Every time I’ve been somewhere warm on New Year’s Day, I’ve played golf. But this year was different.
I’ve been playing golf since I was 10, when my maternal grandfather took me to the public course he played with his retired post office buddies. I’ll turn 50 this year, and I have so many great memories of being on a course with friends and now my children.
This year we were in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, on vacation. After playing as a family earlier in the week, my middle daughter asked if we could play again. This was like asking a Labrador if he wanted a treat. I immediately booked a time in the afternoon on New Year’s Day.
My daughter was so happy to be out there, and I was buoyed by her excitement. With each swing, her enthusiasm increased – whether she wiffed or crushed it like LPGA bomber Lexi Thompson.
Why was it so different? I wasn’t focused on me or how I was playing. I was energized by her enjoyment, which grew and grew.
Past New Year’s rounds weren’t like this. Picture a decent golfer (me) who hadn’t played in a few months trying to shoot his career best in the hope that it would augur well for the new season. (However embarrassing this may sound, I can be as a superstitious as any golfer.)
Not this year. I was happy to be on the course with her, to see her joy – and success. She hit some great shots but more importantly she never got frustrated by her bad ones. I wish I could say the same.
We came to our final hole, the 9th hole at the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club. A short par-3, it’s considered the first island green in golf, with water all around. While the landing area is generous, the water is all some golfers can see – so balls splash down all day long.
My daughter was nervous about losing the ball she’d been playing the whole round. She picks the colored ball for the day carefully, as if each one tells a story. I introduced her to the concept of the “water ball” – that banged-up ball you didn’t care if you lost.
She teed up a scuffed Flying Lady she’d found and with a smooth, loose swing sent the pink ball flying over the water and onto the green. She was bouncing in the evening light, and I was thrilled.
When we got to the green, I realized her ball was only about 15 feet from the pin. It was a great shot. Now, if she just cozied her first putt near the hole, she could tap in for her first-ever par – on the first day of 2023! Talk about good omens!
But I didn’t want to be that parent who coaches the fun out of a sport, so I kept quiet as best I could. “It curves a bit to the right, lag it up there,” I mumbled.
Four putts later the ball was in the hole. Instead of being sour as I would have been, she was still beaming. It didn’t matter to her that she’d hit one shot 100 yards over water but taken four more to go 15 feet. She was focused on the good of that first shot – and walked off smiling.
That was a better New Year’s lesson than any score.