|The 18th Green at Wimbledon Common|
I was strangely quiet in the car on the journey to the course. It was a good thirty minute drive in my dads yellow Princess but the journey was a blur. I was going to play a proper course. One with bunkers, tee boxes that were neatly mown, fairways cut and defined against the rough ready waiting to chastise a wayward shot and greens that were fast and true, with borrows full of guile. After all those Sunday mornings at the driving range, those group lessons in the school holidays getting to become one with the interlocking grip, all those rounds at the local pitch and putt with my friends, I was finally going to play proper golf.
I can remember it as though I had played the round only a few days ago. I had never felt such a churning, primeval sensation as I stood on that first tee and pegged my ball up. My three wood, for so long a trusty friend at the range, now felt like a scaffold poll in a vice like grip as my moment had arrived. A pat on the shoulder and a word of encouragement from my dad and I was ready. I swung the club and made contact with the ball. It wasn’t the fairway splitting shot I had dreamt off on the way there. In fact it was nothing more than a 30 yard top but I didn’t care. I was a proper golfer.
The round seemed to last forever. That was probably more because we had to keep letting the groups behind through than me taking my time to savour it. 142 shots later the final putt fell and I had done it. Real golf on a real course.
That was my introduction to golf. Proper golf. Funnily enough my dad seemed to play less and less after that as I played more and more. He had a lot of pressures with his business in the economic turmoil as the 70’s gave way to the 1980’s. I joined my local club at Wimbledon Common, thanks largely to my dad being an ex-member and doing a lot of lobbying, unknown to me, to be let in at the tender age of 12. We still played together maybe a dozen times a year and although my handicap was tumbling I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t find a way to beat him.
Sadly my dad passed away a good few years ago and although it must be 25 years since we last played together he remained an inspiration to me throughout my golfing adventures. He was there to listen as I regaled him with stirring stories of bold approach shots and tenacious birdies. He’d offer a word of hope to lift a black cloud of despondency after a bad round when I should have been soaring with eagles but found myself floundering with turkeys.
Even today, whenever I see a father and son event being held, I wish I had made the effort to encourage him to join me in one of these. Not for the winning. Just for the joy of spending one last time with my dad on a golf course. One last chance to talk about life’s tribulations as we meandered through the tree lined fairways heading towards that cold drink at the 19th.
And there we were back on the eighteenth green. Would it be a playground of the broken hearted again. My dad stood there impassively, his eyes perhaps screwed a little tighter. Had the situation dawned on him? Had he realised the outcome was no longer his to control? Or was he just trying to read my putt in the fading light? The ball was well on its way. Nothing stood between destiny or despair.
................ And the ball went in.
Tears welled in my eyes. This was a Ryder Cup and British Open encapsulated in one tiny putt under a dreary sky. I had beaten my dad at last. I wanted to shout out “I’ve won!!!” and run around the green with my arms aloft. I wanted to go into the bar and order drinks all round. Instead, my dad took off his cap, shook my hand and turned to me with smile and said “Well played son. Best get home for dinner now, you know what your mum's like!"
If it wasn’t for him I’d never have found this fickle mistress we call golf. She will hold you close to her bosom and warm your soul with hope and dreams and then splinter your heart and vanquish your aspirations with a snap of her steely fingers. Either way it matters not a jot. For showing me the game of golf I thank you dad.
|Me and the old man|