Golf Stories

Gleaned From
Random Pairings

by Kathy Coogan

Oh I could write a book about the variety of random pairings I have experienced while playing golf on vacation. Even before I arrive at the golf course, the nerves begin to set in. My automatic assumption is that my husband and I will be paired with a haughty 2 handicapper, who will curse the day he was paired with us.

You must understand that I am a mid-handicap golfer, who, with every single swing or putt can experience the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat. My enjoyment of the game constantly battles the insecurity I feel every time I tee it up.

The truth that I have joyously discovered is that there are a lot more of US out here than THEM! And most vacation golfers are gracious and grateful, happy to be HERE rather than THERE at home digging out from mini or mega blizzards.

This is how it works. You arrive near the first tee and the starter introduces you to the twosome who will join you for your round. I always pray that we will be paired with another couple, instead of two men. Two men can be scary, players of serious golf, often with some money on the line with every putt.

Couples are usually more like us: average and uninspired but capable of the occasional majestic swing, unbelievable putt and even the occasional birdie. And along the way throughout the four hours of golf you get to know one another a little. For a writer and people-watcher, this is the best part.

One of my favorite pairings occurred during this swing through the courses of Florida's West Coast. We were paired with Gus and Rachel, a forty-something couple who were congenial and chatty from the get-go. The course was slow that day so we had ample time to exchange histories as we waited for the fairways or greens to clear.

Gus explained that he had been practicing medicine for three years in a small town in South Carolina. His wife was now a stay-home Mom after having been a surgical nurse, "paying for Gus to learn how to be a doc."

I was a little surprised that Gus was so new at doctoring considering his apparent age and he must have sensed my curiosity. He laughed and said, his eyes twinkling toward his wife "I've been a screw-up all my life, right Babe?" Only he replaced screw with the f-word which didn't seem inappropriate considering his self-deprecating manner.

He explained further. "I was in medical sales and had to learn all the procedures for using the tools and devices that I was selling during the day. I had been lucky to get even a crappy degree from a nothing school. I was a lazy student who played more than I studied. Look up immature in the dictionary and my face would look back at ya. But I was doing okay by age 34, married to this amazing woman."

Rachel piped in, "Then he had the nerve (here she used the b-word that describes two hidden male appendages) to tell me that he thought he might want to be a doctor--at age 34." It was our turn on the tee so we hit our balls and didn't continue the story till the slow down on the next par 3.

I had a million questions. Gus and Rachel filled in the blanks. She gave her permission for him ease up on work to study for the MSATs to see if he could possibly get into a medical school with his pathetic academic record. Fortunately his job-training had revealed an innate, previously unknown ability to comprehend medical terminology and to absorb it quickly.

"Rach" as Gus called her, worked her buns off as a surgical nurse for ten years. Her biological clock was ticking so they went ahead and got pregnant after Gus was accepted for a surgical residency which they celebrated over a bottle of the most expensive wine they could afford, "eleven bucks," Gus bragged.

When the twins were born (yes,twins!), Rach went back to work, daily carrying the twins to daycare near her job at the hospital; up and down to and from their third-floor apartment, also the best they could afford.

Gus was mostly out of the family picture, either studying, working extra hours at a different hospital, or exhausted. "My beautiful wife would bring them to see me when I stopped to eat a quick bite so they'd know who their Daddy was," Gus said, shaking his head at the memory.

But now they are established in a 5000 square foot home in the south and Gus is a respected member of the community. "Even I can't believe it," Gus admitted, "and my Mom and Dad wonder what happened to their real son, the screw-up! The tears that were shed when I finished my residency could have floated the thirty-two foot Searay, which we now own." Here, Rach and Gus high-fived and I felt teary-eyed and happy for these no-longer-strangers.

When we putted out at eighteen, we hugged Rach and Gus and I felt a little sad that our time together was over. We probably will never see them again but I believe these relationships count as friendships which I value. And there are dozens more, all begun when a golf starter introduced us to the strangers on the first tee.

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