“(Golf) is a lonely sport. The manager is not going to come in and bring the righty or bring the lefty. You’ve just got to play through it. And that’s one of the hardest things about the game of golf, and it’s also one of the best things about the game of golf. When you’re on, no one is going to slow you down. When you’re off, no one is going to pick you up, either. It’s one of those sports that’s tough. Deal with it. For us, unfortunately, you have those days and they’re five hours long.”
I saw this quote from Tiger after his rough showing over the weekend at the Memorial. I love this quote. This is golf. It can be lonely. Even more so when you play poorly. But it is this aspect of the game that makes it great and difficult at the same time. While the game in itself can be lonely, for me, it was a tool to deal with loneliness.
A lonely sport. This is the reason the game spoke to me. Growing up as a military brat, I never got used to the idea of being transplanted. Relocating before my Junior year of high school was devastating for me. I had a great group of friends, I liked my school, I lived in Northern California. I never wanted to leave. But then I had to. My dad got restationed to Albuquerque, NM. I was mad. What 16 year old kid would want to move from northern California to New Mexico?
“That’s basically the same as old Mexico right?”
“Can you drink the water there?”
“Do I need a passport to come visit you?”
“I didn’t realize that was actually a state? It’s not a territory?”
“Do they speak English there?”
Just some of the jokes I heard on my way out of town.
I moved to Albuquerque the summer before my Junior year. For the rest of that summer, I was bitter about having to leave my friends and California behind. So I turned to golf. Being a military brat had its perks. I was able to walk the military golf course for $5 as a junior. And it was a great course. That summer I played as much as I could. I played with my dad, but I also played by myself. My parents would drop me off at the course and I’d play all day. I didn’t need anyone else on the other side with a mitt to catch the ball. That’s why I loved golf. Just me and the course. Alone with my thoughts, trying to get better each day.
School started and I struggled to make friends. I wasn’t the most outgoing teenager. I was shy and quiet. At my new school I preferred to eat lunch alone rather than go through the effort to thrust myself into a clique. I’d find myself a quiet spot and I’d sit and have lunch. A group of cowgirls invited me to join them and I’d sit and eat lunch with them. They would talk about their farm, drinking, smoking cigarettes, and sex lives. All things that I couldn’t relate to at 16. But I would sit and listen to their stories and eat lunch. They didn’t want me to have to eat alone. I appreciated the thought. In a busy high school they were very considerate to try to pull me in and make me feel welcome. On the outside, it at least appeared that I wasn’t alone. But I never fit in with them. I might as well have been alone and I was okay with that.
I was a good athlete, but small. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 feet tall and 70 lbs. I met with the soccer coach about being allowed to try out for his team and he made it pretty clear that I was too small to have a realistic chance. The school had one of the better soccer teams in the country and he judged me by my size before I ever laced up cleats. Instead he suggested I try out for golf. So I planned to do that. And then I broke my wrist…
A few weeks before golf tryouts were set to begin in the spring, I was invited to go skiing in the Sandia mountains that surround Albuquerque with some friends I had made from the school band. The band kids are generally quicker to invite you in than the jocks (in my experience). I was so excited. It was the first real event I had been invited to outside of school after being there for almost 6 months. I was a good skier. It was the first run of the day and I was showing off. I was racing down the mountain. I wanted my new friends to be impressed. I wanted to be invited back. At the bottom of the mountain I was going about as fast as the skis could carry me. At the front of the pack. I went to do a quick stop to turn around and see how far I’d left them behind and as I turned hard into the stop one of my rental skis popped off. I ate it hard. I tumbled a good 100 yards down the mountain, scattering gear along the way. Once I came to a complete stop, I went to push myself up off the ground and I couldn’t push myself up. I felt a sharp pain in my left arm. I tried to pick up a ski pole with it and was unable to support the weight of the pole.
The very first thing I thought of. How am I going to try out for golf? I was praying it was just a sprain, but I knew. I had just broken my wrist. As I tried to swallow that bitter pill, there was still the issue of this ski trip. My friends were nearing the bottom by this time and I did not want them to know what had just happened. I managed to pop my skis back on and stand up. They got to the bottom and got back in line for the lift. I urged them to go ahead. I’d catch up. I collected myself and a few minutes later I got back in line for the lift. I was going continue skiing. I did not want to be the new kid that breaks his arm on the first run of his first trip with his new friends.
Luckily for me, the lift attendant had seen the fall. He asked me to hold out my left arm with the pole. When I couldn’t, he made me go to ski patrol. Ski Patrol did not have an x-ray and so they called my parents to come pick me up to take me to the Emergency Room. The bone was not broken all the way through, so it was not visibly obvious that it was broken. As a minor, they wouldn’t give me any pain medication. So I sat and waited for my parents to make the hour drive up the mountain to pick me up. I don’t remember how much the broken arm itself hurt, but I remember crying the whole way down the mountain. Not from pain, I was embarrassed and realizing that I may not get to try out for golf. Golf was my chance to be an athlete. To be on a team. To make friends that shared the same interest. And I had just blown it. Indeed, I was the new kid that breaks his arm on the first run of his first trip with his new friends.
Recovery took roughly 6 weeks and golf tryouts happened within that time. I had missed them. However, due to my situation, the golf coach made an exception and agreed to let me try out for the team after I had my cast removed. Now the golf coach was the same as the soccer coach. So I don’t know if he felt bad for turning me away from his soccer team, or if he was just a good guy, but I didn’t care. I was going to get to try out. I remember getting the cast off and I could not wait to play.
Now I had just spent 6 weeks in a cast with an immobile wrist. Anyone who has broken a bone knows that you don’t come out of a cast ready to go. There is generally a rehab process. Weeks of regaining your mobility. I didn’t have that kind of time. I couldn’t move my left wrist more than a fraction of an inch in any direction. I remember those first couple rounds, every swing I took, every time the club collided with the ground, I could feel the shockwave through my wrist. But I was going to play. I was going to make the team.
And I did. The coach let me play. I think he was generous, because I was not very good. Shooting in the low 40s for 9 holes at the time. Throughout high school I was a decent JV player. I flirted with the 5 spot on Varsity as a Senior, playing in a couple Varsity tournaments. But I didn’t hit the ball very far and only weighed 80 lbs or so. I would break 90 occasionally. I was just glad to be part of the team. To get to be around the guys every day. To go to practice and be a part of the insults and trash talking. Golf helped me feel like I fit in.
All this to say… Not only can golf be a lonely game, in my case it was a game for the lonely. Rather than sit around feeling sorry for myself (which I did plenty of), I put my mind into golf. I didn’t need anyone else to play. In the end, I wouldn’t trade anything for the experience I had as a military brat. Got to see and do things that most kids don’t get to do growing up. I feel like its made me a more well rounded individual. I adapt well to adversity. But that doesn’t mean that as a teenager I wasn’t bitter and mad, because I was.
Tiger’s quote resonates with me. Golf is a lonely game. There are no teammates to bail you out. When you struggle, you struggle by yourself. That is also what makes it great. When you solve the riddle and start playing well, it is that much more rewarding. I also like the fact that it can be lonely on the course. I cherish those days that I can be out on the course alone with my thoughts. Just enjoying nature and unplugging. I don’t think people spend enough time with their thoughts. These days spare moments are spent with heads buried in social media or some form of electronics. I am just as guilty of that. But for golf, I unplug.
It can be a lonely game and I like it that way.