I have never played golf.
I used to hit balls at a driving range. I would get incredible pleasure hitting a golf ball hard and watching with satisfaction as it sailed away into the distance. After my accident, my friend was playing golf and I strolled with her enjoying the beauty of George Golf Course. As we neared the 18th hole, I said to her: “Could I please have a shot at the ball?”
I stood there, and attempted to take my usual pose when about to whack a golf ball to kingdom come. My body wouldn’t work as it used to. I swung at the ball and there was no resounding thwack as my club connected. I missed it totally. I tried again. And again. I could not connect with the ball. Shytenhauzen, I had lost the ability to stand on a golf range and whack my troubles away!
Val Holland, is one of South Africa’s top golf professionals, she teaches at Kingswood Golf Estate in George. We were having coffee together and she showed me a picture of her teaching two stroke victims how to play golf. I was amazed.
“Do you think that you would be able to help me connect with a golf ball again?” I asked hopefully.
She laughed. “I can certainly give it a try.”
We set a date.
I was nervous about my lesson. I am the sort of person that likes to be good at what I do. Well, as good as possible! And here I was about to present Val with this complete klutz of a person mishandling a golf club. Please don’t let her show impatience. That would finish me.
“Do you know what day it is today?” my friend Jan asked, driving me to my first golf lesson.
“What day?” I muttered, my mind on Val, klutziness, golf clubs and other ‘important’ things.
“It’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities.”
International Day of Persons with Disabilities! And here was this disabled person going for her first golf lesson. That had to be a good luck charm of sorts, I thought. Ohhh, please Lord, don’t let me make a fool of myself.
Val has an easy warmth that relaxed me totally. She’s wasted no time.
“Okay, let’s see which side is best for you to play from.”
I am spastic down the whole of my right hand side. She watched me turn both ways. “Your left side is the strongest. I think it’s best to face with that side. Your balance is better on the left. I’m going to start you with a right hand club so that when you hit and follow through, you will maintain your balance.
This must go in your pocket. You won’t be using it,” Val touched my right hand. I nodded and put it into my pocket. I took the golf club I was handed and watched the ball being set tantalisingly on the golf tee. I bent my knee slightly, as I was told, and placed my left hand on the club, a hands distance away from my left leg. I swung at the ball. I missed totally.
‘Oh, glory, here I go!’ I thought.
Val gently placed an arm on my shoulder. “I don’t want you to swing at the ball like that. Don’t raise your club higher than waist height. That way you will have more control over it. And keep your left arm straight.”
I took a deep, calming breath, raised my club to waist height and bought it down. I hit the ball! It just rolled a little way on the ground but I hit it!
“I hit it, Val,” I cried exuberantly. “I hit it!”
I missed totally the next two times and then that connection happened once more. I felt my stick, sorry, my club, thwack that delicious white circular object balancing on the small, spindly piece of wood stuck in the ground. This time I managed to make it roll further along the grass in front of me. Although I was “connecting”, I seemed to be hitting the top of the ball.
“Don’t aim for the ball now. Aim for the tee,” Val instructed, “Try and get the tee out of the ground!”
Forgetting about the ball, I tried to unearth the tee with my club. The ball actually sailed into the air. Not far but it definitely sailed! On my third attempt at unearthing the tee, Val gave a delighted shout: “Look, the tee has flown right out. That was a great shot! I’m going to measure how far it went.”
She did these massive strides counting loudly. “One, two, three……..fifteen strides, Gaynor, fifteen! That is fantastic!”
Try, try and try again!
A few days later, I went back to the golf range to practice before my next lesson with Val. Jan came with me. I did a few fairly good shots and then Jan said: “G, try using your right hand as well. Just see how it feels. Don’t do anything different to what you’re already doing. Do what Val has taught you but use two hands.”
Holding my club with both hands I did the golf shot I had been practicing. The ball flew upwards and out. Jan laughed.
“I’m going to measure that.” She did twenty-one long, loping strides.
Remembering what Val had taught me, I liked the feeling of having both hands on the club. It gave me control, I thought.
Try, try and try again.
That is something I have had to do throughout my life. Tennis was not a sport that came easily to me. As a schoolgirl, I remember hitting a tennis ball against a wall at the side of our house. Over and over again. I was put into the C team but I made the tennis team!
Try, try and try again.
After my accident, I learned to walk. I learned to talk. I learned to lip read. Yes, I realised that there would be hindrances on the way. I walk with a limp but I can walk once more. When I am tired my speaking goes for a complete ball of chalk.
My golf balłs won’t disappear for eons in the sky but if I can just make them go as high as a small mulberry tree, wouldn’t that be just something?