My son, Jackson, has started to play golf, and last week he completed his first two nine-hole rounds. They were 18 of the most enjoyable holes of my life. Jackson is luckily blessed with the smarts and compassion of his mother, Stephanie. Unfortunately, he also inherited her hand-eye coordination, or lack thereof. Heaven help us if he develops my chipping yips, because otherwise the poor kid is doomed to a life of 82s that should have been 74s. But none of that matters because he loves the game. He cheered after making a four-footer for an 18. I loved being out there with him, and it made me realize how lucky I was to have played so many rounds with my dad and grandfather. I wish I had appreciated those rounds when I was younger, so I wrote my teenage self a letter.
Listen, I know your friends have a tee time at 11:15 on Saturday, as they do most Saturdays. I understand why you want to play with them; you should want to play with them. I know you're pissed that Dad is making you play with him and Grandpa again instead of your buddies, but hear me out for a second. Later in life, when your grandfather and father are gone, you will give anything to have just one more round with them.
I know Grandpa dresses for a round like he's going to work in a field. I know Dad will make you walk and carry your clubs (sorry, kid, push carts aren't a thing yet) while he and Grandpa ride in one of those dusty, loud, gas-powered carts. Sorry about your Top Flite Plus clubs; even though you know Mom and Dad could afford Titleist DCIs, you will learn the equipment’s not important. One day you will realize you wouldn't have made the Tour with the best equipment in the world. You will know better than most that you never had a shot.
I know Grandpa hits a horrible slice, and no matter how many times you tell him aiming farther left will only make it worse, he won't listen. Laugh as the ball bananas from the left rough across to the right, and hits the ground with so much sidespin that it almost bounces backwards while he’s back at the tee cussing.
You can count on him telling that story again: how he dropped out of school in the eighth grade after his dad kicked him out of the house. Imagine being 13 years old and getting kicked out of the house because your dad thought you didn't look like him. He will go on and on about how he made it to VP at Besser, the biggest cement-block company in the world, with an eighth-grade education. Instead of rolling your eyes and saying, "Grandpa, I know," shut up and think about what he just told you. The odds of having a loving grandfather were almost zero, but he defied them. Then you will realize that the golf isn't that important; it’s the stories you hear during the round.
Grandpa is always going to play winter rules. Always. He will roll it even when he has a perfect lie in the middle of the fairway. Let him do it. He has earned the right. And he will shoot 46 anyway on that wide-open muni you have played a thousand times. Don't let it bother you.
When you see your buddies coming up 7 as the three of you are going down 4, don't get embarrassed because Dad just put his arm around you. Some of the best life lessons are the ones Dad shared walking up the fairway with his arm around your shoulder. I know you can hear your friends laughing while they drink soda and eat candy bars, and you want so badly to be on 7 right now. Just know that when you're older, those same buddies will realize how lucky you were; their dads never played golf with them. One lost his father when he was young and never got a chance to hit a single shot with him.
One day soon you will beat your dad, and it will feel like one of the best moments of your life. You play for a sundae every Saturday, and finally, you won't have to dip into your $7 weekly allowance to pay for a McDonald's hot fudge sundae. It will be the best sundae you ever taste, so savor every bite. Do you know why it tastes so good? Because Dad never rolled over and let you win at anything; you had to earn it. I promise he will try all his old tricks to mess with you. He will remind you when you are up, ask you where the wind is coming from, and tell you a downhiller is "really quick," even though the greens run about 7 on the Stimp. He wants you to win, but he also hates to lose.
Also, learn from the mistakes. Remember when Dad yelled at you about losing your temper on the golf course and grounded you for the weekend? Yes, the same guy who just threw his club and said 20 cuss words. You bet it’s hypocritical. You will have a son one day, so practice what you preach.
Please don't lay up on 4. Tell Dad to pound sand, although I might suggest softer language. Tell him there one day will be this thing called analytics, and it will tell you to hit the driver, the four big trees be damned.
Pretty soon, Grandpa will be gone, and you will store his red, leather MacGregor bag in the barn. In the bag will be the putter with the hole in the back to pick the ball out of the hole without bending over, and you will laugh how you used to hate that thing. It embarrassed you for some reason, but it shouldn't have. It will remind you of how much you miss him, and you’ll fight back tears.
Much later in your life, you will clear out that same barn after Dad has died and find his Pal Joey clubs stuffed into Grandpa’s red leather bag. The putter will still be there. And it will make you think about those rounds and what they meant to you.
So when you're a dad, put your arm around your kid and teach him life lessons as you walk up 4. Hug him often and tell him you love him. His grandfathers are both gone, so savor those rounds. And never roll over and let him win. Ever. That sundae will taste so much better to him when he does beat you.
And let him play with his friends once in a while.