On Tuesday night, I did what I've done the past three nights ... dragged my set of golf clubs out the door around 8:00 PM on my way to the driving range that isn't a 6-iron away from my front door. Convenient, yes, but normally a busy destination, one hour before close is the time I've realized is perfect for my practice ... few people left except the uber-serious, with the lights still shining bright as the ball boy snaps up all the noodles from the patrons of the day.
I've been going because, for full disclosure, a lot has been on my mind lately. I've been just batting around a lot of things, and some other items have been clouding my thinking, and to me, a night at the range is as good as a month of therapy. It's soothing without the daytime traffic and sun shining down. It's harmonious with the flashes of airplanes flying over and the beauty of a golf ball skyrocketing into the sky past the reach of the ballpark lights. It's a chi I rarely feel. But it's still life, and no matter how far down your golf bag you push that BlackBerry, things still pass through the cluttered mind of a 20-something golfer (and yes, those two things are equally as confusing).
But as I was whacking my three-wood, thinking about my swing and life (and my swing ... and life), I noticed a kid no older than 12 and no lighter than myself at 27, walking past with one golf ball and one hybrid. He was heading for the end of the range to hit some shots out of what appeared to be a Dustin Johnson-like fairway bunker. He waddled out of sight, glasses tucked tightly on his puffy face, and stood over that one ball for what seemed like a round with Ben Crane. You could see the thoughts going through his head. He wasn't thinking about the economy or a job or bills or anything ... he was simply a kid thinking about what it would feel like to strike this damn ball with this damn hybrid right down the damn fairway on the final hole of the U.S. Open. He had thoughts that we all used to have when we were hopeful hackers hoping to somehow make it big. As he took a swing (and a swing that wouldn't have made a foldout in any Golf Digest that you and I would buy) he ripped the ball down the range, a good shot for any kid his age. He smiled and then piddled back towards the pro shop of the range. I tossed him a ball to hit himself, more because I enjoyed what he was doing way more than I was enjoying what I was doing. The kid, for a few instances, made me forget about everything except how much fun it can be to enjoy golf.
I hit a few of my remaining balls as he walked around the other two guys finishing up their buckets, hitting random balls he found that nobody else had wanted this Tuesday night. As I was walking over to my car, refreshed completely by my new little buddy, I noticed his last four swings ... duff, duff, duff ... and on the final ball, as he stood over it quite longer than he had the other three, I could see the wheels turning again. He was thinking about something with that ball that was far from a Scottsdale, Ariz. driving range. He took another backswing, as I hoped deep in my heart would produce a solid result as he finished his mini range session, and as the ball rocketed dead straight off the club, you could see another smile, this one bigger than the first.
The experts tell us to putt like a kid, but they hardly ever tell us to live like one. Sometimes, that advice is the best. We can take life as seriously as we want a lot of the time, but sometimes moments just wrap their arms around you and don't let go. I didn't know this kid, and I might never see him again, but we held a bond that non-golfers can't understand ... we have both hit the same shot before, a thousand times ... the one into the 18th at Augusta National, or the putt that drops for a Players Championship. We have both hit bunker shots like Jim Furyk produced last year at the Tour Championship, and putts like Graeme McDowell slammed on Tiger Woods in early December.
This kid, more than anything, let me take it all a little less serious. Kiddo, I thank you, and I hope one day, a decade or two from now, you can think back to times like these and remember, it'll be alright. And if not, there's always tomorrow's round.