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Monday, May 13, 2013

It's All About Competition

I was talking recently with a friend who used to be an enthusiastic tennis player but who now doesn't play because her knees are worn out.  She confided that she misses tennis -- the competition of a match, the pleasure of playing with a friend, the exhilaration that follows the well-placed baseline drive -- but pain keeps her away from the game.

"Think about golf," I urged her.  "It's less stressful on our old joints."

Perhaps, in the long view, but golf-related injuries aren't limited to the tour players.  On some days the members of the Star Fort Ladies Golf Association resemble a troupe of walking wounded.
There's  Sue, who got tossed out of a golf cart and sustained a big gash in her forehead when she collided with a cart path after Sudi, made a wild and unexpected left turn to cross a fairway.  There's Ruth, who only thought she was well out of my range of fire when I hit a ball off the toe of my club and sent it slamming into her ankle, who finished that round with a painful limp.  And there's Libby who -- while playing in flip-flops -- hit her ball over an elevated green and then slipped on some mud and rolled down the hill, but was back on the course the next day, so stiff she could barely move, happily playing golf.  We're a tough bunch, the ladies of the Star Fort Golf Association.

Not really "sports injuries," you say?  Perhaps, but injuries nonetheless, sustained while in pursuit of athletic activity.

In addition to nursing our fingers, ankles, shins, elbows and heads that bang into the ground, twist uncomfortably when we're trying to firm our footing in a hazard, and occasionally collide with one or another part of a golf cart, the women I play with on a regular basis manage an array of chronic injuries that rival the problems of professional golfers.  Our knees, our shoulders, and our wrists are wrapped, braced, injected with cortisone, and occasionally subjected to surgery to clean up our torn cartilage.  We play golf on replaced knees and hips.  We carry a fairly impressive variety of drugs in our bags to get us through our rounds, and we share them.

Cold, wet weather exacerbates our arthritis and challenges our physical ability to properly follow through on our swings.  Sometimes bending over to tee up the ball or retrieve it from the cup hurts.    We battle the inevitable vagaries of aging on and off the course with persistence and determination -- yoga class, free weights, cross-training,  longer warm-ups on the range -- and we play golf, sometimes with just a tad too much vengeance.

Before Title IX opened competitive athletics to girls, the members of the Star Fort Ladies Golf Association were probably swinging pom-poms in their high school pep clubs far more frequently than they were swinging golf clubs.  There weren't any golf, tennis, volleyball, and softball teams for girls.  Women of our age competed against each other for boyfriends.  Now we compete against each other on an entirely different playing field, for entirely different stakes.

Like the earth's crust, the competition that drives my golf game is stratified: I am always competing against myself, correcting the flaws and surpassing the accomplishments of my previous game.  I am always competing against the mythic Old Man Par.  And I am always competing against you, with or without a handicap advantage.

Last week, at the end of a disappointing back 9, I followed a mediocre drive on the 18th hole with one of the most perfect 2nd shots I've ever hit, with my 3-wood, uphill, almost 175 yards, straight toward the pin, no drift to the right, to the fringe of the green.  Flushed, breathless, beaming, adrenaline-driven, I got stowed my beloved club, got in the cart, and said to my golf pal Alma, "Don't you just love it when you hit a perfect shot."

Alma is so controlled.  She doesn't show much emotion on the golf course.  (I tend toward the less controlled end of the continuum.)  But she looked at me, smiled a dreamy kind of smile that seemed to drift across her 30 years of golf memories, and responded, "You know I do."