Golf has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. All six of my older brothers played. My dad’s nickname was Putt. I’m still not sure if it was because he was that adept on the greens or because he always seemed to have gas.
There were always several sets of old clubs in the garage, and as early as I can recall I had some that were cut short and re-gripped for me to use. My brothers and I would play around the yard, picking different targets to try and see who could get the ball closest, including trying to hit lob shots into our house’s chimney. We ended up with a couple new windows every year.
At least once a week, we would walk through the woods surrounding the local course and hunt for balls. Several times each summer we would sneak onto the links as it was getting dark and jump into the pond in front of old number 3. We would always leave with at least a couple hundred balls. Looking at that pond now, I can’t believe I ever set foot in it. Maybe I’ve just been in California too long.
One of my brothers has several thousand balls in his basement, some dating back to the seventies. I’m pretty sure he’s never bought a ball in his life. Those of you who know my family don’t have to try very hard to guess which brother. I’m talking about Dale.
My oldest cousin Ronny would have a “shotgun start” tournament every year called the Dunkleman Open, where he would actually shoot a shotgun at the start. As a little kid, I remember bags of clubs and coolers of beer flying off the back of colliding carts, some of which would occasionally end up being driven into a creek or pond. There’s only one course in the area that would still allow him to host the outing.
Of course, golf’s crowning achievement is the “hole in one.”
When I was 17, I was playing in a high school match at my home course. I used a three-iron to tee off on the 189-yard number 5. I skulled it, hitting a low shot that bounced about three or four times before reaching the green. I didn’t even watch the ball. I just started laughing at what an awful swing it was.
When we got up to the green, I couldn’t find my ball. After searching for a few minutes, one of the kids on the opposing team finally looked in the cup and there it was. My first hole-in-one! Nobody says it has to be pretty, it still gets added up the same on the card.
The rush that went through my body was indescribable. A game that I had been playing for as long as I could remember – and I finally had my first hole-in-one. I couldn’t wait to rub it in all my older brother’s faces.
When I got up to the next tee, I was shaking so hard I could barely hold onto my driver. Somehow I managed to calm myself down and parred the last four holes. I shot the best nine-hole round of my life – 34.
I bounded up to the clubhouse with such excitement and pride, but when I saw my coach he had a look of disgust on his face. I had been disqualified from the match.
I had gotten to the course early that day after school and decided that since I had some time, I’d play a couple holes. The opposing coach saw me playing as he pulled up to the course. Apparently there was a rule that none of the golfers were allowed to play any of the holes before the match started, and he called me on it after I finished my round as medalist. Even though his five players took second through sixth place and crushed us in the match, he insisted my disqualification be upheld.
Now, I’m not saying I wished physical harm on that guy, but I did hope he’d get uncomfortable diarrhea for a decade. The worst part? The next day in the sports page of the big area newspaper, a headline read: “Dunkleman’s Hole-in-One Doesn’t Count.”
In retrospect, maybe that was just a life lesson I was supposed to learn from. Maybe it happened to prepare me for all the ups and downs that would come later in my life. Maybe it would make me come to realize that no matter what other people do or say, nobody can ever take away the things I’ve accomplished.
But then again, maybe that guy was just a jerk.
Either way, I’m still swinging.