An Idiot’s Guide to Learning Golf

An Idiots Guide to Learning Golf

Ben Whelan

Prolific Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan once described the game of golf as “a passion, an obsession, a romance, a nice acquaintanceship with trees, sand, and water”. I decided to explore this American pastime for myself, spending an afternoon hitting the links with the UMass Boston Golf Club (no pun intended).

As we pulled up to the Franklin Park Golf Course clubhouse, I was cautiously optimistic. Having never played the game before, I felt there was a strong chance that I could be a prodigy. I had already spent serious time playing what I deemed the “real” sports such as basketball, football, baseball, ultimate frisbee and soccer, so I felt more than prepared. “Please” I thought to myself “If [PGA Tour Player] Jon Daly can do this at almost fifty years old while shot-gunning beers and puffing on a huge cigar, how hard could it be?”. A new force was about to enter the world of golf.

As I took my first steps from the clubhouse, my clubs slung awkwardly over my shoulder, I was struck with the vision that was laid out before me. It was as if upon crossing the threshold to the course, we were transported to a pastoral New England landscape, untainted by the hand of man.

There were perfectly manicured lawns and shrubbery, stands of trees whose colors had just begun to change as if in awe of the oncoming fall and small ponds complete with free ranging flocks of Canada geese playing amongst the reeds and cattails protruding from the dark green water. All thoughts of golf dominance, a future on the tour and a life of leisure and luxury were banished from my mind as all I could manage was to stand and take in the scene.

I was quickly snapped back to reality by the other members of my foursome who, having experienced this vista numerous times before, were anxious to tee off and get the round started. After watching my colleagues tee off, sending their tee-shots shrieking down the fairway and making it look as easy as I had always thought it would be, I confidently strode to the tee box and inserted my tee into the soft turf. I carefully balanced a ball on top of the tee and removed a club from my bag, preparing to crush the ball toward the flag in the distance, flapping in breeze, taunting me.

As I assumed the swinging position and prepared to make golf history, I was startled by an alarmed cry from one of my foursome, my friend Tim. I was informed that the club I had selected for my first ever golf drive was in fact a “pitching wedge” and the “driver” was probably a more appropriate choice if I intended to “drive” the ball a great distance. Undeterred, I switched clubs and once again assumed the position that I had seen countless times on television and in movies, and once again prepared to send the small white ball into the crisp fall afternoon and out of sight. Another interruption from Tim brought to my attention that what I had perceived as perfect form was in fact not what a golf pro would call “textbook”. After much instruction, during which I was also informed that there was a correct way to hold the club (who knew?), I finally arrived at a stance which a frustrated Tim informed me was “close enough.” I was ready to golf.

With the three other members of my foursome looking on, I took the club back trying to remember all of the careful ergonomic instruction I had just received and let go a mammoth swing connecting with…air. “Uh, that was a practice” I sheepishly informed my fellow golfers, my confidence beginning to drain. I continued to swing away, finally connecting after four or five more “practice swings” and sent the ball careening down the course a good twenty or thirty feet. Although it never quite reached the altitude that I had imagined, hugging the ground as if afraid of heights, I had finally made contact successfully. I looked up triumphantly only to see my playing partners disappearing into the distance to hit their second shot, apparently not having used as much restraint as I when hitting their tee-shots.