This was published in my college alumi magazine, Macalester Today, Spring 2011.
Thirty-five years after graduating from college, I am obsessed with golf.
To put this in perspective, consider that one of the reasons I chose Macalester in the first lace was the absence of a physical education requirement.
So how did this golf obsession develop? A variety of complicated reasons, I suppose, as with so many life choices. One of the biggest reasons must have been the abundance of beautiful golf courses in my Four Corners world. Add to this the fact that at work I had been moved into an office without a window. I needed to get outside and experience our celebrated New Mexico sunlight.
So two years ago, my friend and teaching colleague Joan and I looked at each other over coffee one day and said, “Let’s sign up for golf.” We each credit the other for introducing the idea, and in the end it doesn’t matter. The important thing is that once we were registered, we had an obligation to each other to carry on.
On the first day of class, we loaded our loaners and thrift shop golf clubs into the car and drove out to Riverview Golf Course, west of town. It was March, and that day lived up to expectations for a spring day in the high desert of New Mexico: the wind was howling. We got dust in our teeth just walking into the pro shop.
On that first day, we filled out a form from our teacher. On this form I was forced to confess my age and lack of athletic ability. But the form also asked a profound question, “What do you want to learn here?” Indeed, this experience was all about learning something new.
On that day, we sat in the snack bar with the Kirtland Middle School golf team and watched a video. I learned what to do if a seagull picks up my golf ball during a round.
A week later, the wind died down and we were out on the course with our clubs. Our teacher was the Riverview Golf Pro, a large guy who chomped on unlit cigar stubs and drove around in a golf cart with his Weimaraner, Annabelle.
This was a teacher who believed in active learning. He showed us how to drive a golf cart and took us out to the first tee. He demonstrated teeing up the ball. Then he pointed to a tiny red flag hundreds of yards away and said, “See that flag? Hit it over there.”
“But,” we said, “we don’t know how to do that.”
“This is how you’re going to learn,” he said. “Try. Just try. When I see what’s going on, we’ll go back to the driving range and work on basics.”
And that’s exactly what we did.
I missed the ball. A lot. But I kept trying. Some days we learned golf basics on the driving range and putting greens. Other days we went out on the course. We learned to play by playing. Little by little, it got better.
What happened here? After being a teacher for more than thirty years, I learned to be a student again. I remembered what it is like to be a beginner and be afraid of humiliation. I was reminded that a good teacher understands this, supports the student, and allows her to find her own way by practicing and trying again and again.
And I reconnected with my lifelong learner self. I remembered how Macalester had such a large role I imprinting this value in me—there will always be new things to learn. There will always be new people, new places, new people, new situations that can teach me.
Please note that I make no claims to being any good at this sport. But there will always be new fairways to explore and new ways to try to get that crazy little ball into the hole all those hundreds of yards away. I will always find new things to learn.