The Kindness of Golfers

Last Sunday, I played golf with my friend Dave and his 21-year-old son, Kevin. It was Father’s day, and Dave is one of the best fathers I know.

It was a pleasure to watch him patiently instruct Kevin, praising him for the good shots, encouraging him when they were errant. And on the drive back, to listen to Dave reminisce about vacations he’d taken with Kevin and his older brother, Ryan, while Kevin nodded agreeably.

Dave has done everything with his sons from lifting weights and tennis to rock-climbing and camping. My wish, as I listened, was that I might some day share my own love of golf, that oddly civilized form of masochism and hope, as Dave has with his sons.

This is just my second year at the game, and I was somewhat prepared for jokes such as, “Why do they call it ‘golf’? Because all the other four-letter words are taken.” What I was not prepared for was the kindness and affectionate regard with which good golfers readily offer alms to the halt, the lame and the ugly.

My first set of clubs came from a good-hearted friend, and it may have been his first set. The bag was drab and discolored, the shafts were steel, the woods small and persimmon, the grips desiccated and worn. I soldiered on with them until another friend, a very good player, acted as if he were going to helicopter my 7-iron into a nearby river.

“These aren’t even good enough to be bad,” he said. “Get rid of them.”

Replacing them did not put an end to the hooks and slices, the pushed drives and topped shots, the overpowered chips and feeble putts. But I love it nonetheless, and I have been abetted in my passion by the generosity of strangers and friends alike.

And no one more so than Dave, who loaned me his Harvey Pennick book and his David Leadbetter swing device, and who took the latter back without complaint about the new scratch on it. He also gave me a homemade driver, coached me through innumerable rounds, took me to a driving range in hopes of curing my frustration and offered comfort and encouragement that was downright, well, fatherly.

But there have been others. One day Dave and I were chipping at a practice green. Nearby was an old man in plaid shirt, khakis and suspenders. He had an extra-long putter with a pink shaft and a cup on the handle that allowed him to pick up balls without bending over. He couldn’t have been an hour less than 80.

The old man watched me for awhile,  a frown furrowing his forehead, and finally said, “Your arms are too tight! You’ve got to relax your arms!”

He was right. So was Chris Ahn, a quiet, self-effacing builder who joined our threesome one hot Sunday afternoon and sent booming drives down the fairways with his new TaylorMade RX7.  When he realized I was a beginner and open to correction, Chris overcame his reticence and became almost effusive as he coached me to my best round ever

And just a few weeks ago, I spoke with Phil Reed, the consumer advice editor for while working on a  story for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

He said, “Are you a golfer.”

“Oh, no,” I said, “is it that obvious?”

Phil is an ardent golfer and has written a wonderful book about a larger-than-life character named Mike Austin who still holds the record for the longest drive ever hit in a PGA event: 515 yards. A record, by the way, set in 1974 with old-fashioned equipment when Austin was 64.

Not only did Phil send a copy of the book (“In Search of the Greatest Golf Swing”), he also has sent several emails encouraging my pathology.

“Learning golf is a mysterious journey, just like life,” he wrote, sounding like a cross between Yoda and a fortune cookie. “I envy the fact that you are just setting out. You have a lot to learn and will make rapid progress.”

He also introduced me to John Marshall, an Atlantan and the current senior Long Drive Champion who teaches the Austin swing.

The timing could not have been better. My game was so horrible that I’d been refusing all invitations to play, and I felt as if my oxygen supply was slowly being choked off. My lesson with John went well beyond the hour I paid for, reviving both my game and my outlook on life.

Golfers reading this would no doubt shake their heads and say, “Poor fool,” but they would also understand. After all, they’re the ones who’ve encouraged me all along. When my grandchildren are older, if they show any interest at all, I will happily introduce them to this genteel and hopelessly romantic cult.

13 thoughts on “The Kindness of Golfers

  1. Nick Degner

    My Dad is an avid golfer. He has been all my life. He recently turned 72 and the next day shot his age. Some accomplishment. After my Dad framed his score card, his playing partner at the time of his 72 shot round, stared at the card and said "I am so glad I did not shoot a 90 that day"

    That seems the way golf goes. My Dad used to tell my brothers and I that if you are going to play golf badly at least play quickly.

    I still remember the day my two brothers, Dad and I stood across a huge ravened par 3 with a raised T box. The green below looked so tiny and the creek looked so ominous running at an angle in front of us. My younger brother took out an iron and knocked the ball with in 15 feet of the hole. My turn arrived and I made the shot within 10 feet and my other brother shot even closer. My Dad shot last and made it near all of us. My Dad was very impressed considering we all were in our early teens. It was virtually a miracle that we did this but my Dad still talks about that day almost 32 years later.

    Golf seems to create those types of memories.

    1. John Christensen Post author

      Michael…or should I say Chief? Thanks for the note, and FYI I have found Mr. Austin … as well as his family and friends. I’ve written a book about him, soon to be published as an ebook. I’ll be posting about it here in the next few days, and DJ Watts has invited me to post something on his site, as well.

      And if that really is him by my pillow at 2 a.m., maybe now I can turn off the night light.


  2. Michael McKinley

    Actually came from DJ’s site as he mentioned you were writing a book. Only googled your name to find this. Looking forward to reading your book. Hopefully you will give Auqalandia its due. Sometimes I fill up my bath tub for a bubble bath and in thoughts of Aqualandia, I wonder, “Oh, what could be!”

    Cheers, Chief

          1. Jerry Crowell

            WAIT!!! I got it! Someone is confused between AQUALANDIA and Kevin Costner’s WATERWORLD. For those not aware of Mike Austin’s AQUALANDIA, I hope Mr. Christensen talks a little about it.

  3. John Christensen Post author

    No Mike Austin book would be complete without Aqualandia, and I promise you it gets its due.

  4. Jerry Crowell

    I am excited to see what you will write about Mike Austin. I happen to know many “stories” regarding Mike (that I’m sure you will talk about). What I found out just made the man more of a genious to me. I am only in it for his golf swing though. A thing of beauty! I have a feeling you will be fair though. We’re all human, and make mistakes in judgment.

    1. John Christensen Post author

      I can’t promise I covered all the stories, and I didn’t fawn over him. I did my best to tell the truth, and I think it’s a more interesting story than any of the tales he told his pals at the driving range. And I agree with you, Jerry: that swing was a thing of beauty, and I believe it revealed the soul of the man. Why, then, did he die angry and bitter? And why wasn’t he famous? That’s what I aimed to find out, and I answered those questions to my satisfaction. Thanks for writing. I’ll be posting a new blog in the next day or so with an excerpt from the book, and I’ll be posting on DJ’s site soon, too.


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