Pandemic golf is not like regular golf (no bunkers because you can’t rake the sand traps, masks and social distancing, no sharing clubs or balls or scorecards). But luckily, it’s also a lot like regular golf. Fun, healthy, relaxing, just what we need right about now.
I rush from the high school after meetings and a day of Distance Learning, sad that I can’t ride my bike on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday practice days but happy to be going to one of the most beautiful golf courses in Northern California. My team meets at 3:00 in the side parking lot of the Golf Course, take temperatures, note any physical symptoms, I usually go over some brief housekeeping (registration and proper clothing issues, evolving match schedule). I do. informal check-in, soft-skill stuff, “How’s the Anime artwork going? Great to see homecoming kind of happened. Everybody sleeping 8 hours?”
We walk to the practice area telling stories. Since today is Tuesday, we say hello to the St Francis team who share the course with SVHS. “Keep the love of golf alive, we want Tigers by the time they get to High School” I say to one of the coaches who looks at me curiously, “Tiger Woods” I add.
Today there are 11 St Francis kids, 16 SVHS boys and 13 SVHS girls on the course. That’s 40 kids who have spent most of the last 11 months at home but saw a good opportunity to get out and made the choice. Quick shout out to parents, Athletic Directors, Coaches and Tony and the Sonoma Golf Club staff who worked very hard to get this season running, knowing the importance of sports but also designing a way to do those sports safely.
We stretch and warmup and hit a few drives toward the white flag on the left side of the driving range. Many beginning golfers naturally slice their ball to the right which means directly toward Arnold Drive so I have taught my team to aim for the white flag 150 feet away (“Practice with a purpose” I tell them from page 4 of the Walt Williams book of trite and overused coaching phrases).
After a few chips and putts, we see that the last foursome of the boys’ team has left the tee so we head over to hole 2. I go over some scoring basics and explain that we will not be using the sand traps anymore because of COVID and players will take a drop in line with where they entered the bunker. The girl’s like this, they’re not big fans of sand.
“So, no more 8 shots, fall down crying and quit golf this year?” One of my returning players say. I repeat the story from my brother-in-law who, while helping coach his daughter’s golf team in Santa Cruz, had one of his players try to hit out of the sand trap, fail 8 times then started crying, threw down her clubs and never played again. “Grit is it” I explain from page 2 of the above-mentioned book.
They tee off with me watching mechanics, footwork and placement. Many slice right and I make a mental note to work on changing grips during practice on Wednesday. I check on each group as they move down the course but mostly, I let them play and develop their swings. I help look for balls and explain why certain shots went certain directions but mostly I am a cheerleader happy to not be staring at a computer screen.
At the end of practice, we walk back telling more stories, endorphins flowing from the exercise and the joy of learning a sport. The students have been on mute for a long time and they need to remember how to interact, listen more, talk less, it’s a mantra we could all learn from. Soft skills took a beating during the pandemic but kids (and adults) are resilient and we will bounce back. I can see a change for the better just in three weeks of practice.
I talk with parents in the parking lot who are all very happy that their kids are finally out of the house. I tell them I’m not sure who’s happier, the players or the coaches.
This has been a heavy lift for all of us and with more schools opening and more kids coming out of hibernation we will need to be unified, supportive and flexible. Support what works and work to change what’s not.
Welcome to the new normal.