The little white ball

I don’t even remember how, but one day many years ago, Dr. Lauren Gollahon told me she carried golf clubs in the trunk of her car, so now and then she could go to the driving range and hit balls. Just that. To hit some balls. I was puzzled, as at that time I didn’t understand what this golf thing was about. Now, after eleven years of exposure to golf I know more about it than I did back in 2004, and more importantly, I believe everybody should give it a try.

When I moved to the United States I discovered that Sunday is the day for sports. If you turn on a television set you might have some choices, such as: soccer, football, basketball, and golf. I was familiar with soccer and basketball. I didn’t understand football, not that I understand it now, but at least the people narrating the events always seem to be really into it, and now and then there is a lot happening in the field. Golf, on the other hand, seem to be the slowest, most boring, and nonsense activity that, for some reason I could not explain at the time, was called a sport. That was until I met a golfer. A serious one.

I like to learn about anything new that comes across my path. That way I can decide, with some basis, what to think about such novelties. And although I had a slight preconception about golf, I paid attention, because I wanted to understand what was so appealing about the game. First, I found out that golf is a little bit like pool. But instead of having one stick to hit all the balls, you have 12 clubs of your choice. Golf is definitely not the same as pool, but there is a lot of physics in both games. When you play pool you control the angle at which you set the cue, then you control the force that you apply to a shot. When you play golf you basically have only one thing: your swing, which must be as constant as possible. The swing consists of holding your arms in front of your body as both of your hands grip a golf club, where your shoulders are the short side of a triangle, and your arms are the other two sides, with the apex where your hands meet in front of you. You use your whole body as a spring, and hit all balls with this same action. So what makes up for the distance at which you can send your ball flying? Your choice of club, as each of those 12 clubs have different slopes that will send your ball up high but not too far, or not too high but really far.

I tried pool once. Many years ago. And I liked it. If it would not have been for the excitement that my friend, Pamela Cáceres, and I showed after hitting ball after ball, we might have continued playing for one whole afternoon. If only we would have stop shouting, and screaming every time we hit the white ball, we might have not been  kicked out of the place. We even might have even become better at it. Eventually. Of course, nobody likes to be distracted when playing pool. That works for golf as well. You have to learn to play your own game. However, this simple rule might be the hardest one to stick to.

I tried to hit a golf ball once. A practice ball. In my porch. It didn’t go well. It is not easy. And it is increasingly frustrating when somebody close to you keeps telling you how to get better at it. Which is nice. But still frustrating to feel that you are apparently incapable of performing as expected. I decided there and then that golf was not for me. I had better things to do with my time. For example, work on my book chapter.

Working on the book chapter was frustrating as well. After I got mixed reviews and encouraging words from the editors, I decided to take on the task of addressing all the problems in the one month I had to do it. Of course I can do it, I thought. I started by preparing new figures, taking breaks to work on the text. Then going back to the figures. I am a bit short for the microscope I use, and as my budget for equipment is short as well, I was sitting on a dictionary to reach the oculars, which was a bit uncomfortable. I was determined to complete the book chapter, but I needed a diversion.

And there they were. My golf clubs. Bought while I had a tenure track job. Before child. Before adjunct position. Before book chapter. I decided to give golf a second chance. Why not. There were practice balls all over the porch and nobody around to tell me how to hold the club, or how to swing it. I held a 7 iron in my hands and positioned myself as I had been told before. I had a relaxed grip and decided to not think too much about it, but to feel it. I hit one practice ball. And another one. I liked that my mind was focused onto something else other than my research.

There have been many things I always found appealing about golf: the honor code, the etiquette, and the fairness serious golfers pride themselves of. I find it fascinating to observe the way people behave in the golf course. How they react to a bad shot. How they recover and keep on going. How people of different ages and levels of skill can compete. How respect is valued and cherished. How supportive golfers are. So I decided to confront the little white ball. I braved to walk into the municipal golf course and to put myself on the green mat with both hands on the grip of a golf club. The first time I tried to hit a real golf ball I failed more times than I even got the face of the club to touch it. But when the club touched the ball for first time, it was the most glorious moment of my life since I learned to ride my bicycle without training wheels. I screamed. I brought myself together, looked around, and apologized for distracting others on the driving range, but all I saw where smiling faces cheering me. A bunch of strangers where happy for me. A new golfer in the make. Keep going! they said. That time I only hit three balls, out of about 30.

City of Charleston. Municipal Golf Course. March 15th 2015. The first day.

Today I hit 90% of the balls out of a large bucket. I could see some balls flying in the air, straight towards the 75 yard marker. Many balls didn’t make it straight. Many of them didn’t make it even 10 feet away from my mat. I spent a bit more than one hour taking it all in. Controlling the noises around me, so they didn’t interfere with my thoughts and my actions. Playing my own game. Because this is not a competition. This is about giving the best you can. It is about becoming better, one little white ball at a time. This is why me, like Dr. Gollahon, will be going again to the driving range. And hopefully, one day, I will be playing a round of golf with my husband as well.

The little Mad about fishes ball
If you happen to find my ball, please keep it. Enjoy it, and learn more about the most amazing vertebrates in this planet.