Dad the good golferJun 28, 2022 11:11AM ● By Bill Levine
My favorite bar mitzvah gift back in 1964 was my own set of Doug Sanders model golf clubs. Sanders was a competitive pro in the 1960s and the best-dressed, but the best thing about my own set of clubs was that I could stop using my mom's set of women's clubs.
Before I got the Doug Sanders clubs, I’d go with Dad to his golf club on the weekend and watch him hit golf balls. I tagged along and attempted to hit some shots.
I say “attempted” because it was clear from the start that I had little aptitude for the game. All Dad's exhortations of "follow through," did little to get my shots off the ground.
During my mid-teen years, I was away at summer camp, so my rounds of golf with Dad were limited. When I was home though, I would play with him every couple of weeks. Sometimes it was just Dad and me, thus saving me from my hacking in front of his cronies. In these twosome scenarios it was three parts golf and one part golf lessons from Dad, which usually just concentrated on the basics: Keep your head down, adjust your stance when ball is downhill or uphill lie, and hit behind the ball in a sand trap.
Once, his tutelage paid off. When I was 15, we entered the club's father and son golf tournament and actually won my age bracket. For that one round of nine holes, I golfed instead of just flailing away. It was the rare time that I unequivocally enjoyed playing a round. It was as if I was in an alternate universe for a couple of hours. Then I tumbled back into the wormhole of frustrating golf.
During my high school and college years, I got into vicariously golfing through watching and tracking Dad's play. Every time he and I went out on the golf course, I would applaud his good shots, sometimes physically but also just making a mental note. Dad's strongest game was in the chipping and putting area—his short game. I could occasionally make a good chip shot but I had the bad habit of babying the shot short or walloping it over the green.
I played 20 or 30 golf rounds a year from age 30 to 60. For most of these prime golfing years, my dad and I were often playing on the same municipal golf course so I could again visualize his shot-by-shot exploits in his round rehashing.
Dad retired from golfing in his mid 80s. A couple of years later he offered me his new golf clubs and golf bag. The bag was voluminous so it would take me a few outings to appreciate the extra pockets that held golf balls and bug spray. More impressive was the set of clubs in the bag—expensive Callaways. I was reluctant to take such a symbolic possession.
“Dad, are you sure you want to give me these clubs?” I asked, acknowledging that this was the end of his beloved pastime.
He said with a resigned certainty, “I want you to take them, I won't be using them.”
It turned out that I wouldn't use them much myself since I stopped playing about 10 years later.
Since then, I have occasionally pulled out a couple of clubs for a session at the nearby driving range—sometimes with my kids who show more golfer aptitude than me. I think Dad would have been disappointed that I have given up on his pastime. He would expound that since I am retired and wintering in Florida, golf is my destiny.
I'm looking forward to playing tennis, but recently, my golfing pals of yesteryear brought up the game you can play at any age and still be bad at. There was talk of going out for a few rounds this summer. I demurred but have snuck out to the driving range a couple of times.
The range is close by, so a round-trip with a small bucket is only about a 45-minute exhilarating experience or a waste of time. The exhilarating part was hitting with Dad's lofted pitching wedge like he used to, with great loft and straight, but I wasted my time using his other clubs. I plan on taking the pitching wedge when I eventually tackle the adjacent pitch and putt course. I think Dad would have liked me starting golfing again by trying to emulate his well-crafted short game.