Three Essentials Of Middle Age: When I Turned 50, I Discovered Three Essential Facts Of Middle Age

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Three Essentials of Middle Age:
When I turned 50, I discovered three essential facts of middle age:
periodontia, bifocals, and golf.
Let me explain. I once assumed that golf was a sport for elderly country
club Republicans. The sort of men who wore green pants with whale belts and
protected their clubs with fuzzy duck head covers. Golf was Dwight David
Eisenhower. My family was Adlai Stevenson. In my 20s I thought golf was
God's way of telling you that you had too much time on your hands.
In my 30s I decided that a low handicap was admissible evidence of child
neglect in any custody dispute. In my 40s, as a fairly decent tennis and
squash player, I couldn't imagine hitting a ball while it was standing
still. Quite frankly, it seemed unfair. But somewhere along the way,
somewhere between Bill Clinton and Big Bertha and Tiger Woods, between
chiropractors and knee surgery and Advil, I had an epiphany (that's
something close to a muscle spasm) that said: golf is my next sport. To wit:
my last sport. I'd better learn it now.
This was a decision aided and abetted by a quirky nine-hole golf course in
Maine where people still stroll and stop to look at the view. It was also
aided and abetted by a quirky husband (more Bobby Kennedy than Adlai
Stevenson) who enthusiastically gave me all his clubs. This was an act of
generosity that I didn't immediately recognize for what it was: A ploy for
him to get new equipment. Now, as I approach Columbus Day weekend with a
full set of clubs and big plans, I feel fully qualified at last to offer up
my views on why golf begins at 50.
Yes, I know that one sign of a new and erratic duffer is the penchant for
turning golf into a good walk through midlife spoiled. For reasons that
remain unclear, golf has spawned more philosophical rambles than fairways.
Nobody compares tennis to life. A love game? Ken Burns and several milion
fans talk about baseball as the collective field of youthful dreams, but
there's no senior tour on the diamonds.
Today there are, I hasten to add, some 25 million golfers and 16,010 golf
courses. There are speed golfers and networking golfers and boring golfers.
There is even, for reasons that escape me, a golf channel. All golf, all day
long. There is a business writer who actually correlated the handicaps of
CEOs with their stock performance. And there are the very, very serious golf
professionals who sit around discussing whether they should ban new improved
clubs because they are making the game too easy. Say what? But from my
perspective, golf is the midlife sport of choice for very different reasons.
First of all, it's esier to reach your goals. In midlife, after all, it's a
snap to have a handicap below your age and a score below your weight. And
getting easier all the time.
Golf is like midlife because only now do you realize that the course you
have set upon is governed by rules so vast, so arcane, and so arbitrary that
the average person -- you -- will never figure it all out.
Golf is like midlife because it is absolutely unfair. As a young person, you
carry the illusion that, if you do your homework, study, and work overtime
you'll get it all right. By middle age, you know that every time you've got
it all together -- work, family, putt, pitch -- some piece is about to
unravel. I promise you.
Golf, like midlife, is played against only one opponent: yourself. By the
time you reach 50, ou'd better figure out that doing well doesn't depend on
others doing badly. You don't have to wish them ill. They're not the reason
you are shanking the ball.
Golf is like middle age, because -- ah, you knew this was coming -- in these
years you really do have to play it as it lays. You don't get to start
everything all over again. The most you get is a mulligan. If it's an
unplayable lie, everybody sympathizes, but you still have to take a penalty.
On the other hand, golf, like midlife, also offers another chance. No matter
how badly you hit one ball, you can still recover on the next. Of course, no
matter how well you hit one ball, you can always screw up on the next.
Finally, golf is like midlife because at some time on a beautiful October
day, when you are searching for a ball, or for that matter your swing, you
look around and realize for the first or 50th time that in this game, you're
the one keeping your own score.