Monday, August 18, 2014

Golfing on Course with Lucas and Laura...Now it's getting Interesting

It's not hard to understand how golf gets...let's say...under your skin...into your's why.
Today I made my maiden voyage onto Meadowgreens golf course in Claverack with my favorite golf pro buddy, Lucas Cohen (Start to Finish Golf), and my favorite girl golfer and best bud, Laura Vonk.
We schedule to go on a Monday so it's deserted. This is by design I believe to take the pressure off of a newbie like me.

Since all this started, I've practiced at the driving range, but I have not really stepped onto the course. It's daunting. It's vast. Everything is green and looks really far away. I feel like Horton in and 500 acres of grass and greens.

It's ok because I have Lucas and Laura and hell, no one's watching.

What I love about Lucas (including the fact that he's got the most perfect boyish smile, which he gleans as often as possible), is that he's a true professional and he brings his best each time you take a lesson with him. And this is good. Hell, we're out here to learn and so we move right along to the first tee without delay.

I learn that the women get to start closer to the hole (I have issues with this, but for another time). I learn that etiquette demands that you shushhh during the time another player is hitting the ball. I learn that you take aim, practice your swing first, do your thinking before you approach the tee and when you get up there, just do what you've learned in practice like one-two-three.
Sounds's not.
But hey, we have a picture perfect day. Sun is out, there's a light breeze coming out of the north and no clouds. It's Monday when most people are at work and here we are, three of us fooling around and having fun. Life is pretty perfect.

Lucas makes a point of not really coaching us. He says that this isn't the time to perfect your swing. I get it. I'm being thrown into the deep end of the pool after weeks of learning the breast stroke. Time for the big leagues. I like the challenge. I'm strange that way. For fun I became a yoga instructor at age 50.

Laura has played some golf before, on weekends with her boyfriend, even so, I wave off the opportunity to start closer because I'm a virgin on the links. And yes, I probably took nine strokes to get past the first hole....I'm ok....this is so much fun.

Lucas is our caddy for the day. He teaches me about which club to use at what distance and in what turf. It sort of goes like this. At the tee I take the wood/driver. When I'm in the tall grass, I reach for the 6 iron. When I get just off the green, it's time for the pitching wedge and on the green, always the putter.

And while my fellow golfers zoom around me in their carts, I decide to walk. I do this for a couple of reasons. One, it gives me time to relax and enjoy the beauty of the course. This place is huge and the up and down terrain is quite lovely. The grass is trimmed and it feels good under your feet. Two, I tend to unwind and lose my thoughts when I walk. I walk a lot at home. I love to walk for hours in my beloved NYC. Three, I like the exercise. I run, I do yoga, I ride horses. Exercise for me is like nourishment. But now the walking is relieving some of my nervous tension, I'm feeling my hamstrings let go and it loosens up my lower back which is a bonus. For this reason I trot up to the next tee.

It's trickier than I think and Lucas steps in to remind me to "aim for the ice cream cone tree." Laura and I stare at each other and wonder if this is a technical term we've failed to remember from the 5 lessons we've completed with Lucas in the last month and a half. He points to tree off in the distance that's sprouting a bunch of high branches. We don't question our instructor, but rather, aim where he directs us... at the ice cream cone tree. It helps us stay on the fairway. We proceed.

Laura's game is going great. She got a new driver last week with a big bulbous head on it and she's hitting the ball like there's no tomorrow. I'm both pleased with a few of my shots and baffled by others that skirt the ground with unsatisfactory performance. These are called "worm burners," as I was told recently by another friend.

I am reminded by our ever happy golf pro who's guided us masterfully to this point, that playing on the course today is simply a way to show me where I need to practice. I love it. He's professing a totally Buddhist point of view. Observation without judgement...very good advice for anything I do, including golf.

Well, now I really have to tell you about my favorite hole at Meadowgreens. If we were at an amusement park, this hole would sort of be like being at the highest point you reach on the roller coaster. Lucas stops his golf cart on a precipice and Laura and I pull up behind him. I'm riding with her shotgun now and I hop out to peek over the edge. Holy Crap. It's about a 100 foot drop down into high grass, a pretty hefty size pond and then the green is on the far side. Off in the distance is the most spectacular view of the Catskill Mountains you'll ever want to see. I suggest that you go to Meadowgreens just to get to this hole and enjoy the view.
This is Laura and me ready to tee-off on the big hill!

Ok. Lucas goes first to both give us confidence and show us it's totally possible. He pulls it a little to the left and frowns. 
Laura has the next shot and she well...she drops hers in the drink and gets a do-over, and then nails it. I go next and I have to say, I'm kind of distracted by the height of the place we're teeing off of, the distance of the hole and those damn pretty mountains out beyond the green. I totally blow it the first time. Lucas takes an unusually strict position and asks me if I even looked at where I wanted the ball to go. I say "not really" and he says, "that's a no." Yikes. I am put properly into my place and obediently look at the target. This time, I clear the high grass, I clear the pond and hit the ball into the rough near the green. Lucas concludes, "at least it's dry," and we can't help but laugh.

But then again, we did a whole lot of laughing throughout the day. And why not. First and foremost, this is a game. This is a game that's designed to be fun and social and it happens in a place that's full of trees and grass and open fields. The course is quiet, it's free of people, buildings and streets, fumes, cars and traffic. This is a place you get to go enjoy being with your friends. In that we accomplished all of the above, Lucas, Laura and I had a hell of a day on the golf course.
Here's what I can say now that I've graduated out of school and landed on the golf course playing the game. If you didn't get this from my first blog, I'll mention this one more time. Learn to play golf from a great teacher. Lucas is a great teacher. Not only is his instruction so totally digestible, Lucas is a blast to be around, he's kind, respectful, direct and won't waste your time or your money. I believe the three of us are bonded as friends for life as a result of this experience, which pleases me a ton.
But really, the biggest thing I learned today is how to abandon my negative self on the golf course. Bad balls are "good misses." Crappy shots are "learning opportunities." A  "high score" is just one more reason to return to the course the next week to try again. I want to Golf like a kid on the playground. Satisfy myself and the hell with what other people do or think. I'm considering making this t-shirt to wear next time:  G-Go - O-Overboard- L-Loving - F- Fun - G-O-L-F! 
TY Lucas and Laura...see you next week.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Death, friends, time...

So this post is about the death of friends. I know, it's a horrible subject. The reality is this. Friends die. Pets die...we're in line for this same thing and time, time is swift.

I want to honor the first friend that passed recently, Marybeth Gotchall. Marybeth and I met over 20 years ago. She was part of a pack of people I hung out with when I first moved to Old Chatham in 1990. We were younger, much younger. I was merely 29 years old. Though Marybeth was older by about 10 years. She was single.  I was newly divorced. We melded together with a bunch of boys who were also single. We had a blast together... this motley crew... this little rat pack.

What was interesting about Marybeth was that unlike the rest of us, she had a young daughter, she had a cool cat named Bubba and her attitude toward life was very, let's say, Buddhist. It may have seemed that she just didn't give a crap about things, but that was just an illusion. She cared, but remained unattached. This is so very much the mind of a Buddha and this stuck with me.

I liked Marybeth right away. She loved to laugh. She loved to joke. She was happy with the little things, stupid stuff that others might find unsatisfying. She had a little piece of land in Michigan that she loved and talked about building a house on. She had a long time distant boyfriend called "Mr. Wright." We laughed about the irony of this person who wouldn't commit.
Marybeth was a talented painter. Some of her most distinctive art featured lillypads. This is a wonderful metaphor for Marybeth. She was beautiful and loved to float with only the slightest bit of attachment that lay under the surface that you couldn't really see.
Marybeth liked to enjoy herself, she worked when she needed to work and relaxed often.
Unfortunately she smoked cigarettes, and I think that this may have contributed to her poor health.
For a while we shared an apartment until I moved in with my boyfriend. Marybeth and I eventually parted ways. She started living and working in Albany, while I worked in the Berkshires. Occasionally we would run into each other. Like the time her daughter published a book of poetry and the day our group had a reunion at a fourth of July brunch. Through the years we remained friends and I wished, often, she wasn't so far away. Time passed and the years too and well, just a few months ago she discovered she had an aggressive cancer that took her quickly. Our mutual friend, Michael was at her side for months and is managing her affairs now that she's gone. It's truly admirable and kind that he is, was, remains so generous. I don't know how to process her passing really. It seems strange and sad to lose these people as they are hitting mid-life...acceptance is all I can manage now.

The second person to pass is not a friend, but the brother-in-law of my oldest brother, Dan. The reason I know him so well is similar to the first story. While in my 20s I was married and so were my brothers. We all lived very close to each other then in Connecticut and my Mother was alive then. All of us would hang out together. Me and my husband, my brothers and their wives and even the extended families. I got to know the brothers and sisters of my in laws. We were all the same age, newlyweds, there were no kids yet. It was so much fun.

John was the brother of my brother's wife. He was incredibly handsome, tall, gorgeous and smart. He had a sense of humor. He was kind. He was generous. What struck me most about John was he was humble and unassuming for a guy with this obvious strengths. Later he went to Wall Street, made millions of dollars and built a custom home in Westport Connecticut. I met and talked to him at family gatherings. The most recent was the wedding of my nephew in North Carolina three years ago. John always looked strong and healthy. He always made time for his sister and his parents.

 Today I got a message from my brother Dan, that John had died during cancer surgery just two days ago. I was in mild shock. It seemed incredible as this news always does. How? I asked when I called Dan. It was a delicate surgery. Something went wrong. He died while under anesthesia and my brother wondered if maybe this was merciful.
I gulped back a big bunch of tears. It's news you just don't want to get during the middle of your work day.
In conclusion I only have this. Time is swift. Lifetimes are limited. It's a blow when you hear someone has passed. It wakes you up in a way that no other news can. I feel the urge to get to it. Tell the people I love how much I love them. Write another book, close a few books still left open.  Get to it, get going, get on with it, whatever it is....