Nine Holes of Birdies and Bragging Rights
September 21, 2016 | Far Hills, N.J.
By David Chmiel, USGA
My son Luke was born on Sept. 9, 2002. Fourteen years later, he woke up without us on his birthday for the first time. This change was harder on me and my wife, Paula, than it was on him.
It was a breeze for him. He’d just had his freshmen-orientation overnight retreat; he was officially a high schooler. He was no longer just Zach’s little brother, he was now a freshman in high school, ready to grind out a daily commute that will begin by catching a 6:30 a.m. train and end with homework on the 6:15 p.m. return trip after basketball practice.
I was thrilled, for him and for me. We were grabbing lunch and then playing nine holes at Mosholu Golf Course, the Bronx, N.Y., home of The First Tee of Metropolitan New York, as participants in a PLAY9 Day event.
I grew up on a nine-hole golf course, Blue Ridge Country Club in Palmerton, Pa. The hilly, wind-blown track now has 18 holes and a new name, Blue Shamrock Golf Club, but I still love playing “a quick nine,” as my dad, George, calls it. It taught me that golf is golf, no matter how many holes you play and no matter where you play.
Zach gleefully hits it far and crooked. Luke is like Paula, precise and efficient. Over the years, I’ve learned to just be glad that when we’re teeing it up, we’re away from smartphones and full schedules. I have the opportunity to encourage instead of coach and can instill in them a love for everything that unfolds over the course of those nine holes.
On this day, the typical joy of playing golf seemed to take on even more meaning. Luke is beginning a new life that will further cut into his free time, and I was thrilled to spend an afternoon cracking jokes and watching him grow in the game. We hit balls, so many that Luke needed a little triage on a pair of blisters. Nothing that couldn’t be fixed with some athletic tape and two new metal woods each priced an appropriate $9 in the Mosholu bargain bin.
We teed it up with Kate Keller, director of special events for the MGA and 12-year-old Vivian D’Orazi, a Mosholu regular from the Kensington section of Brooklyn. Kate, who started playing when she was six years old, was a cheerful golf Sherpa, aiming us in the right direction to help us enjoy a late summer round on a Friday afternoon.
On the eighth hole (our third of the day in this shotgun format), Vivian crushed her drive down the left side of the fairway. She lofted her approach shot over a fronting bunker. It nestled 12 feet from the flagstick. As her putt tracked to pay dirt, her feet never seemed to touch the ground as she picked her pink golf ball from the hole.
As we all exchanged high-fives, I yelled “awesome birdie, Vivian!” She looked at me quizzically, hustled over to Kate and whispered into her ear. Kate let out a “woo hoo!” and announced that it was the first birdie Vivian had ever made.
As we headed to the next tee, I asked Vivian, “Who is your best friend? You have to text them about that!”
“My Dad,” she replied quickly. “He’s playing right behind us.”
I looked at Luke and gave him a hug, before remembering that he was 14 and I wouldn’t be allowed to do it so freely anymore.
Vivan’s next tee shot was less than spectacular. I taught the newly crowned Vivian “Brooklyn Birdie” D’Orazi about the dreaded “PBL,” the (G-rated) acronym for the “post-birdie letdown,” reminding her of the upside – you can’t have PBL without first making a birdie.
That birdie kick-started the group. The golf got better, the fun continued. As we approached the 130-yard uphill fifth hole, our last of the day, Luke issued a “This is for all the marbles” challenge.
“I think it’s an 8-iron, dad.”
“OK, kid, go for it,” I replied. He took a practice swing and I felt the breeze freshen in our faces. “Hey, kid. I am not sure that is enough club.”
He heaved an exaggerated sigh, gave me a long stink-eye stare and a dismissive wave, then knocked his shot 15 feet left of the hole. He tried to play it off with a “that’s where I was aiming” shrug. When I hit my tee shot to 18 feet, he doubled over with laughter. We tied the hole and he pledged to “get me next time”.
After the round, sharing grilled-cheese sandwiches and swapping stories, I told Vivian’s father, Chris, about his daughter’s big moment and loving comment.
“We heard all the yelling in front of us and I was just hoping that she had done something great,” he said. “I am so proud of her.”
Just a couple of dads standing around, sharing all the good vibes that come from playing 9.