My dad always wanted me to be a golfer. He and my mother took grainy VHS tapes of me in diapers making shots out of greenside bunkers. The game was so important to him that my mother tells me my first words were “golf ball.”
But I hated the game.
Some of my many gripes were legitimate. The summers spent in Massachusetts far from our home in Wisconsin made playing golf there feel like exile. While my father’s favorite time to play was just past sunrise, my preference was deep into his afternoon nap. When we played, it was nearly always with his boring friends and older relatives.
Back then, I didn’t have the right mind-set. Golf is a game of doing the same thing well, over and over, while keeping a level head when that inevitably doesn’t happen. I never had the patience to practice, to take lessons, or to find my way out of the mental holes I would dig for myself after a bad shot. I took my frustrations out on myself and on my dad. I’d yell at him for making me play too fast, for making me play tired, for making me play at all. And God help him if he offered me unsolicited swing tips.
During my freshman year at Tufts, I got a call from my mom. “I don’t want you to worry, but . . . ”
She told me that my dad had collapsed. An initial diagnosis of dehydration had given way to something more serious — he would need an emergency quintuple bypass. Then she handed the phone to my dad.
“Jamie,” he said through sobs, “remember to spread my ashes on the third green.”
I knew exactly what he meant. The course in Marion where we’d golfed during my summers in Massachusetts has one famous hole: a short but difficult par 3 that requires hitting a tee shot over water to an island green surrounded by a sea of sand.
“Dad, you’re going to be fine,” I replied, desperately searching for a way to reassure him. “But, if you’re not, there’s no way I’m putting you on that green. I’ll spread them where you always end up — short, to the right and in the trap.”
Thankfully, he survived his surgery. But complications followed: He suffered a series of strokes that left his left side weak. This changed his golf game dramatically. I began to beat him for the first time in my life — a milestone neither of us felt like celebrating.
In the summers since, I’ve spent less time in Massachusetts and even less playing golf. But I’ve been surprised to find myself yearning to play more than ever.
Golf is much more fun for me now because I’ve changed, too. I’ve become more patient with myself and others. I’ve made more friends who like to golf and played some rounds with them. Through their eyes, I’ve realized how beautiful the course is and how lucky I’ve been to play there. I’ve become more curious and learned that my dad’s love of being the first off the tee in the morning was inherited from his dad. But more than anything else, the joy I feel for the game now is because I get four unbroken hours to just walk and talk with my dad.
But my joy is tempered with regret because, as golf has become physically difficult for him, I’m starting to anticipate when we won’t be able to play anymore. I wish I’d been better when I was younger; I wish that I’d appreciated his time more. But, like a bad shot, the past can’t be changed. All that’s left is to play the ball as it lies.
Jamie Hoagland is a writer in Brooklyn. Send comments to email@example.com. TELL YOUR STORY. Email your 650-word essay on a relationship to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.