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Golf and marriage: Match play can bring couples together

By Jennifer Mario, Contributor

Everyone has a favorite major. Some love the storied history of The Open Championship, others the pageantry of the Masters. For me, it's all about the U.S. Open.

With the 2006 Open now behind us, I find myself reminiscing about that day six years ago, when the U.S. Open changed my marriage - and my life - for good.

Back then I hated golf. For a semi-good reason, of course: I had to compete with the golf course for my husband's attention. I begrudged every frivolous second my husband would spend on the course. "What a waste of time," I would say. What I meant was, "Wouldn't you rather be with me instead?"

Then came the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. We were in the Bay Area visiting in-laws, and free tickets, extra time on our hands, and the added draw of a possible celebrity sighting gave the golf course fresh appeal.

When we arrived, lo and behold, Tiger Woods strode by on his way to the third tee. Jack Nicklaus, playing his farewell Open, made the 18th green in two as we sat watching from the grandstand. The crowd flipped out, and even that mulish golf-hater in me got a little misty-eyed. Was it possible there was something to this game after all?

Watching Tiger tee off, up close, and later kill the field with his record 15-stroke lead, the conversion was complete. "Whatever it takes," I thought, "I will learn this game."

These days I'm basically a golf junkie. When I'm not playing it, I'm writing about it. I start getting a little antsy if I haven't been on a course in a week; after two I've got a full-on case of the DTs. Just ask my husband. He hurt his back two months ago and hasn't been able to join me on the course. After I find somebody to sue for "loss of golf companionship," I might just have to go find myself another husband.

Just kidding - I wouldn't trade my husband in, not even for a single-digit handicapper. But I will admit that his sore back is getting to me, and not just because he can't move medium-size to large boulders, rearrange furniture or change the baby's diaper. His disability means I'm seriously golf-deprived. After all, he is - was - my go-to golf partner.

In our marriage, golf is the primary connection point. It's where we get to have fun together, the way we did back when we were dating, before kids and a house and responsibility and all that grown-up stuff started to intrude.

It's where we can chat for hours about whatever crosses our minds, where we take out our frustrations while cheering for each other's accomplishments - usually both in the same round. Excuse me for getting all Dr. Phil on you here, but this kind of togetherness is a good thing. Every round of golf with my husband is a date, a mini vacation and a marriage-counseling retreat all rolled into one.

Frankly, I don't know how non-golfing couples survive.

I'm not the only one who feels this way. "It's about being together," says my friend Inhi, who plays often with her husband, Dave. "It's about friendship. It's rare that we would just talk for four hours straight sitting on the couch. It's nice to be able to do something recreational together that we both enjoy. It's definitely a sport that brings us closer together."

Of course, there are people who say their spouse is the last person they'd want to play golf with. To them golf provides a handy Sunday-afternoon spousal escape hatch. I feel sorry for those people.

If your spouse is one of them - critical, tense, preachy, patronizing or generally irksome in any way - then ignore everything I just said. It no longer applies.

John Barton, editor-in-chief of Golf Digest International, agrees that golf can be beneficial for couples. However, he offers a critical qualification in this month's Golf Digest.

"If you must play golf with your spouse, do it only because you both want to. And the rule about space still applies. Let 'em play their own way, unburdened by your constant swing critiques, suggestions/commands about getting a move on, or remarks about the particular way the cart is being driven."

I'm lucky, because in my marriage, we both want to. And if either of us starts offering unsolicited swing critiques or remarks about the way the cart is being driven, we know the way back to the clubhouse.

So gentlemen, take Mr. Barton's advice and stop fussing about her swing. Ladies, take mine and set up a weekly tee time for yourself and your significant other. Learn to play nice on the golf course and you'll probably discover that your spouse is the best partner you'll ever have.

Jennifer MarioJennifer Mario, Contributor

Jennifer Mario is a regular contributor to the TravelGolf Network and the author of "Michelle Wie: The Making of a Champion" (St. Martin's Griffin, 2006). A graduate of Duke University, she lives in the Triangle area of North Carolina with her family.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Kudos Jennifer!

    Stacy wrote on: Jun 29, 2006

    ALthough I enjoy Barry's company on the golf course (most times) I also feel compelled to go solo once a week and throw myself into a foursome with people I don't know.
    I meet the greatest people, from 12-year-olds on their own "kids tour" right down to the seniors who are thrilled at the prospect of betting a quarter to see who gets closest-to-the-hole!


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