Atlanta, GA -
Has your sense of smell ever brought you back to a time long forgotten?
That’s the Atlanta air in the Spring for me. Everywhere I went my heart was heavy with memories of my childhood. It didn’t hurt that one of the courses I played while there happened to be about a half mile away from where I lived from birth until 8 years old. I couldn’t hide from being overwhelmed by visions and thoughts that had not been in mind for years.
It wasn’t a bad thing, by any means, just contemplative.
On Thursday morning I met a group of guys playing in a small annual charity tournament at Peachtree Golf Club. It is a hidden gem of a course built in 1947 under the orders of Bobby Jones and happens to be the most aesthetically pleasing course I have ever had the privilege of playing. It was about as magical a track of land as I could imagine and I was surprised that it was just that half mile from my childhood home.
After the round I decided to drive by the old neighborhood to see how things had changed. When I got out of the car and smelled the air I remembered playing tee ball in the front yard, riding big wheels down the street and wandering through the small creeks that seemed so huge as a wee lad.
The house was a lot smaller than I remembered too, but it was still very adequate for a family of 5. Nothing compared to the mini-castles that are being built where some of my friends old houses were town down, but plenty of house and a great yard for a young family. I knew I had a fortunate childhood and standing there I realized that I need to do more to make sure others enjoy a similar childhood. I am not sure exactly what that means right now as I write this on the return flight, but I know that I have more to give.
After taking in the scene I remembered there was a small lake next to some tennis courts that we often walked to. Instinctually I began the short trek and with every step of the way it felt like yesterday when I last hiked the path up to Silver lake through the woods along a small creek.
When I reached the lake I was flooded with more memories. Fishing, catching tadpoles, jumping off a diving board for the first time, getting a fishhook through my hand, a friend stepping on glass and cutting her foot, thinking the lake was endless and impossible to walk around or swim, and a man who used to hit beat up golf balls into the water with his son.
I lingered on that last memory and recalled a time when he let me hit some balls. I must have been 5-years-old and was a pretty shy little kid, but it looked like a ton of fun so I tried a few swings with the short right handed driver that his son was using. I didn’t make very good contact and basically just spun around every time I made a swing, but then he asked me if I was a righty or lefty and I told him I wasn’t sure. At that point, and still today, I did a lot of things with each hand. He told met that he would bring a lefty out next time to see if that fit me better.
About a week later (in kid memory so it could have been a day or a year) I saw him again hitting balls into the little lake. He had followed through in his promise and had a short left-handed driver for me to try. I got over my shyness and gave it a couple of swings. Surprisingly, I hit the ball pretty well and sailed a few into the lake. I remember how it felt coming off that little wooden driver face and liked it. I ran off to play with my brother, but before we walked home we bumped into the man at the top of the trail towards home. He had the driver in his hand and told me that he wanted me to keep it. I was, again, shy and didn’t say anything but took the club. My brother told me to say thank you and I think I managed the two words before the man told us that he wanted to give me golfing lessons. He said next time I see him that he would start teaching me how to make a good swing and what the game was.
We left and I cherished that driver. I didn’t have any golf balls and instead of using it I kept it at the foot of my bed and was looking forward to bringing it back to the lake to learn how to use it.
I brought it with me every time I went back up there and always looked for the man but never saw him again. After a while I stopped taking it with me and the club ended up living in a large chest that contained other sporting odds and ends. The most use the club ever saw was hitting pine cones around the yard a few summer nights. As a young child’s attention can meander, mine switched to other pursuits and I forgot about that small driver.
I found out a few years later that the man had died in his sleep just days after gifting me the driver. In retrospect I know he must have been young, maybe 45 at the oldest. He had a heart attack that ended his time far too early and despite never having given me a lesson I think he was a large part of why I am doing what I am doing now. It only took a couple of minutes and the gift of a used child’s driver, but here I am almost 30 years later dedicating myself to becoming the best I can be in this game.
I’m not necessarily saying that those experiences led to my decision, rather I was pondering how much a quick interaction can influence a life. I stood there looking out at that lake wondering where I would be today if not for that memory. I didn’t have an answer, but felt happy in the moment and knew that meant I was doing what I needed to be doing.
The funny thing is that just hours earlier I was debating my path as I played the incredible Peachtree Golf Club without being able to hit a single decent shot. I was caught in the moment lingering on my shot by shot performance rather than being able to step back and appreciate how far I had come to date. And, I was letting it get me down while playing golf on one of the more special courses in the world. Don’t get me wrong, I fully appreciated the experience and was in awe of all three courses I got to play while in Atlanta, but was getting in my own way by being frustrated by shots instead of playing each one as a unique experience.
Frustration doesn’t accomplish anything, it just interferes with both happiness and progress. The next day I took that thought into the round and even though I started 6 over after 6 holes I staved off that emotion and ended up shooting a 76 on a par 70 course. That was about 15 strokes better than either of the first two days and wholly because I kept my mindset in check.
The lake and those memories helped me, the trick now is to keep that in mind while continuing the push forward. At any point it’s easy to pull on either positive or negative memories and the good thing is that I think it’s a choice we can make for ourselves. And, I think that with practice it’s possible to change anything including out emotional responses to a given situation.
Golf notes: over the first two rounds I hit more driver shots OB than in the fairway. For the third round I hit the driver once and snap hooked it so went with 3-wood for the rest of the round and hit almost every fairway. I played East Lake, Peachtree Golf Course and Capital City Brookhaven. I have never in my life seen greens quite like Peachtree and hear they are similar in style to Augusta, which makes me really want to see that course. I hit it well once I got out of my own way. My putting was solid, I need to learn a technique for chipping/pitching from tight bermuda lies. Driver must be improved. I can rely on the 3-wood and get it out there 260 yards on firmer fairways. For fluffy bunkers you can really use the bounce unlike the muddy/firm bunkers through the Portland winter where it needs to be hit down on.