Amy hits the green on the Kissing Camels Course in Colorado Springs last month. (Photo courtesy of the author)
The ball sat high on the tee, as if waiting patiently while I ran through my mental checklist.
Lean forward – but not too much.
Bend your knees – but not too much.
Turn your hips and shoulders – but not your head.
Follow through – definitely follow through.
I swung the club, anticipating the thwack! that signals a solid drive. Nope. Not a sound, except the swoosh of my driver pushing the air.
This frustrating scenario is a familiar one, as I have recently set about learning the torturous sport of golf.
It feels weird to be an absolute beginner at age 59. I’m a veteran at so many things at this point: writing, marriage, mothering, and yoga, to name a few. But in the realm of golf, a true beginner is what I am indeed, right down to having to learn the anatomy of a golf club. (Who knew there was a heel and a toe in addition to the shaft?) I may be incrementally better than I was when I began seven months ago, but my progress has been erratic and humbling.
I first stepped into a golf simulator in New York City last spring, having found myself appreciating from afar aspects of the sport that made it newly attractive now that I’m older: Unlike skiing, the pace is slow and there’s minimal danger involved. Unlike running, golf is pretty easy on the body. It’s typically played in beautiful settings, often at really nice resorts that have spas. Chatting and snacking while playing are encouraged and, if you schedule your round at the right time of day, drinking in your cart is completely acceptable. Plus, my son plays so it would be a way for us to spend more time together. For this more-mellow-as-I-age mom, golf suddenly seemed like the perfect sport.
As I approach my next big birthday, I find myself liking the idea of weekends and vacations that are anchored by an outdoor activity. And I like the social dynamic that golf fosters: Once I become proficient (or at least not a hazard) I can play with my family or my girlfriends or even a group of like-minded strangers.
My golf journey began with indoor lessons and the equivalent of a bad first date: My first teacher, a petite twentysomething named Susan, spoke only in indecipherable metaphors, such as “Pass the basketball!” and “Gum on your shoe!” After a half dozen sessions of my looking at her blankly, I decided to bail. But not on the sport. Undeterred, I switched to a seasoned pro at an upstate course near my weekend house. It’s been a revelation. For one thing, I much prefer being outside (I’ve seen foxes and eagles!) and I much prefer my new coach’s style, which is utterly straightforward. If Evan wants me to keep my arms straighter or pivot my back foot, he just says so. After a few lessons on the driving range and putting green, we’ve graduated to playing a couple of holes during our hour together. It’s a very forgiving way of learning – if I hit a bad shot, I just hit another one.
Evan predicted the day we met that I would find learning golf both exhilarating and infuriating. And he was right. Embracing the process at this age has meant letting go of expectations about my inherent competence and athleticism, and acknowledging that learning something new in my fifties is a lot different than it was a few decades ago. My back is stiffer, my eyesight is iffy and, for better and worse, my mind operates differently.
I find my peers to be more charitable, too, than younger, more competitive players might be. In August, I played nine holes with two friends, both experienced golfers. It was only my second outing ever and I hit some whoppingly bad shots. But no matter if my ball went into the woods or the water, each time my comrades found something positive to say like “Nice contact!” or “Good loft on that one!” Their humor and “who cares?” attitude about my struggles were infectious and I soon stopped being self-conscious and just had fun.
Despite the massive learning curve, the good news is Evan says I hit the ball farther and straighter than many students who’ve been playing for years, and my chipping game is definitely improving. And golf has introduced a whole new segment of shopping to my life – who knew Tory Burch had a line of groovy retro polos and skirts? For my birthday, I got completely outfitted, so I at least look the part –right down to my hot-pink visor.
My hope is that by next spring, I’ll feel confident enough to join the upstate club. I know absolutely no one there so that’ll be a hurdle, but the only way to get better and meet people is to actually play. I’m also going to launch a not-so covert mission to encourage my husband, who used to play golf before we had kids, to take it up again. Honey, if you’re reading this, I’m officially over skiing and cycling, so if you want to be with me, you’d better get on the ball.