Note: It’s not because of the recent boom in popularity (and it definitely has nothing to do with clothing).
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R.I recently posted a picture of myself getting ready to play golf on Instagram. That may not sound like a shocking turn of events, but it was for the many friends who texted me, all with variations of “Lisa, you … golf?” The only real difference between the messages was the number of question marks at the end of the sentence and whether any parts were in capital letters.
I admit you weren’t wrong to be surprised. If you met me even briefly, you’d probably think she enjoys spending her free time reading. And I’d guess my confused friends on social media would also say that golf seemed the strangest of all the sports out there.
There were many reasons for me to avoid the game in Cambridge in my thirties. For one thing, for a long time it was primarily the domain of white, male conservative types – not exactly my demo. There are also countless stories of private clubs that only allowed white clubs until they were forced to switch by lawsuits and bad press, and I am very much aware that my Jewish last name has kept me in the past (and even in the present) of the links would have kept away just like my gender. Even though golf is getting more and more inviting, which I know, I feel terribly uncomfortable every time I go to the driving range and am surrounded by white men in collared shirts. Nobody is really going to tell me that I’m not welcome, but it’s hard to ignore the basic feeling of otherness when very few people look like me.
So why am I learning to play? Why did I suddenly pick up iron – along with throngs of other Bostonians drawn to this pleasant way of hanging out with friends outdoors during the pandemic? Well, that has a lot to do with the other person on this Instagram post: my father. You see, many moons ago I surprised him on a family outing by taking a few hours so he wouldn’t have to play alone. I hadn’t bought a club in years when he wistfully asked if we could play a round at the Cape at our first family reunion after the Vax. I probably wouldn’t have come back to it on my own, but the thing is, once I had the expectation that I was ready to take this step for someone in my life, there was no real way I could go back and see how an asshole. In order to maintain my reputation as a maker despite an extra decade of back stress, I decided to dust off my rackets and give the sport a fresh hit.
The important things first—I knew I needed a new teacher. When I first took lessons 10 years ago I accidentally let go of the club on my back swing and almost murdered my trainer who was standing behind me to monitor my form. Still haunted by the gaze of a man who had passed his life before his eyes, I decided it would be best not to reach him again. So I googled “Golf Lessons + Cambridge” aimlessly until I found someone ready to stand near me while I was beating a 3-foot metal pole at 8am. Fortunately, I didn’t seem to be in any sort of Gulf crime database, and I found someone who would accept me as a student.
Spoiler alert: the first lesson didn’t go smoothly. I remembered zero things about how to hold a golf club, where to put my feet when swinging a golf club, or in general anything to do when hitting a golf ball. If you’re like me, the thought of criticizing what you’re doing to your body by a stranger before the work day starts is not your preferred way of spending the morning. Even better, after a strenuous 30-minute questioning about which part of your body you rolled up and down incorrectly, you then have to practice on your own on the driving range, where you are surrounded by men who smash the ball for 200 yards while you work on it to chip the ball, bad.
Speaking of being judged, another delightful little thing about golf is that you practically have to wear a costume while playing. I’m pretty sure that if you play a basketball or soccer game or any other sport that really athletic people enjoy, you get a free t-shirt from a fundraiser you participated in five years ago, and whatever you can always wear mangy old sports shorts. However, in golfing, players are encouraged to purchase what I can only call formal training attire. I say formal and not athleisure because J.Lo would never wear these clothes and because almost all of them have collars.
The women’s clothing was particularly appalling to me: when I was looking for something to wear on the links in my local golf accessory store, I was immediately faced with a fluorescent pink wall. This wasn’t the faded salmon pink that is common with a certain type of millennial yuppie. This pink is the color you would wear if you lived in a Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper around 1992.
I know it probably sounds silly to complain about the clothes. But the thing is, I’m a person who has felt all my life that I just wasn’t feminine enough. I rarely wear dresses and the colors of my wardrobe range from dark gray to another dark gray. However, aside from the pink problem, the bigger problem was that I had a little over a month to prepare for a game on a real course with real golfers, including my father who has been playing since he was a teenager and is now a retired person. what i understand is when your golf skills really level up. Fortunately, it turned out that taking lessons from an expert actually made me better, as well as training on a driving range every weekend. If you’re particularly bad at something, like I was at golfing, improving from zero to one feels life changing.
When the day finally came To go out on the track with my father, I had a little more faith in my abilities than I had a month earlier, and I had moved from the constant fear of embarrassing myself to a kind of que sera sera mentality. It might not be what you would use to inspire the troops, but it got me out of bed this morning.
How have i been Unfortunately, it turned out that I wasn’t a professional golfer. But I wasn’t terrible. I’m happy to report that I kept the ball in play most of the time, or at least close enough that it could be found and easily thrown back onto the fairway. Also, I have to admit that I wasn’t quite aware of how nice it would be to play in the Cape. It is quite possible that my admonitions to enjoy the wonderful views were not appreciated by my father, who had difficulty playing in foreign rented clubs. He also didn’t enjoy my pausing to snap grainy photos of the turkeys roaming the fairways as he raced through the rough in a futile search for a misplaced ball. But with time and getting used to the clubs, his game improved and so did his mood. In the end he was much happier and said he would like to try the course again as long as he could use his own clubs. I knew that was his way of saying that despite all the turkey pictures he wanted to play the course with me again.
My mother later asked if I thought I would be playing golf again soon. I wasn’t sure how to answer. I wanted to love the thing my dad loved (how I love sci-fi and baseball), but I still felt ambivalent about trying to love golf. I started to wonder if it was even possible to teach yourself to really love something just because someone you love does it. When I explained to a friend that I mostly play golf because I knew my dad would like it, she said, “Wow, that’s devotion.” But I wasn’t sure I would agree.
There are a million things I can’t do for my dad, especially that after graduating from high school I moved a thousand miles and never could convince myself to go back home. I can’t forgive myself for that, but it won’t change either. We all disappoint our loved ones in big and small ways, in word and deed, and perhaps the most terrible and wonderful thing about parents, when you’re very lucky, is knowing that they love you just as much, even if you let them down. I know my dad loves me whether or not I can hit a golf ball straight and right on a fairway. In the end, it seems like a pretty small gesture to me to brave pink formal workout clothes and difficult lessons because I know it makes him happy.
As for the future of my golf game, it’s hard to say. But a few days after our big match, when I was getting ready for bed, I glanced over to where my clubs were awkwardly wedged in the corner of my bedroom by our Airbnb and felt a tendril in my chest Desire curled up to grab it and see if I could play the course a little better before the time with my father ran out.