After my golf lesson on Friday afternoon, I teed off at the first hole with every intention of utilizing the skills I had been practicing. By the third hole, however, I caught up with an extremely slow player about my own age. David told me that he had not played golf for almost a decade and was having to relearn everything. Since he had never been on this mountain course, he had to study each marker to determine the length of the hole and where he should hit. We decided to play together.
When David pulled out his driver and hit the ball over 200 yards straight down the fairway, I knew something was strange. How could someone hit a golf ball like that after a decade’s absence from golf? Since he was trying to play without his glasses, I had to help him find his ball on many occasions. He didn’t just lose sight of it; he had no idea where it was. He was frequently surprised that he had hit the ball more than 100 yards from where he thought it might be. At times I had to read the markings on the golf ball to prove to him it was the ball he had hit.
We played on.
We let one group pass us since we were so slow.
And then another group.
And then a third group.
Usually, I would have become exasperated or embarrassed at such slow play, but David just said, “Since I retired a couple of years ago, I don’t worry about hurrying anymore. It’s a beautiful day, and I don’t have anything pressing to do.” He was so affable and enthusiastic, that I had to agree with him, and I stopped worrying about the idea that I was embroiled in such a slow round of golf that we might be approaching a Guinness world record. “Embroiled” is a fitting word particularly since we were sweating in the 90+ degree Georgia heat at 3:00 in the afternoon.
By the sixth green, the heat must have gotten to David because he grabbed MY putter from MY bag that was attached to MY cart and walked up to putt his ball. “David,” I laughed. “I think my clubs might be a little short for you.” He looked up and was clearly baffled.
I stopped laughing.
David quietly turned to me and said, “Sometimes I get mixed up. I have Alzheimer’s. That’s why I retired.”
Astonished, I replied, “That’s okay. I only laughed because we all make the mistake of grabbing the wrong club. You’re doing fine.” When he thought he had taken too long on that hole, he told me he would just pick up his ball and move on to the next hole, but I encouraged him to stay and putt. Oh, how he could putt! I have never played with anyone who popped 5-foot putts into the hole with the same lackadaisical effort that most of us reserve for three-inch putts.
After another hole, I realized that David wasn’t drinking water, a dangerous omission on such a hot day on a course that does not put out water for golfers. (That’s a story for another day.) David told me that he had forgotten his water, and I handed him the extra bottle of water I always carry just to be on the safe side. (See! It’s not stupid to carry extra water!)
We played for two more hours. David hit beautiful drives straight down the fairway while I chili-dipped, punched worm-burners, and took mulligans. “Take your time and don’t get frustrated,” he repeatedly encouraged. Regardless of how badly I played, he was my cheerleader and found something nice to say even after my worst shots – and there were many. We played leisurely, but my frustration changed to laughter. I played dreadfully, but I didn’t care. It felt good to just play a game with someone who had such joy for life.
When rain approached around the 14th hole, David picked up his ball and said, “We better go fast before we get wet.” Normally, I would have continued playing until lightening approached, but I, too, picked up my ball. For the next few minutes, David followed my cart as we circled up and down hills and valleys on a sinuous, steep, and confusing course cut among the beautiful North Georgia Mountains. I turned around often to make sure that David was right behind me because I knew he would never find his way back to the parking lot on his own.
We said good-bye and told each other how much we enjoyed playing together, and I waited until David put all of his gear back into his car and changed his shoes. He was unsure how to get back to the main road, and I offered to lead him there.
Most people reading this story will probably think it was a blessing that I happened to be on the golf course right behind David on his first adventure of playing golf on a new course. He couldn’t find his way around the course, and I helped him. He often lost sight of his ball, and I found it for him. David was just as much a blessing to me. While I guided David around the course, he taught me to be thankful for the simple opportunity to enjoy a beautiful carefree afternoon. How could I let a topped shot, a mishit, or an errant ball (or two, or three) into a lake spoil a glorious summer day?
In the months ahead when I see a slow player ahead, instead of complaining, I’ll say a prayer that maybe I’ve found David again.
I’ll say a second prayer for the amazing souls who endure misfortunes with such grace, persistence, and joy while I too often am sidetracked by silly and insignificant concerns.
Because of the bad economy that led to hundreds of teacher lay-offs in my school district, I decided to retire in June of 2010, the end of my 32nd year of teaching. I'm still trying to discern how I feel about retirement. Until recently, I maintained a blog about teaching. If you would like to read my thoughts about teaching, please visit: http://www.gladlywoulditeach.com/