From Chicken Soup for the Golfer's Soul The Second Round

Fear of the Father-Son Tournament

It is in the blood of genius to love play for its own sake, and whether one uses one’s skill on thrones or women, swords or pens, gold or fame, the game’s the thing.

Gelett Burgess

No words strike greater fear in the occasional playing offspring of the inveterate golfer than these: father-son tournaments. For years, my father’s mistaken assumption that I needed a valid handicap kept me off the hook. But when he learned otherwise, there was no escape. A date was set, a starting time inked.

Occasional playing is probably an overstatement, though years ago (fourth and fifth grades) I did live on the 15th hole of an Oklahoma City course. Consequently, I learned a lot: how to duck, and that some of the worst shankers in the world reside just east of the Texas panhandle. I had my first taste of the game then. Dad would take me out after dusk, and we’d play the closing holes. If I shot my age on a hole, I was thrilled.

My game peaked a few years later when I tagged along on my neighbor’s trips to South Carolina every summer. We played almost every day. There’s no pressure to perform in front of someone else’s dad. What do they care if you stink? It’s not a reflection on their gene pool.

Outside of one glorious 94 in high school, my game has been in decline ever since. I play once or twice a year, three times if I’m lucky.

Dad, on the other hand, plays once or twice a week. He’s a legit 12 or 13 handicap who’s known for his long drives, despite a backswing that cannot be captured by time-lapse photography.

He assured me that we would get out on the course a few times before the tourney. And sure enough, two days before the big day, I set foot on the tee box for the first time.

It wasn’t pretty. My scorecard sported more snowmen than a Minneapolis suburb in January. The putting display was the worst you’ll see this side of a drunk on a miniature course at two in the morning. And, yes, despite using a driver half the size of my head, I whiffed, which, in terms of athletic ineptness, is surpassed only by striking out in kickball.

Still, there was hope. I didn’t bean any deer. I foundmore balls than I lost. And off the tee, I wasn’t looking too bad.

Have you ever tried to cram for the dentist? You brush, floss and gargle your brains out for two days trying to make up for six months of neglect. Well, this was me hours before the tournament. Poring over golf magazines, I’m putting in the basement and perusing the tube for tips—or at least a rerun of Dead Solid Perfect, Tin Cup or even Caddyshack.

Given my antics, you’d think my father was exerting a lot of pressure on me. Not at all. Sure, doing well would enhance the experience, but he just wants to have fun. Step onto that tee, though, and it’s Little League all over again. You want to do well in front of Dad. Back when I was in high school we played tennis against two guys who together were about a century and a half old. They cleaned our clock as I sprayed balls everywhere but on the court. And tennis is my better sport.

D-day rolls around and the weather is beautiful. I discover that Dad has put me in for a 26 handicap, even though the last time I saw the 90s was, well, the ’80s. Add his legit 13 handicap, multiply by 40 percent, and we get sixteen shots. It won’t be enough.

While at the pro shop, he tries to buy me a new pair of golf shoes. My game doesn’t deserve it, but one of the man’s great joys in life is buying athletic footwear for family, so I relent. Without the old fifteen pounds of foot gear, the only thing left to keep my head down is a self-imposed burden of expectation.

We arrive at the 1st tee, and my fear of being paired with Johnny Miller and son disappears. It’s a mother and son, and they’re getting twenty shots. Maybe this will be okay after all.

The format: Both partners hit tee shots and then you alternate shots from the better of the two. After a spectator makes the requisite mulligan crack, I step up and pop up to short right. I half expect someone to invoke the infield fly rule, but no one does and the ball lands safely on the edge of the fairway. The mighty Casey has not whiffed!

We play my drive. Dad sticks it on the green; I almost drop the putt. Par! I crush the tee ball at the 2nd, and we make another par. We bogey the 3rd and then make a third par. Images of a net 54 and a club championship dance through my head. I am Tiger Woods!

Then reality rears its ugly head, and the train wreck begins: double bogey, bogey, triple, double, double. We briefly recover on the back nine and then fade. As the rain begins to fall, we struggle home with a 90, net 74. The mother-son combo takes us by two.

I have not led us to greatness. Nor have I let us down. I’ve simply been the mediocre golfer that I am, sharing a cart, a score and an all-too-rare afternoon with my old man. And that is plenty.

Besides, there’s always next year. I might take lessons, hit the driving range and trade my running magazine subscription for golf. Maybe hit the course every Sunday and get that handicap. Then again, perhaps I’ll just dust off my clubs (and those new shoes) in time for next year’s tournament.

Mike Pennella

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