I didn’t even consider taking up the game of golf until after high school. And if it weren’t for my brother, Dan, I may never have given it a try. Until that time, I was a baseball player that didn’t have the time or money to invest in golf, and was (ignorantly) afraid that the swing principles involved in each game differed enough that positive work on my golf swing might hamper my baseball swing. Then, in a flash, high school was over, and so was my baseball career.
What was I to do with all of the newly found free time that I used to futilely spend in batting cages? Work more? Fish more? Prepare for my departure for college?
It was the summer of 1997. Tiger Woods had just won the Masters Tournament in April. The golf boom that was the Tiger Woods Effect had fully entered the public’s consciousness. Golf was becoming cool for the first time in my lifetime, no longer relegated to rich old white men and their families (my novel prejudice at the time).
That is when I turned my attention to my brother’s dusty bag of Northwestern J.C. Snead Signature model golf clubs that had been wasting away in the corner of our garage. Dan had long since graduated to a much nicer set of golf clubs while away at college, and had left his starter set behind, presumably for my amusement, but more likely because they were a real pain in the ass to try to move from Lexington, KY, to Venice, Italy, back to Lexington to Ithaca, NY, to Boston, MA.
The pros on television made golf look so easy. Tiger appeared to swing as hard as he could on every shot, which looked like of fun, and it was working out pretty well for him at that time. So, needing something to pass the time, I started using Dan’s old clubs to hit those little orange wiffle-ball golf balls around the front yard. I didn’t know what I was doing, what the different clubs were supposed to be used for, how far they should go, how those wiffle balls would translate if I tried real golf balls, nothing. It didn’t matter. I could instantly tell what a good golf shot felt like as opposed to a bad golf shot. I was instantly hooked.
When I say those vintage Northwestern clubs were classics, I mean they were classic. The fairway woods (3 & 5) were persimmon heads with metal sole plates. The driver simply had the number “1” on the sole plate next to the Northwestern logo. The irons, which I’d consider antiques compared to today’s technology, were anything but game improving irons. It took me a full year to figure out I had to hit down on the ball with an iron, it took another year to figure out how to do it with those irons.
After a few weeks of hitting wiffle balls and chipping a few shag balls around the yard, I was convinced I was ready for the driving range. After a dozen or so trips to the range I figured out how not to bounce a drive off the side panels of my stall. I was completely hooked. Now, 17 years on, I’m every bit addicted to golf as I was then.
Luckily for me, 1997 wasn’t the last time my brother sponsored my golfing infatuation. One Christmas a decade ago, Dan gave me a beautiful Big Bertha Driver that is currently collecting dust in the basement because I don’t have the heart to part with it. I still use the original Odessy White Hot No. 2 putter he gave me (maybe as a graduation present?) a year or two later. I almost never three-putt with it, still to this day.
If it hadn’t been for Dan being a pretty good junior golfer and leaving those clubs behind as he began his journeys around the globe and back again, who knows, maybe I’d be a more avid fisherman, could rebuild a transmission, or be capable of breaking 110 at the bowling alley. Instead, I am decidedly and unapologetically a golfer.
One of my many regrets is that I can’t ever recall playing golf with my brother. I’m almost sure that we probably played at some family function or went to a driving range to kill some time together, but I honestly have no memory of it if either did, in fact, happen. Obviously, this is something I hope to remedy before we both get too old to enjoy or remember the occasion.
So on this February 9th, please raise your glass or coffee mug and join me in wishing my brother, Dan a very Happy Birthday! Dan, I know it’s never really been easy to be my big brother, so thank you for making the most of the hand you were dealt. I love you, Dan, and hope I get to see you on the links soon!