As a guy who has always loved Mark Twain’s definition of golf as “a good walk spoiled,” I had never aspired to be the next Tiger Woods, either on or off the course, which is why I’m not rich but am, fortunately, still married.
But lately, at the ripe old age of 60, I have had a hankering to take up the sport, which is more sensible than tennis because in golf you don’t have to run after the ball. In fact, you can use a cart, which is fine on a golf course but would be kind of clunky on a tennis court.
So I went to the Bergen Point Golf Course, a beautiful waterside public course in West Babylon, N.Y., for a lesson with instructor Kevin Lisi.
“You’ve never played golf before?” asked Kevin, who is 23 and has been playing since he was a kid, which to me he still is.
“No,” I replied. “But if Tiger Woods could win the Masters at 21, and Jordan Spieth could almost win this year at 20, the opposite could happen and a geezer like me could win. Then I could sign my AARP card and get a green jacket.”
“Show me how you think a golf club should be held,” said Kevin, who handed me a pitching wedge on the driving range, where I was among about a dozen people in the group lesson.
“I’m guessing this isn’t the right way,” I said as I grabbed the club by the head.
“You really are new at this,” said Kevin, who nonetheless was impressed when I wrapped my fingers around the handle and, with a little guidance, held the club correctly. After showing me how to plant my feet, bend my back and knees, and angle the head of the club, Kevin said, “Now take a practice swing.”
I raised the club parallel to the ground and lifted the head a bit higher, then brought it back down and followed through beautifully, a fluid motion that would have impressed Ben Hogan had the legendary golf champion, known for his perfect swing, not been currently deceased.
“Very good,” Kevin said. “Now let’s see if you can hit a ball.”
I lined up the little white sphere and drove it about 90 yards.
“Are you sure you’ve never played golf before?” asked Kevin.
“Just miniature golf,” I replied. “My kids beat me.”
I drove my second shot the same distance.
“Do you think I can win the Masters?” I asked.
“You’re just getting started,” Kevin cautioned. “Golf’s addictive, but it’s a tough game.”
He wasn’t kidding, because those two shots were my best of the day. I steadily regressed, with some of my worst shots dribbling off the mat. Kevin was wonderful, treating me with kid gloves (or, rather, golf gloves) and trying to get me back in my original groove when he wasn’t giving pointers to the other newbies.
When the hourlong lesson was over, Kevin said, “You’re not bad. You just need to practice.”
Later, in the pro shop, head pro Paul Rollo, who saw me on the driving range, said, “The basic principle is to move the ball forward. If it moves in the direction you want it to go, you’re doing OK.”
Pro shop employee Ken Klevitz added, “If you see water in front of you, forget it.”
Bob Miller, director of the Bergen Point Golf Course, ambled in with his dog, a 5-year-old black Lab named Lucas.
“Are you a dogleg right?” I asked Lucas.
“He’s a scratch golfer,” said Kevin.
“He does a lot of scratching,” Bob noted. “And he scares away the geese.”
“I’d be good at that,” I said. “Maybe I could do it at the Masters.”
“Sure,” said Paul. “But if you want a green jacket, you may have to buy it yourself.”