One of the people I play with is my good friend Rosie. When we golf, we are pursuing our best game, yes, but most of the time we are listening to each other, talking about life, relating parts of our past we haven’t revealed yet. Rosie, as she puts it, was ‘different since I was 9.’ She is athletic and strong and has a shock of white hair on her head. And she outdrives me on nearly every hole. She is one of the best athletes I’ve ever met, and I enjoy playing golf and tennis with her in winter. We love competing, and we also like serving others. Though we have both grown up disciplined by athletics, we chose public service – me as a teacher and she as a police officer. She was one of the first female police officers in Massachusetts, and the first female chief in a number of towns and universities.
Once when I complained about how difficult golf is, Rosie told me about the time she had to ring someone’s doorbell and tell two parents their son had died in a car wreck. You think golf is hard? She said. Then Rosie would laugh her special laugh, which was a laugh of understanding of human life. While we’re golfing we use laughter to cut the difficulties of life, even about the most solemn matters. Soon after her telling me about having to draw her gun and put down a psychotic, armed man, I would suggest that was nothing compared to being outdriven by a woman.
The other day, I was having a good round at one of the course we love – Blackstone National. We had hooked up with a couple from Cape Cod, who were playing there for the first time. When we got to the 14th hole, I was on track for (for me) a great day, and I began to give instructions to our new friends on how to play the hole. (Stay left, danger all the way on the right.) Well, guess who didn’t listen to his own advice? As everyone made his or her way toward the hole, dutifully staying left, guess who found the king-sized bunker below the hole? It suddenly looked like I was staring up Mt. Everest with nothing but a niblick in me hand. . . I exploded. Out of that bunker over the green into another bunker on the other side. From bad to worse. A pathetic flick that ran with sand well past the hole. A two putt for double bogey.
On 15, trying to recover my wits, I faced a blind second shot and Rosie, always ahead of me after the drive, was spotting. When I got down the hill, she had to deliver the bad news: After a good drive, I had sprayed my second shot out of bounds right. My hopes of a round in the low 80s were gone.
Rosie hasn’t lost her ability to deliver bad news. When she told me I was OB, and in respond to my protestations and self-disgust, she said, “I’m sorry,” in her baby girls’ voice. I could only laugh. To lament our misfortunes on a golf course is childish. There’s only one thing to do, in life as in golf, as above so below, pick yourself up, go forward and hit the ball again.
In addition to our sharing and humor, I love playing with Rosie for another reason: Golf has largely been seen as an elite, man’s game.
If there are still some men who think golf is only for men, history tells another story. The women’s game has come a long way from when Mary Queen of Scots played in 1500s. It was during her reign that St. Andrew’s, the first course was built. And later, in 1867 the very first women’s golf club was formed, which was initially formed as The Ladies Club of St Andrews. The club later became known as the St Andrews Ladies Putting Club and is currently known as The Ladies Putting Club of St Andrews. Mary Queen of Scots is also credited with the word Caddie, drawn from Cadets, who used to carry her clubs around when she played.
As Rosie is quick to inform anyone who listens, while we talk about all those wins for Tiger and Jack, has anyone heard of Kathrynne Ann Whitworth? Still alive (b. 1939), she has 88 professional wins, the most on either the LPGA or the PGA. (The closest male is Sam Snead with 82)
And there are other reasons to admire women golfers. While the men professionals talk about advocating for wearing shorts, the women have taken issues of gender and sexuality into the public realm. They have brought forward issues of racial justice and equity in pay. When Rosie tells me – in so many words — to stop whining, the long history of women in sports comes to the forefront in my mind. Women’s sports are an area of great progress, such that I love to watch the faces on other players when Rosie gets up and sends a whopper into the murky distance. When we played that day with the couple from The Cape, after Rosie would lift that little sphere skyward, our partners just kept saying, “Wow.”
That same day on 17, Rosie drove one so far that it rolled up into the forward group, whom we couldn’t see off the tee. We hadn’t seen this group for most of the day, leaving them far ahead of us. When we got to our balls, one of the men, waving his clubs in the air, shouted back at us, “You’ve been hitting into us all day.” He was having a bad one and decided to take it out on Rosie. We drove our cart forward to offer an apology, and Rosie said she was sorry, but afterwards, she said, “At the next hole I’m going to get that guy some diapers.”
I am certain given time, women we pull equal to men in ability in most things, and golf too. The days of it being an elite, male sport, are over and opening it up to all levels of class and play and genders and sexualities will enhance its reputation. And on its purpose?
Driving home that day, replaying the round in my head, I lamented how I didn’t listen to myself on 14 and 15 and so gave up my ghost. It dawned on me – and why I am writing this now — if golf doesn’t have a specific purpose, it reveals to us life’s teachings. One of those is: we have to listen, to ourselves as well as others. Whether golfing or not, when we listen to one another, life reveals its joys and sufferings, its misfortunes and triumphs. If we can’t listen, we might as well be on the moon. And if we don’t listen on a golf course, we cough up a decent round and end up in a bunker the size of New Jersey.
Arnold Palmer said, “golf is deceptively simple, endlessly complicated. A child can play it well and a grown man can never master it. It is almost a science, yet is a puzzle with no answer.”
I don’t look for answers in golf anymore, but life becomes more precious the more we understand it . . .And the more time marches on. I for one hope Rosie lives to 112, so I can keep learning from such a talented and courageous women, a great athlete and an even better public servant. She teaches me not only about golf, but how friendship and contests reveal life’s secrets to us.
I also hope both of us go on playing together because one of my life’s joys is to watch the faces of our playing partners when Rosie powers another cloud scraper off the tee and then has to wait for us – men and women alike — to hit her next shot.
Mark Wagner is a teacher and small time farmer who, in the summer months, has been known to enjoy a round of the ancient game of golfe.