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A Life With Golf Swings Straight, 50 Years Later

My father played golf, as did his father, who was sufficiently connected to the golf establishment so that the two of them once played a round at Augusta, where, I’m pretty sure, you have to know somebody.

K.J. Choi's son, Daniel, and daughter, Amanda, watch their father's tee shot during the Par 3 contest before the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Ga., on Wednesday. (AP)
K.J. Choi's son, Daniel, and daughter, Amanda, watch their father's tee shot during the Par 3 contest before the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Ga., on Wednesday. (AP)

It was my father who introduced me to the game. My only club on that day was a discarded five iron that had been cut down and re-gripped by an alcoholic assistant pro named Joe. I don’t remember how many holes we played — perhaps only one — but one shot I hit lives in infamy: It left my five iron, climbed improbably toward the wrong fairway to the left, and bounced off the windshield of a jeep the groundskeeper had parked in the high grass between the two holes.

Golf balls are hard. Even one hit in the wrong direction by a flailing child can do some damage, and this one did. It cracked the windshield on the old jeep. Unless that windshield was already cracked, which, in retrospect, seems likely. But that wouldn’t have been much a story for my golf-playing father, and so our first day on the course together became "the day I hit a ball that broke the groundskeeper's windshield."

In a world of neater stories and tidier father-son relationships, the day of the cracked windshield would have begun a string of sunny afternoons on a series of green golf courses which I’d eventually have played with expertise, perhaps even with joy.

"But in the late 1950s and early 60s golf seemed to me slow and boring.... Besides that, I’d developed a slice."

But in the late 1950s and early 60s golf seemed to me slow and boring. I associated it with long waits, blisters and drunks in the locker room telling jokes I recognized as witless and insulting by the time I was 9-years-old. Besides that, I’d developed a slice.

By the mid 60s, I knew with certainty that golf would soon go the way of colonial empires and "letting them eat cake." Golf courses would be appropriated for organic farming. The paneled playhouses of the aristocracy — the country clubs — would be turned over to the bent and broken men who had previously carried the clubs of the barons and moguls, desperately hoping for adequate tips.

So I had not swung a club in several decades until a few years ago, when a story I was writing about night golf required me to attempt to hit a glowing ball into the invisible reaches of a school playground. For sentiment’s sake I chose a five iron. Improbably, in the dark my swing felt right, and the shot was straight as a string.

This program aired on April 7, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

Bill Littlefield Twitter Host, Only A Game
Bill Littlefield was the host of Only A Game from 1993 until 2018.

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