Generational lessons on the green

Golf and grandparents require a significant degree of patience and attention.

Hello golf, nice to meet you. My name is Mike. We’ve met before, but I was too young to appreciate our relationship.

Approximately two weeks ago, I set down my books and left behind the Minnesota cold for a trip to Florida to renew some expired relationships with my grandparents and the game of golf. Golf and grandparents are very alike. Perhaps that is why they get along so well. They both require a significant degree of patience and attention, that when attained, lead to rewarding results.

Early-week rainstorms left the air damp and the greens a bit spongy in Brooksville, Fla., but the sun cut through the clouds the day I played the front nine with my grandparents. Excited to drive the ball an amazing distance, I stepped to the tee. The fairway looked beautiful – a lush, vibrant green guarded by white sand bunkers and a thick rough. Ignoring all I was taught on the driving range, I swung back. The club drove forward with a giant whoosh followed by the ping of titanium. I brought my hand to my brow to shield the sun and follow my ball’s flight, but saw nothing. I had topped the ball, which now lay no more than 20 yards in front of the ladies’ tees.

“Don’t try to kill it,” my grandparents both said. “Just take it easy and let the club do the work.”

Eight shots later, I found myself at the second tee. This time, I was deadlocked on the little white ball which had become my enemy just one hole earlier. I kept my arm straight, swung back, let the club head carry me through my swing, and connected for a straight drive down the lefthand side of the fairway. I strutted back to the cart with my head held so high I failed to notice my tee was still in the ground.

That moment lasted about as long as it took to drive the cart to my second shot. From then on, my day led me to the bottom of dried-up reservoirs, backyards, a few rooftops (shhh) and even a few greens. My perfomance was besides the point. I spent time with my grandparents learning the game of golf – a sport that is 90 percent mental. Keeping your mind set on your mechanics is the key to success. My grandma says golf should have been called “frustration” instead, because one small kink can throw your entire swing off. But when all the mechanical details are in place, the result is a game nearly as beautiful as the course it is played on.

My trip to Florida also landed me in Tampa for a visit with another set of grandparents I hadn’t seen in ages. Over poolside breakfasts, I learned more about my Irish heritage and my ancestors who came to the United States, settling on the shores of Lake Michigan some 40 miles north of Chicago. More importantly, I learned about growing up and the responsibility that comes with age. Grandparents aren’t born with the knowledge of their family history. They acquire that knowledge from their fathers and grandfathers, leaving them with the responsibility to pass on the family legacy onto their children. As I grow older, the responsibility to carry on the family legacy is in my hands.

It felt good to catch up with my grandparents in Tampa and learn to play golf all over again in Brooksville. Both experiences were long overdue. My vacation led to the realization that grandparents and good golf alike are not often fully appreciated until one reaches an older age.

Mike Durkin welcomes comments at [email protected]