3: The Accidental Purist: Diary of a Beginning Golf Junkie

3: The Accidental Purist: Diary of a Beginning Golf Junkie

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tales of Golf and Sport

The Accidental Purist: Diary of a Beginning Golf Junkie

I am a public school girl from Pittsburgh. I played varsity basketball and tennis, and I had always maintained that golf was an elitist sport. A borderline sport at that. People can play it wearing a belt, for crying out loud.

I was a reverse snob. And then I got a job as a senior editor at a golf magazine. I never seriously considered that I would take up the game. I dropped the elitist riff, though, and just told people that I was a working mom with two young children and they immediately seemed to get why I didn’t actually play.

This began to nag at me, though. Because, one, I AM an editor for a golf magazine, and it’s a little embarrassing explaining how I can do what I do and not play golf. Since the day I took the job, I had read every golf publication I could get my hands on. I’ve become familiar with Herbert Warren Wind and Arnold Haultain and, of course, Dan Jenkins. I can’t seem to get through Golf in the Kingdom, but I think you get the picture. I know golf manufacturers and golf professionals. I know women who knit golf head covers for a living. I have Sign Boy’s home phone number, for Pete’s sake. I have ridden around Clint Eastwood’s golf course in Carmel with the man himself. I have witnessed John Daly playing guitar with Lisa Loeb and Dweezil Zappa. I have interviewed David Duval and Tom Lehman. I’ve talked to the likes of Ray Leonard, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Mantegna, Branford Marsalis and Mario Lemieux about golf. I notice how much guys LOVE talking about golf. It is not lost on me that most men cannot remember where the butter is in the refrigerator, but they can tell you precisely what clubs they used and give you play-by-play action of a shot they hit ten years ago on some course in East Podunk, Ohio.

I am doing everything with golf that a person can possibly do. But I am beginning to tire of explaining—with a smile, for the thousandth time—how I can do what I do without actually playing the game. The idea taunts me like low-hanging fruit until I just can’t take it anymore: It’s a sunny day in Colorado, and I call this golf school near my house. I have a noon appointment. I am Eve and I am about to be damned. Bring on the golf lessons.

Lesson one:

Mike Schlager, my instructor, walks me to the range, hands me a 9-iron and watches me swing. He knows I’m a skier and explains that like skiing, balance is important in golf. He tells me that the set-up in golf, what goes on before the motion, is more important than the actual swing. He teaches me about where my hands should be—in the center of my body, on a straight path from my sternum—and where they should hang. He gives me two drills to practice with my eyes closed. One’s about finding the center of my body that involves holding a golf club over my head and doing a kind of deep knee bend. Then he tells me to swing the club back and forth as fast as I can and only come off of my feet at the end. It feels like a samurai golf swing. We chip a bit and he gives me a chipping drill. We also putt. He says to practice making short one- to two-foot putts. The more it goes in, the more confidence I’ll have. I take this all home with me.

Cost (gulp), one hundred dollars. This is a lot of green for a mother of two looking at college tuition for 2013. This is a lot of green for someone whose favorite store is Target. But somehow, I don’t think twice.

I have one club at home, some kind of wedge, and I start doing my drills. I’ve taken to putting with the wedge even while I’m on the phone. Every time I lean my neck in to hold the phone so I can make a stroke, I end up hanging up on someone. I hung up on my boss three times in one conversation. I hung up on Phil Mickelson’s agent (don’t tell my boss). I take my mystery wedge with me on a ski vacation to Steamboat and do my exercises religiously. I putt at the coffee table.

Lesson two:

I arrive early, and Mike sends me out to the practice area. I putt and putt and putt. I am a two-foot wonder, which I know is good because Mike told me in my first lesson that someday I’m going to play in a scramble and everybody loves a woman who can make a putt.

Mike says, “Let’s go up to the range.” I tell him that’s what I’m scared of—going up to the range. But I press on. I find my balance and swing. It feels pretty good. Mike says it is pretty good. I hit several decent shots, and at one point he laughs and says, “You don’t know how good these are.” I decide I like Mike a lot. He helps me adjust my grip. He notices my small hands and suggests more of a baseball hold. I practice with the new grip, and the ball starts going a fair amount farther. “Over the pin,” he says with a degree of satisfaction like Master Po used to use with the Grasshopper on the old Kung Fu TV show.

We go to pitch around the green with a sand wedge. At first, I am smooth, I get the motion, but then I lose it completely. Some piece gets mixed up in my head. Mike makes me stay until I hit a decent closer, and I’m down another C-note.

Lesson three:

We head out to a driving area on a part of the course where I’ve never been. I get out of the cart and face the wrong way, which cracks me up. I am a blind person on a golf course. Correction: I am a blind person who has never played golf.

We work on my set-up. Mike makes me talk about my mistakes. He wants me to be able to figure them out. There is one other person on the range, a young woman who Mike says is the hardest worker on the University of Colorado golf team. He asks me to look at her swing and explain what’s wrong. To my surprise, I know. She hesitates so much in her backswing that she’s losing all her momentum. Like life, in golf, it’s much easier to look at somebody else and know what’s wrong.

I, however, am having problems of my own. Mike gives me a practice drill. He holds two clubs, one to my left side and one to my right, waist-high. Both are parallel to the ground. Then he tells me to swing. I am thinking that Mike is a pretty brave guy because I have no qualms about taking the club back hard, though I can’t for the life of me figure out how I’m going to actually swing. I somehow make contact and hit the ball right into Mike’s foot.

Eventually, I start whacking the hell out of the ball. Mike then introduces me to a 5-wood. I make minimal contact, and the ball skids a bit forward. So I step back and just take some swings. After I get the feel for a solid swing, I set up and whack the ball. It’s practically out of the ballpark. “Jesus,” is what I say because I am so stunned by the flight of that little monster. And then I apologize for my language. “How’s that feel?” Mike asks. But he already knows the answer.

I am one happy girl. I am so excited that I’m just aching for my clubs. I’ve ordered a set from my friend Stephanie at Cleveland Golf. When I get home there’s a message from her asking if I have received them. When I call to tell her that no clubs have arrived, she calls UPS to discover that someone named Hubert at West Dillon Road signed for them. I live at 902 Sycamore Lane. I tell my husband I’m going to put the kids in the car and go find Hubert. He puts the kibosh on the idea and says I should let UPS do its job. Of course, I’m thinking that I did let them do their job, and they gave my clubs to Hubert.

The next day the UPS guy is heading down my street and I flag him down. “Hey,” I say. “Whaddya do with my golf clubs?” “Cleveland?” he asks. “Yeah, that’s right,” I say. He says he dropped them at the La Quinta on Dillon Road. So I call the La Quinta and tell them I’m on my way—no more waiting for UPS. And there they are, behind the counter. MY CLUBS. My first clubs. I grab that beautiful brown Cleveland box, and it’s Christmas morning.

I’m itching to desert my family for the range, but my father-inlaw is visiting from New York, so I can’t exactly just jump in the car and zoom off. But at four o’clock, when he’s on the sofa with the girls watching the Wild Thornberrys on Nickelodeon, I head into the yard with my 9-iron and my 5-wood. I am swinging away with my very own clubs in the Colorado sunshine, and it feels, well, divine. My husband opens the glass sliding door and says, “I can’t believe this.” And the funny thing is, I can’t believe it either. In the course of three lessons, I have become a golf addict. Somewhere my friends are going to start wondering what happened to the old Kate. Somewhere, my late father is going to be rooting me on and telling me not to lose my patience. Somewhere the golf gods are smiling. They’ve converted another heathen.

~Kate Meyers
Chicken Soup for the Golfer’s Soul, The 2nd Round

More stories from our partners