Monday, March 7, 2011

The Very First Tee

We lived in a Residence Inn in Livermore, California for seven months back in 1994.  I had started my business, and my first major client had a regional office located in Pleasanton, just a few miles from the Residence Inn.  The Las Positas Golf Course was right down the road from the Residence Inn.  There was also a dedicated practice range nearby, as well as a number of other golf courses in the area.  Greens fees were surprisingly less expensive there than in the Atlanta area.

I had always wanted to play golf, but had never had the opportunity to learn.  When I was in high school, I went to a driving range off of Summer Avenue in Memphis a few times and pounded balls with my adapted baseball swing.  But I really didn’t know anything about the game and had no idea how to swing a golf club.

With the beautiful California weather in abundance, and plenty of free time in the evenings and on weekends, I decided, at age 34, to learn to play golf.  There was a guy from Louisiana named Jim, a scratch golfer who also lived at the Residence Inn, and he offered to teach me to play.  There was another guy from Texas named Greg, who loved to play, and he gave me some instruction as well.  Jim and Greg worked with me patiently at the practice range, teaching me to hit the ball.  After a couple of weeks, Jim finally decided it was time to get out on the golf course.

Our tee time was on a Saturday morning around 8:30 at the Las Positas Golf Course.  They had an 18 hole par 72 championship course and a 9 hole executive course.  Jim had no use for an executive course, and took me out to the first tee on the 18 hole course.  The clubhouse restaurant sat right next to the first tee, and it was crowded with golfers waiting for their tee time.  There were also a couple of foursomes that were scheduled to tee off after us, just standing and waiting their turn.  Jim and I were paired with two golfers that we didn’t know.  Since I had never played, Jim just told me to follow his lead and he would help keep me in line with golf course etiquette.  I had no idea what I was doing.

The two other golfers went first, hitting their shots straight and long down the fairway.  Then Jim took his swing and hit a beautiful shot that impressed everyone around us.  Then it was my turn.  I was more nervous than I had been on my wedding day!  I placed the ball on the tee and took a couple of practice swings with my rented driver, just as I had practiced on the range.  Of course, everyone had to make the obligatory comment that I was standing on the wrong side of the ball (being the lefty that I am).  I addressed the ball and felt everyone’s eyes on me.  I took a smooth backswing and let it rip … whiff!  I missed the ball completely.  I nonchalantly tried to act like I had just taken another practice swing, looked down the fairway, and addressed the ball again, trying to relax.  Whiff!  I missed the ball again, and heard the uncomfortable chuckles from the crowd around me.  Jim stepped in and told me to relax and remember what I had learned at the range.  So I stepped up to the ball and took another swing.  This time I hit it, but topped the ball.  It travelled about six feet and stopped in weeds that were about a foot high in front of the tee box.  Now I could hear everybody grumbling, because they knew they were going to be playing behind me. 

Jim picked my ball out of the weeds and told me to get in the cart.  We drove down to his ball and played from there.  It was a six hour round of golf, and at least 150 strokes (I stopped counting), but I was hooked!  I probably played at least once a week for the rest of my time in California, made some great friends (Mike), and saw some beautiful places. 

I started teaching my oldest son to hit the ball while we were out there.  He was blessed with much more talent than me, and beats me routinely.  I don’t mind because I know who taught him to play.  I still love to play, and I’ll never forget that very first tee!

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