So I grew up, if not loving golf, then watching it. But I never felt the urge to play. Our high school didn’t have a girls’ team; for girls, there was one spring sport: track. I ran hurdles. Seriously.
Sometime around age 30, however, I decided I wanted to learn to play, and I knew whom I wanted as my teacher. My dad was a pretty good player and had taught a lot of local kids over the years — why not me? So I casually mentioned that maybe we could hit some balls on my next visit.
So when my vacation rolled around, I flew to Kansas City, rented a car, drove the four hours to Lincoln, Kan., and promptly fell asleep — I was still working nights then — while waiting for my parents to get home from work. When I awoke, there was a new set of clubs in a baby blue bag next to my bed, and my dad was standing there, grinning. Apparently we were going to hit some balls right away.
Our nine-hole, sand-green course had no driving range, so we went to the ninth tee, a decent hill that made even the weakest shot look okay. I smacked a few balls while he gently critiqued what we will kindly refer to as my swing. Then off we went to hole No. 1, where my dad stuck a dollar in a little metal box, grabbed a scorecard, and taught me to play golf.
My first round wasn’t too bad — I shot a 54 — and he was pretty pleased. So was I. I had no idea of what I’d been missing. We rode around in his cart, shooting the breeze, looking at the various wildlife and having a grand old time. Occasionally I had to scale a barbed-wire fence in search of a ball that strayed into the cattle pastures that bordered the course on three sides, but the club thoughtfully provided little wooden ladders — three steps up, three steps down — to help. If your ball landed on a cow patty, well, that was your problem.
Because it was my first time, my dad also took charge of raking the greens, and taught me how to enter and exit the sand to leave the least amount of mess. When I finally played on actual greens for the first time, all my putts — even the gimmes — went about 40 feet until I adjusted to the lack of drag.
I’m never going to be a great golfer, and since I had my shoulder rebuilt last summer, I haven’t even mustered the courage to swing a club. I’m scared to death my club won’t go back, and even more scared that it will — and stay there. That probably won’t happen, but after a torn biceps, rotator cuff and labrum, I think I have a right to be nervous.
I hate the phrase “if only,” if only because I find myself using it more often as I get older. If only I had let my dad teach me when I was in high school, or earlier. I wouldn’t have ended up on the LPGA Tour, but I could have spent more time with my dad.