A Beautiful Shot
When Ray turned three his father made the decision to take up golf. Not because he was particularly interested in the game, but because he saw it as something that they could eventually do together; something, that as the boy grew older, would keep them close. When Ray found his own life, and it took him further and further from Hank’s influence, golf would be something that they could still share. Hank saw himself picking up Ray early for a Saturday morning tee-time, talking about Ray’s job and the family he would then have. Ray would ask him for advice and the two of them would speak freely and unhurried among the lush greens and fairways.
When Ray was little he enjoyed running around on the course, taking crazy swings or playing entire games with his driver. He would sit on his Hank’s lap and pretend to drive the golf cart.
But he never really took to the game, and when he reached an age where he was expected to follow the rules his interest began to lag. By the time he was 15 he seemed to resent having to give up a large part of his weekend to play golf with Hank, and after an overly heated argument one warm Friday night in June, Hank impulsively sold Ray’s clubs on Craigslist. He let Ray keep the money, which he promptly spent on a new video game.
Hank continued to play for another year, joining foursomes of friends and co-workers, but eventually gave it up in favor of sleeping in, and hung his clubs from a ceiling hook in the garage. He spent the extra time puttering around the house and the garden that he and his wife, Jamie, had planted on a small patch of dirt in a sunny corner of their yard, tending to four tomato vines and one lumbering zucchini plant.
But he missed the time with his son, and much as he tried, Hank could never interest Ray in dirtying his hands helping him weed the tomato patch. Hank’s own father, like his grandfather before him, had been an avid gardener, spending countless weekend hours in his large yard of fruit trees and vegetable rows. Growing up, Hank was expected to assist him in what seemed a never-ending task of weeding, pruning and planting. Hank had hated it, so he never insisted that his own son join him in the yard.
Though he was no longer playing golf, Hank could not bring himself to sell his clubs, despite Jamie’s many gentle suggestions that he do so. When he first stopped playing she assumed he’d take it up again, even buying him an expensive box of Titleist balls for his birthday. But the balls simply went into the golf bag. After the first year she began to propose that they could use the money gained by selling them, or at the very least the storage space. But Hank wouldn’t bite. “What if Ray decides he wants to play again?” he’d ask her. “Maybe he’ll want to use them.” Eventually she dropped the subject and the clubs remained on their hook in the corner.
But Ray found other interests: skateboarding, part-time jobs, and of course, girls. By Ray’s senior year, entire days would go by when Hank wouldn’t even see his son, let alone spend time with him. Ray worked nights at a local pizza place and spent most of his time after school hanging out with his friends at the downtown park, skateboarding and chatting up girls. Hank didn’t figure he had much of a right to hassle him so long as he kept his grades up, so he let it go. If Hank wanted to see Ray, he and Jamie would go in for pizza and a few beers, engaging in brief conversations with their son as he ran about the restaurant delivering pizzas and bussing tables.
“What are your plans for later tonight?” Hank would ask, as Ray hustled past with a tub of dirty beer mugs.
“I don’t know, just hanging out.”
“We rented a movie. We’ll wait if you want to watch it with us.”
“No thanks. I probably won’t be home till late anyway.”
And that was that.
Eventually Hank stopped asking and accepted the fact that his son was older and had his own friends, his own life. He began to put in more hours at work, and when not working, found plenty to do around the house; projects he’d been neglecting for years while he’d focused his attention on breadwinning and child rearing. Jamie researched attractive coastal getaways and the two of them would make weekend excursions each month. They rekindled their own relationship before fireplaces set in small beach-front cottages, and over candle-lit tables at dark mountain inns, all the while making plans for their soon-to-be empty nest.
Years later at Ray and Miranda’s wedding, Hank gave a toast. He spoke of the boy Ray had been, and how proud he was of the man he’d become. He recalled their early years on the golf course, entertaining their guests with stories of a young Ray and his unconventional approach to the game. Miranda laughed and beamed at her new husband, her eyes alight, imagining the adorable boy that once existed in the man beside her.
When Miranda gave birth to a son they named Vance, Hank was thrilled. Not only because his family name would live on, but because a grandchild would add more activity and excitement to their lives. Hank and Jamie readily agreed to baby-sit, immersing themselves once again in feeding schedules and diaper changes. When Miranda’s parents sold their home to move closer, Hank and Jamie missed their time with the baby, having to share him now with Ray’s in-laws.
For Vance’s fourth birthday, Ray’s in-laws gave him a set of “Tiger Woods Junior Golfer" golf clubs. Vance loved his clubs and took to them right away, dragging them wherever he went. He even began sleeping with his favorite black and orange stripped driver.
The afternoon after the party, Hank took his own clubs down from the hook in the garage and dusted them off. He cleaned the clubfaces with warm soapy water and an old toothbrush and put them in the trunk of his car. The next morning he spent three hours at a local driving range and putting green, surprised at how quickly it came back to him.
That evening he called Ray.
“How about you and I take Vance out to play nine holes next Saturday?”
“Sorry Dad, but I’ve already made plans to take him to Windmarsh. Miranda’s dad is a member there and has a spare set of clubs he said I could have. Besides, I thought that you and Mom were going to Big Sur next weekend?”
“Yes, that’s right. I guess I forgot. Maybe another time.”
“Sure, we’ll do it another time.”
Hank was silent.
“OK, cool,” Ray said. “Look, I’ve got to help get Vance ready for bed, so I’ll talk to you later, OK?”
“Sure. Give him a kiss for me,” Hank said and hung up the phone.
The coast of Big Sur offers some of the most stunning views on the West Coast. Just outside their cottage door, a small precipice gave way to rocky cliffs and chaparral covered hillsides, the surf crashing and churning at the base of the cliff 100 yards below. In a small clearing among the bristlecone fir, Hank pushed a tee in the ground. He placed a Titleist on the tee. Using his driver, he pressed a beautiful shot, its trajectory straight and true. For several moments the ball seemed as though it would hang there indefinitely, floating in the wind, before arcing and vanishing into a white, foaming wave.
“That was a beautiful shot, Hank,” Jamie shouted over the sound of the surf.
But Hank was too busy placing another ball on the tee to notice.