It’s summertime. And although it may seem out of character to many of my friends – and somehow misplaced in these pages – I must confess I am a golfer. My son, Brendan, gave me a new set of sticks (Adams “Speedline Fast 10”) for Christmas. I love the clubs, and have been breaking them in all summer. So golfing is on my mind.
Let me begin by correcting that opening line. I said I’m a golfer. To phrase it more accurately, my life has been cursed by golf! Yes, I love the game. The beauty of golf courses truly brings me back to the Garden. When Tiger’s playing, I feel compelled to monitor his every shot. When he’s “on,” his game reminds me of the near perfection that’s possible in life itself.
And yet, I hate the game too. I wonder about a sport that’s so white, so elitist, that uses so much water, and that’s so chemical-dependent in terms of fertilizers and pesticides. In those respects, it’s like the world in general. As for the game itself, whoever called it “a good walk spoiled” was right. For me its downs are so frustrating; its ups so few by comparison. I guess that’s like life too.
In Golf for Enlightenment: the seven lessons of the game of life, Deepak Chopra agrees. He shows how the two – golf and life – are deeply interrelated and connected with the spirituality that none of us can escape. Reading it caused me to reflect on my own experiences of all three – golf, life, and spirituality.
Let’s begin with golf. . . . I inherited the game. All the men on my father’s side of the family were avid golfers. And when I was in grade school, my dad often took my brother Jim and me to a course near our home on the northwest side of Chicago to introduce us to the game.
That doesn’t mean that I come from the country club set. I don’t. My background was working class. I grew up in the 1940s. My father was a truck driver. His three brothers (he also had four sisters) were brick layers, bar tenders, and construction workers; one was a sometime bookie. But they all started out as caddies at Butterfield Country Club just west of Chicago. And that’s where my father, Ray, and his brothers, John, Leonard, and George learned the game – as caddies.
That’s where I learned the game too. In my early teens, I caddied at Bryn Mawr Country Club in Lincolnwood, just north of Chicago. I was Caddie # 339, when the best caddies would be #1 or #2. Somehow though the caddie master, Jack Malatesta, took a shine to me, and throughout my years at Bryn Mawr, Jack kept calling me “339,” even though he ended up giving me some of the best “loops.” Later, beginning in high school, I worked on the grounds crew at Arrowhead Country Club in Wheaton, Illinois. I remained there for fifteen years. As I said, golf’s in my veins.
In fact, I’ve been swinging a club since I was seven or eight. And by the time I got to Bryn Mawr, older caddies were telling me that I had one of the best swings they’d seen. That made me feel good. Little did I know such compliments would represent the high point of my golfing life. Problem was, my swing looked great, but it never got me straight shots or low scores.
Let me put it this way: it wasn’t till my 21st birthday that I broke 100 for the first time! And it’s pretty much stayed like that till about the age of 30 when I walked away from the game. Its frustrations along with my work and family obligations (not to mention the high cost of playing golf) made me stop.
Next week: How my sons brought me back to the game (of life)