Steeling your nerves the Ryder way

Originally posted 9/4/08

The weather in San Francisco has been absolutely stunning for the past couple of weeks. If you don’t live in the city, allow me to explain how incredibly rare this is. Our summers consist of fair mornings that give way to windy and foggy afternoons, usually with an afternoon high in the low-60’s or high-50’s. Ten days in a row of fogless, blue skies makes for amazing, unheard-of San Francisco golf weather.

Provided, of course, that you can actually make time to get out and play some golf. I managed to structure the past week-plus so that I had meetings or commitments every day that left only time to hit the range twice. Both times with my three-year old son, Ryder.

My father-in-law got Ryder a set of clubs for the holidays last year, and ever since I’ve been taking Ryder to the range. Up until recently, I would leave my bag at home and focus solely on having a good time with him. We’d go to the driving cage at the nine-hole in Golden Gate Park, where the astroturf slopes downhill from the tees into a net 50 feet away. I wanted him to have fun, feel successful, and not be intimidated by how far other people can hit the ball.

Just a couple of weeks ago this all changed. I announced that I was heading off to the range to hit some balls, and Ryder dropped what he was doing and came running out of his room exclaiming, “I want to hit balls too, Daddy!” This is the stuff golf dads dream of! I mean, I’m no Earl Woods – I respect the man and what he taught his son – but I do hope that Ryder will want to learn the game and that he and I will have the rest of my lifetime to enjoy rounds of golf together.

I instantly said yes, and we grabbed both of our bags and headed to the Presidio, which was closed (Monday afternoons, FYI), so we wound up at GGP, which he was already familiar with. I told him that since we’d both have our clubs, we’d need to either each pick a stall and hit on our own, or take turns hitting from the same tee in the same stall. He opted to share a stall and take turns.

I hadn’t anticipated how much my expectations would shift as soon as I had my clubs in tow. I kept unconciously shifting from father mode – which is extremely patient, forgiving and understanding of the extreme shifts in focus that come with a pre-schooler – to golf training mode – which is impatient, relentless and lacks compassion. I know, none of that bodes well for my golf game, let alone playing golf with Ryder.

If you have a pre-schooler you know that a child’s level of focus can be amazing and extreme…until their interest wanes. Then it is off to the next thing or things, as the case may be. My son loves to hit balls at the range. He also loves to talk about everything he sees while he’s hitting balls at the range. Which is fine and dandy out at Golden Gate Park, where he’s on par with most of the duffers who are taking up the game, and I feel no pressure about containing his wonderful running monologue.

But a week later, when we were out at Harding Park, another dynamic came into play: caring about what other people around us thought, and worrying about his verbosity angering other players.For whatever reason, at Harding Ryder lost his concentration early. He wanted to play a new game, which involved getting every tee out of my bag and sinking it into the astroturf.

He was happy to run around, “matching” up our clubs, so our drivers could meet, lining all of the tees up in little rows, and when it was his turn to hit, he’d just as soon talk about the ball collector as swing his club. In a sport focused so singularly on results, it is tough to disengage and simply have fun. But it is extremely educational.

At first, when it was my turn to swing and Ryder was talking through my entire swing, I’d tighten up and slice to holy hell. I imagined the guys on either side of me getting fed up with having to listen to this youngster blabber on, and slice even more viciously.  I took a step back and realized that this if this was how I was going to approach it, this wasn’t going to work out: I’d be forever frustrated, and Ryder would have no fun.

So I encouraged him to keep playing whatever games he enjoyed, even showing him a secret stash of tees in another pocket in my bag. Then I chose to find a new level of concentration that would allow me to focus and enter into golf traning mode long enough to make a good swing, before returning to father mode. Instead of worrying about the guys around me, I chose to see it as an opportunity for them to learn to swing with a whole new level of distraction. Truth is, most of them got a kick out of seeing Ryder swing his little clubs, and probably couldn’t care less.

After the bucket of balls, we went over to the chipping area, and this is where I discovered that the key to enjoyment is to find a game both of us can play. Ryder loves chipping, and we had a little two-ball chipping game for another 15 minutes before he completely burned out. At which point, I made the best discovery of all: he loves raking sand traps as much as I love hitting out of ’em. I almost felt guilty, hitting two shots at a time out of the trap and then handing him the rake to hit, but he completely loved it.

The best part is that the next time I went out to actually play, I was able to achieve an incredible new level of focus and concentration. Members of my group talking during my setup or even in my backswing? People on the clubhouse patio murmering while on the first tee? Ha! That’s nothing compared to what my son can do (I look forward to saying that about his golf game someday, too).  If you want to work on your game, we’re available for training sessions for a nominal fee: Ryder likes 2.5″ tees.

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