Sometimes, on summer nights when he’d decided not to work late but to instead come home and maybe put some hamburgers on the grill, my dad would ask me if I wanted to go hit a bucket of balls at the driving range. It didn’t happen often so when he asked, I always said yes. I didn’t play golf. My dad never asked me to play golf with him, I suspect because he thought it would make for slow going and he was always one in a hurry. We just went to the driving range which was okay because hitting balls hard was the only part of golf I liked.
I loved the driving range. I loved that we went there at night and there were giant lights that lit up the beautiful green grass. I loved the truck pulling the net that grabbed up all the balls and I loved most of all having my own space. It was a square piece of concrete with a rubber pad and a permanent tee. When I put my bucket of balls off to the side, it was riches. So many white balls, piled on top of one another, endless swings in store.
My dad usually had the square next to me but sometimes, if the driving range was crowded, we’d be several squares apart. My dad was a good golfer, and he could easily hit a ball 250 yards. He had a golf bag full of clubs and brought maybe three or four to the driving range. I used my mother’s driver. Not the wood one she got when they were married in 1937, a very new version, slick and silvery. And I could hit the ball. Oh, I had a slice, as they say, my balls curved to the right, one after the other. I didn’t care, though, I just wanted to hit them hard and far.
My dad never instructed me. He focused on his own bucket of balls. Sometimes, he’d look over at me, at a ball I hit, and smile. “Got a bit of a slice there, kiddo.” But he didn’t rush over and show me how to get rid of the slice, he just kept hitting his own balls. I watched him. I watched the other golfers. I adjusted my stance. I pretended I was in the LPGA and had color coordinated golf shoes and socks. I knew enough to keep my eye on the ball no matter where my shoulders or arms were – it is advice, after all, that applies to a million situations: keep your eye on the ball! When I hit a ball just right and it took flight, I stood with my club on my left shoulder watching until it landed on the ground amidst dozens of other balls. Sometimes, I felt my dad catching a glimpse of my beautiful drive.
Those were some great nights at the driving range. Precious.