When I was growing up, my Sundays consisted of the following fairly predictable routine:
- Get up and eat Cheerios with my dad, read comics out loud with each other.
- Go to Holy Trinity Church in Beaverdale, where my dad plays the bass guitar and where I turned pages for the pianist.
- Go home to West Des Moines for lunch.
- Hit baseballs in the backyard or go for a bike ride (in nice weather, usually).
- Moan and complain as my dad ironed his clothes and watched golf.
- Surreptitiously change the channel while my dad fell asleep.
My dad loves golf. He has a few main passions in his life — work, his family, music — but golf is everlasting for him. He started playing in high school and now, at 60, he continues to search for the elusive “perfect swing.” Without fail, each spring or early summer, as he takes some lessons and scours Golf Digest, he proudly announces to have achieved that mythical swing that will bring him the golfing luck he craves like a drug.
He’s a good golfer. He’s notched a couple of holes-in-one at his clubhouse, and he’s played at some of the best courses in the world, including Turnberry, where the British Open is being played at this very moment. He and his best friend, Rich, have golf nicknames for each other: my dad is “Jack” for Jack Nicklaus, and Rich is “Tommy,” for Tom Watson. (As I write this, Watson, ancient for the regular PGA tour at 59, is making an earnest drive for the championship.)
Do I golf? No. I play miniature golf, sure, but I’m not especially good at it. Much as I resisted my dad’s urges to visit Notre Dame, where I might follow him as a college student, I also have resisted his occasional efforts to turn me into a fellow golfer. I’m sure part of the appeal is that we might spend our Saturdays and Sundays golfing together, giving each other mulligans for those mis-hits. But swinging a golf club never felt natural to me, and the idea of chasing a tiny ball around vast lawns doesn’t seem like much fun. Mark Twain, of course, famously said that golf is “a good walk ruined.”
Although I still have no desire to pick up some clubs of my own, in the last year I’ve found myself watching golf on TV. By myself. I laugh at the melodramatic announcers (sample from today: “This is the shot of his life.” Cue to next shot, same golfer: “This is the shot of his life.” How can you have two shots of your life, much less back-to-back?) by myself, and I root for players by myself. I guess I watch for a couple of reasons. First, I don’t have a lot of TV channels, so golf is a pretty inoffensive option. Second, it gives me something to talk about with my dad, even though we don’t lack for conversation.
Like baseball, golf contains a lot of humdrum moments, with flashes of drama and excitement. As I’ve gotten older, I’m more willing to watch both sports, unbidden by the men in my life. I doubt I’ll become a true aficionado of golf, but I’m open to following it. I glimpse what my dad loves about it — the pressure, the torment of nature, the sheer luck of a ball’s bounce. So I cheer, too, imagining him dozing nearby, piles of fresh laundry at his feet.