try again, at the most hallowed patch of green this side of St. Andrews. Through a strange twist of fate, I managed to obtain two tickets to the 2016 Masters in Augusta, GA. My dad I were set to go together, excited to spend round 2 perched up high on a grandstand behind a green or seated beneath a tree along an immaculate fairway. But on Monday, with a steady hand bracing himself on the kitchen table and tears forming in his eyes, he said that his health is forcing him to decline my invitation.
Less than 24 hours later after receiving that heartbreaking news, I was standing with my own kids on a golf course. It was everything I had not to break down and start crying at the cruel symmetry of it all.
Mouse came home that evening after her first golf lesson and asked if I’d pitch baseballs to her, which I did with glee. Her golf swing, let’s just say, is every bit as unique as she is. We both agreed that her temperament, swing and power is more suited for the great American pastime than to golf.
I’m hoping that for the Bear, the one hour lesson — not her first — will once again stoke the flames of interest in the game, not because she’s naturally gifted, not because she might someday land a scholarship to Michigan State (or elsewhere, but maybe to MICHIGAN STATE!), and not because her nickname is already in the golfing nomenclature, but because she’s running out of time to form the kind of bond I was never able to with a great golfer and an even better dad & pop pop.
*Kia provided the lessons and financial compensation for the telling of this story. Everything above is honest and unbiased, as always.