It was our Thursday ladies league. I was new to the group and didn't really know many people. When I went into the pro shop and asked to sign up for the next tournament event, I had no clue who I would be playing golf with or how they would play.
"Just put me in the first group available," I said.
Why did I sense a hesitation on the part of the young assistant, always so eager to please? "That would mean you would be playing with ..." And he rattled off the names of three ladies. "Okay?"
"Fine," I said.
Then I went out to get my golf clubs. I usually walked, but one of the ladies in my foursome, noting my pull cart, said not unkindly, "Uh, might be a good idea if you rode so you could do the driving. Harriet needs a little help."
"No problem," I replied. As the attendant put my bag on the cart next to my still unknown playing partner. I noted her driver was covered with a huge, furry animal-head cover of undetermined species. I liked that.
Then a little lady as tall as a pumpkin, white hair, a bit hunched over, slowly edged onto the cart. She smiled. "I'm Harriet," she said.
She was wearing a lavender velour jump suit, and over the next four hours, would frequently give the elastic pants a yank up. That part reminded me fondly of my mother. She had often worn a similar outfit.
I was starting to get the picture.
I drove us to the first tee. The three of us hit our drives reasonably well out into the fairway leaving a 150 yard shot in to the green. Harriet stood up on the tee - I noticed she was using a TaylorMade R5 driver. Seemed to be taller than she was.
She took a swing and the ball jumped off the tee landing about 10 feet in front. This was going to be a long day.
"You'll have to keep her moving," one of the other players whispered to me in passing.
As we played, I felt like our group was in a panini press with a group just ahead of us and a group pressing from behind. This made me more conscious then ever of keeping up the pace.
Harriet, a little unsteady on her feet, moved slowly. She'd ease off the cart, go around to her bag of clubs, hike up her pants and ponder. Finally making her selection, she would move to her ball, stand over it a while, then hit it.
Almost miraculously, she started hitting the ball straight, in the air, always in the fairway about 100 yards ahead while I and my other pals were in the trees, in the brook, in the rough. Harriet's Titleist Pro V1 was always visible. ("My grandson gave me these balls for Christmas," she told me.)
Sliding in next to me after putting her driver back in her bag, she said proudly, "I have 13 grandchildren and six great grands."
Harriet appeared to be using the same club for every shot after her drive. Right down the middle, no fade, no draw. Straight and in the air. "You're really hitting that well. What are you using?" I asked.
"Persimmon. My 3 wood," she replied.
I could use that club, I thought as yet another of my shots veered into the wetlands.
By the eighth hole, I realized she was having a bit of a problem remembering her strokes. "Imagine getting a five on a par 3," she said.
Actually it was more like an eight. Should I tell her? We were, after all, in a tournament, and I should be protecting the field.
"Uh, maybe we should count that again," I said.
"I have trouble with this," she admitted. "I used to use beads, but I lost them."
"If you want, I'll help you out," I said.
"Thank you," she replied gratefully.
So for the rest of the round, I made little ticks on the card to keep score for her, telling her how many strokes she had once she was on the green.
"How many do I have," she asked, usually midway through each hole.
"Six," I might tell her. "Now if you chip on and sink the putt, with your three strokes, that will give you a par.
At one point, I noticed the people behind us were waiting. That made me a little nervous.
"We'd better pick up the pace," I said to our group as we left the green.
"Why? We have nowhere to go," Harriet said with a feisty tug at her pants.
Thing was, she was right.
When we finished, we invited her to have lunch with us.
She seemed pleased. "Beats a peanut butter sandwich I'd have at home," she said.
I asked her where her car was so I could drive her in the cart to get her things.
"Right there," she said, pointing to a low, sleek, gold Thunderbird. "That was my 80th birthday present to myself."
In Mitch Albom's international bestseller "Tuesdays with Morrie," Morrie asks himself, "Do I wither up and disappear, or do I make the best of my time left?"
Playing with Harriet made me think about a bigger picture.
If we get lucky, if we are able to continue to enjoy our life and play golf, isn't that a wonderful goal?
At what point can we learn to accept some help whether it be taking a cart on a hot day, letting someone carry our bag or asking for some help in scoring.
In Albom's book, Morrie says, "In the beginning of life, when we were infants, we needed others to survive, right? And at the end of life, when you get like me, you need others to survive, right? But here's the secret: In between, we need others as well."
I have a good friend now in his 80s. In his "day," he was a hell of an athlete, and even today is still competing successfully. Sure he now hits off the forward tees, and he takes a foot wedge now and then while everyone looks the other way.
His skin tears and bleeds forever when he goes after his balls in the brush. But still, he goes after them.
Al is full of laughter, full of life, one of the best joke tellers I've ever met. You want to play with him. Your golf may stink, but you'll come in feeling happy after one of the most fun rounds of your life.
He, too, accepts help - BandAids, a trip to the emergency room - whatever it takes to keep playing. He's my hero.
If we live long enough and hang in there long enough, maybe we, too, like Al, will be able to hold our own from the forward tees, and like Harriet, we will be able to park our golf clubs in the trunk of a gold Thunderbird.
We're talking goals here.
June 11, 2009
Simply select where you want to play, find a tee time deal, and golf now!