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Rory Mcilroy and Shane Lowry during a practice round during this year’s Ryder Cup.
It happened the first time I played. No, it wasn’t that I finished north of 150 strokes. Nor was it that I, at the age of 14, got to drive a cart. After all, I wasn’t behind the wheel for long after driving onto the direct center of the green on the first hole. (When I had asked my more experienced playing partners for proper cart etiquette, I was told to “park next to the ball.” So I did. For every shot.)
But the moment came late that round. I squared up a 5-wood, it started low, shot slowly up, up and up and then parachuted slowly down, down, down. It tingled, and while those who aren’t in the know may laugh, those who are will smile. And, man, I wanted to come back and see if I could do that again.
And I have. Like I did this summer, when late during a round, after talk of football, baseball and basketball with a playing partner, I responded with something like I wrote above when he asked me the following:
What was your falling-for-golf moment?
Good one, right? And while I had my answer, I wondered about others’, thinking that, like the golf swing, no two responses would be exactly the same, and that, also like the golf swing, answers would be both simple and intricate. So I asked around. Coincidentally, it was even raised at press conferences this year.
Below is what I gathered, from Rory, MJ, the person who originally asked me the question — and even my 13-year-old nephew. Maybe it will get you thinking of yours. (And if you’re willing, I’d love to hear it — you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or give me a shout on Twitter at @nickpia.) Maybe it will get you wanting to come back for more. With that, enjoy!
I grew up about a mile from Francis Ouimet’s childhood home, but I didn’t play golf as a kid. I thought it was a dumb game, to the extent that I thought about it at all. The pivotal moment came when a friend and I were riding bikes around town and wound up passing The Country Club, where Ouimet famously won the U.S. Open. It was not exactly known as an inclusive place. My friend started going on about exactly that, about how exclusive it was, how there was no way we could ever play there, even if we wanted to. Naturally, like any kid told that he’s not allowed to do something, I suddenly decided that golf was what I wanted to do. Or at least try once.
My friend was right. The Country Club was not an option. But right next door to it, separated by a chain-link fence, was a municipal course called Putterham Meadows (nowadays, it goes by a different name). As students at the local public high school, we could play it for $2, it turned out. And so off we went, sharing clubs out of a bag my friend had found gathering dust in his family’s garage.
The round is pretty much a blur to me now. But I remember two things. One was that on the first tee, as my friend and I took turns whiffing and shanking, a twosome of gray-haired guys came up behind us and said, ‘You guys mind if two actual golfers play through?’ The other was that I barely got a ball airborne until we got to the 12th hole, a short par-3 where, by some fluke of physics, I caught one flush. You can probably see where this is headed. Like countless beginners before and after me, I watched that first good shot arc through the air, bound onto the green and roll up close to the cup. Every golfer knows that magic feeling. I was hooked.
I can’t remember exactly when I fell for golf, per se, because I don’t have a memory of a time in my life when I didn’t play golf. But I distinctly remember a transformative moment in my junior career when I discovered the magic of birdies, and when shooting a good score became suddenly possible — even after a bad start.
I was playing a SCGA tournament at my local course, and things were not going well from the get-go. I remember it was rainy, and early on, I stepped into a huge puddle, leaving my entire shoe soggy for the duration of the round. Also, while lining up a putt, I actually tumbled backward into a greenside bunker. Yeah. Not my day. To top it off, I had started with a couple of inauspicious bogeys and doubles. I was less than a third of the way into the round, and mentally, I was pretty much done. But with nothing to do but play on, I somehow relaxed, stopped thinking about my score and just started playing golf.
I strung together a series of pars, and I even sprinkled a couple of birdies in there. By the end of the round, I realized I’d played a stretch of 12 holes in one-under par. While I don’t remember exactly what I shot that day, I know my final score was a respectable one — something I didn’t think was possible a few holes in.
That round represented something of an epiphany for me. It was the first time I had ever dug myself out of a bad start — the first time I had ever proven to myself that it was possible, and it gave me a whole new frame of mind for the game from that day onward.
Tough to pinpoint one moment. I feel like I’ve had many of them, most often in moments when the game has introduced me to a new experience or feeling. Moments like feeling a flush strike for the first time, shooting a strived-for score, feeling a part of a team during high school and college competition, and being introduced to links golf for the first time after traveling to Bandon.
I kind of got into golf mainly because, from a competitive standpoint, to me, it is the hardest game to play. I can always respond to an opponent, a defensive guy, an offensive guy, whatever, but in golf, it’s like playing in a mirror. And you’re battling yourself consistently to try to get perfection. Every swing, every putt. For a competitive person like me, this is what keeps me sane, you know, because when I walk away from the game of basketball, you know, that was enough to keep my competitive juices working. Now when I don’t have that game, this game, and it even drives me crazy then. Now I go fishing in between my golf because I got to show patience in fishing that’s going to be relative to golf.
Cantlay: I don’t remember a time when I didn’t play golf. My parents got me into it very young. I’d say once I could really start to drive, like once I got to high school, a year or two into high school, I fell in love with it, just being able to go to the golf course after school. I remember being able to drive was a big deal because I wasn’t dependent on somebody else to get me to go practice.
Reporter: I’m thinking drive off the tee …
Cantlay: Yeah, actually get to the golf course. I’d say definitely in high school. We had a great high school golf team, and it was really fun. That’s when I really started to take it more seriously.
Reporter: What kept you going in the years before high school when you maybe weren’t as in love with the game?
Cantlay: I just remember I liked other sports better. I liked the team aspect, and I liked — I remember golf feeling boring because you’d go to the golf course and you’d be at the golf course for three, four, five, six hours and you’d be by yourself. I remember once getting to high school and having lots of guys around that I was playing with — that made it more fun. It made it easier to hang out at the golf course longer.
It was probably too long ago. I was sort of hooked from a very young age. I always remember like growing up in Northern Ireland that the PGA Tour golf was on at nighttime, so I remember always going to bed after watching on a Saturday and Sunday like so inspired, watching my idols, watching the people I looked up to, going to bed on that Sunday night so inspired to go out the next day and practice or try to get better.
But that was from a real early age.
Yeah, I mean, I would say — from what I can remember, 7, 8, 9 years old. I remember Tiger winning the U.S. Amateur. I remember watching that. Even before he turned pro, I was loving watching that and playing and practicing and trying to get better.
Golf is an interesting sport — you hit a ball into a cup with sticks that are bent on the end. Sounds weird, right? Well, not for me. I play baseball, so I like to hit things with ‘sticks,’ and golf, when you think about it, is a calmer baseball — and I really like that.
I remember playing at Hansen Park [in Milwaukee], throwing fits when I couldn’t chip on the green perfectly (I still do that) and playing with my little, short blue clubs I had. But this is my first year taking golf “seriously,” and I’ve really really enjoyed it. Sure, I might not always play at the best courses, but I played at a few nice ones. I might’ve not played the best, either, but it still was an amazing experience, and I’m glad I did it.
I can’t pinpoint my falling-for-golf moment exactly, but I have to say it’s the time when I was able to hit the ball in the fairway consistently and not have to drop the ball near the green or on the fairway every single hit. It was just so boring. But now that I’m actually OK at golf, it’s super fun.
Nick Piastowski is a Senior Editor at Golf.com and Golf Magazine. In his role, he is responsible for editing, writing and developing stories across the golf space. And when he’s not writing about ways to hit the golf ball farther and straighter, the Milwaukee native is probably playing the game, hitting the ball left, right and short, and drinking a cold beer to wash away his score. You can reach out to him about any of these topics — his stories, his game or his beers — at email@example.com.
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