In my junior year of high school, I switched golf coaches. At my first lesson, he turned my shoulders, spread my feet, realigned my hands and pushed out my butt every time I approached the golf ball until I could barely move. For the first few weeks, my golf balls rarely left the ground, preferring instead to skirt and hiccup in front of me.
I trusted in my coach. There were times when the sun was about to go down, gently burning its last light through the trees, when only a few balls remained in the empty plastic driving range basket and another fruitless practice session was about to end. I wanted to fold and swing the way I used to. But I resisted. I stuck with it, and eventually my shots started whizzing.
After coming out of that initial dark period, I thought I was in the clear. But I was wrong. Growing impatient with my slow progress, I switched coaches again and again. I was introduced to more nuances about the golf swing and experienced the painful process of feeling like a novice on repeat. I came back day after day to yellow and white balls in a green plastic basket.
I stopped taking lessons when I came to college, but when I thought about golf I still felt the bitter taste of those sessions. Now, I only picked up my clubs once a term, for intramural games or outings with friends. On those days, I swung without thought.
Over spring break, I interned at an immigration foundation in San Francisco, and after work one afternoon, I walked through a quiet neighborhood, along the shining Golden Gate National Cemetery, and across a booming highway to a driving range tucked in a valley below the roads. I got a bucket of balls and one of the demo clubs in the pro shop for $11.
I began by shooting at a yellow flag in the middle of the range. It took only a few minutes for my shots to get airborne again.
About halfway through the basket, I took a drink of water. I remembered a drill I had done before, where I held my position at the top of the swing, before letting gravity take over.
I stepped over the peeling yellow golf ball, and took my upswing.
My shoulders were turned wide and my hands were extended behind my head. I looked at the golf ball below. For the first time, my hands and shoulders felt self-directed and I understood where they wanted to go. I recognized that the upswing was simply meant to put my body in a position of power.
I released. My ball took a hop as my club clanged against the mat.
I kept on going. The golf ball became a punching bag, and I punched and punched, feeling the stretch of the windup and the catharsis upon release. The golf balls sailed in their arcs.
After I hit the last ball, I stood in the sun over the driving range. The desire that had kept me going day after day in high school was gone, filling me with a satisfying lightness. I walked home, freed of thinking about next time.