When I graduated college, I had this idea that if I was going to get ahead professionally, I was going to have to learn to play golf. It kind of makes me laugh to think about it, but it’s not entirely untrue. So I talked to my dad and he took me to the golf course and we practiced putting, and one of my brothers took me to the driving range, and my dad found a used bag and collected an assortment of secondhand clubs for me to use. He filled the bag with tees and secondhand balls and ball markers and divot repair tools and attached a towel and a set of wheels to it. He gave it to me, not as a gift, per se, but just as a “hey, I know you’re working on this and I put this together for you.” He walked me through everything in the bag. I was very touched.
Within a year or two, he noticed trouble with his own golf game. He was a lefty, but had some problems with the grip in his right hand. Over the spring and summer, he worked on it with the doctors, and they figured out he had a pinched nerve in his shoulder. He took some time away from the game, but when he came back to it, it continued to bother him. That’s when they found something more— the ALS that eventually took his life. He had the pinched nerve, and it continued to pain him until his death, but they wouldn’t operate, because the ALS would impede his ability to recover function, and they didn’t want to hasten the loss of function he’d undergo. Another memory that stands out is watching golf with him later, when he’d been fighting the disease for more than a year, but before he went into hospice. We were watching PGA golfing, which is one of the deadly-boringest things I know, but I’d come up to spend the weekend with him, and that’s what he was doing. And while we watched, we heard about how Tom Watson’s long-time friend and caddy Bruce Edwards had been diagnosed with ALS. He was still gamely carrying the bag, at that point, but we both knew that it was just a matter of time.
Over the years, I’ve played with the clubs a handful of times. With colleagues (it’s really not a bad hobby for work socializing,) with two of my brothers in a benefit tournament (we won the co-ed division. I supplied the extra x chromosomes, they supplied the talent.) I’ve gone golfing traveling once, with my brother and nephews, and been mini golfing and to the driving range on dates, but I didn’t use my clubs. I think I loaned them to a friend, once. I like playing most sports, whether I have much talent for them or not. That’s about where I am with golf. I don’t mind playing if the people I’m playing with don’t mind that I suck at it. If they’re going to harass me about being a novice or pepper me with advice about my game, I’d rather do something else. I’ll take a little constructive criticism, but that’s it.
Yesterday, while packing, I looked at the bag. Much as I love the memories of my dad putting it together for me, I suspect I don’t really need my own clubs. Almost on a whim, I put them with things I knew for sure I wanted to donate. I’ve spent several years tripping over them in storage and navigating around them. I could have kept them— I would certainly have had more space to store them. I suspect that I’ll wonder whether it was the right choice for awhile. It’s why I’m telling you the story. Because I love what he did for me, but it’s hard not to feel the mixed in the blessings of them. And in the end, I find that I don’t regret the things I donate as much as I think I will. But today, I regret it a lot. Writing this, my cheeks are wet and I feel like an ungrateful fool. But I can’t let myself stay there. In my mind, some kid found those clubs the second they hit the floor, and is beside him or herself with joy. They talked their folks into letting them get the set and are already on their way to wearing them right out. As they should be.