In truth, only I posed any serious threat to other people’s safety.
“You’re going to be a lot better golfer than I am,” I’d say to Spencer, hoping to reassure him.
“I guess,” he’d answer.
In the early going, when the frustration got to Spencer, he’d sometimes get down on the mat, turn his club into a cue stick, and poke the ball at imagined corner pockets. It looked like fun. As I watched him, I realized that if I were 7 again, that’s probably how I’d handle the situation, too. I briefly contemplated joining Spencer on the ground, but I decided not to embarrass Mark.
Learning to play golf can be nearly as hateful as it is humiliating. Yet were golf as easy as Tiger Woods makes it seem, Spencer might have missed his chance to rescue our entire enterprise.
When he tired of lounging around the tee, he’d sit up and watch me shank, hook, whiff, sweat, mutter, and grunt. One day, a 5-iron flew out of my hands altogether, arcing out from Hank Haney’s second-story practice tees, a silver arrow plunging dead for the bull’s-eye of my shrunken self-respect.
Spencer started to laugh. “How are you going to get your club back, Dad?” he asked with a tender smirk.
“I guess I’ll just go get another one,” I replied, happy to be shown there was real humor in my pratfall. “Let me see if I can do that again.”
Spencer’s point was plain: the flying club was amusing. What was more, this newfound ability to laugh at ourselves (or at least at me) put a new frame around the game. Golf wasn’t always going to be fun, we saw, but it sure could be funny.
Later we would discover that the Tao of golfor at least the Tao of Michaud golflay much deeper in our mutual experience.
Of course, we continued to look dreadful out there, probably an affront to Mark’s eye. Yet he never lost his composure, never betrayed annoyance, never suggested that Spencer and I might be happier any place other than the Hank Haney Cityplace Golf Center.
To the contrary, Mark has a gift for communicating with kids. Nobody gets golf right at the outset, certainly not a young boy. The key is to show the child how to play, stand by as needed to offer help and encouragement, but otherwise get out of the way. I don’t always behave that wisely with Spencer, so this was a needed and welcomed lesson for me.
Gradually, haltingly, we began to straighten and lengthen our drives.
Some days every 10th or 15th ball actually flew in the direction we intended. Chipping, putting, and working with the sand wedge ensued. In the middle of our second set of lessons last autumn, Mark introduced us to the 5-wood, a mighty cudgel with a hollow titanium head that goes ting! when you hit the ball just right. I know, because I’ve heard people do this.
It was time to head for the links.
There are golfers who never actually golf, who instead confine themselves exclusively to driving ranges. For these individuals, the cup, golf’s great objective, is nothing more than an idea, and an irrelevant one at that.
Not so the Michauds. We selected for our first foray the Haney nine-hole putt-and-pitch course on Park Lane, a hilly patch of green with both water and sand hazards and par-3 holes of about 60 or 70 yards each, just about right for a kid golfer and his dad.
There was something oddly inviting about the empty course, too, a pleasant familiarity. Spencer, I noticed, strode to the first tee as if he’d played it a thousand times. Then, as I watched my son attack the first hole, gauging distances, lining up shotsall for the first time ever in his lifea realization dawned.
It wasn’t the course that we were responding to. It was golf.
Released from the practice range, and actually standing on a real (sort of) golf course, we immediately grasped the game’s potential and welcomed it with our hearts. Forget about angles, spin, strategy, concentration, and bladder control. Mark had empowered us to get around the course with reasonable dispatch. We knew how to hit the ball (sort of), and so it was now time to put it all together.
We didn’t keep score that first day. In fact, Spencer and I had a little trouble singling out the proper target greens from each tee. For us, this was not an important distinction. Twice we hit in the wrong direction. Spencer scored par on both holes. On the third hole, there’s a little lake to be cleared. You can triangulate around it, but Spencer blasted right into the water. I lofted a sky hook that just barely cleared the lake. Then my ball rolled down a small incline, straight back to the water’s edge.
Here, I recognized, was the time to chip. Standing over the ball, I choked up a little as Mark had instructed, aligned the ball with my right foot, leaned to the left, and gave it my putting motion. All went well until the club face struck the ball. Instead of looping up onto the green for a gimme birdie, as I was sure it would, the ball spurted straight up and splashed dead in the water behind me.
Spence giggled, again.
We were both a mess on the greens, although Spencer was more creative about it. Instead of putting as he had been taught, my boy essayed a sort of gonzo rush evocative of Mike Modano stick-handling a puck through heavy traffic.
By the eighth hole, I was nervously regarding storm clouds gathering from the northwest and didn’t much care where my so-called drives were falling as long as I could find the ballmy last one. Spencer was losing interest, period. Yet Mark Moore had laid his foundation.
Tired, bored, and thirsty, my son nonetheless pulled himself together at the final tee. Poised over the ball, he pulled back the club, cocked his wrists, and produced the first perfect swing of his young life. With no one but us to see, the ball flew like an eagle for 60 yards, returning to earth just short of the green.
“Nice shot!” I called, genuinely impressed.
“Oh,” Spence answered, leaning on his driver, his head high. “I can do that anytime.”