September 7, 2023 | View PDF
Life isn’t seamless, but some people swing that way.
I’ve been working on a Substack piece that was getting kind of ponderous and it occurred to me just this morning that I really should be writing about golf lessons instead.
The annual tournament, put on by the United States Golf Association and played over four days, is open to women over 50. Many of the competitors were international stars when they were younger.
I’ll go ahead and tell you now that Trish, our favorite, won the U.S. Senior Women’s Open Championship Sunday with a gutsy, nervy play that you have to admire and celebrate. She made a devilish downhill putt to save par on the 14th hole, a 118-yard Par 3. If you play golf, you know that a 4-foot downhill putt is everybody’s nightmare. Hit it too hard and you’ll sail past the hole and have a longer putt coming back. And you’ll miss that one, too, because you’re all jacked up about the first one running past.
But if you hit a downhill putt too soft, any break or dent in the green will make the ball wobble off course. You can’t win.
And the greens at Waverley apparently are “nuts,” as Johnson called them in a television interview afterward. I’ve never played there — I’ve only played at a private club once in my own storied career — but from where I stood the greens looked fast, of course, and with a ton of break.
So that par putt Johnson made on 14 was about as clutch as you can get. Then she birdied 15 and 16 and was roaring to wrap it up, but had that long wait on the 17th tee. A two-shot lead with two holes to play. Her tee ball sitting there ready to be smacked. I think the gallery gathered around Johnson was trying to take a breath for her.
At one point she pulled the brim of her visor down over her face and held it there. At another point, she and her caddy watched the boats on the Willamette River behind them. So did Catriona Matthew of Scotland, on the left there in the dark blue shirt, a fine player who battled Trish Johnson all day and ultimately finished third. They appeared to remark about how one boat was pulling another upriver. Engine trouble, probably.
I know golf is often seen, still, as a pursuit of the wealthy, the idle rich, even. Its heritage includes private clubs and segregation by gender, race, religion, and always by wealth, so some people still think of golf as something the country club set does and they don’t.
And that’s a shame. Yes, there is still an element of that: Go visit the internationally known Bandon Dunes golf resort on the Southern Oregon Coast and you’ll find scads of bro-boy Chads, young white men who got a big headstart in life thanks to Daddy’s money and influence but aren’t aware enough to know it.
I doubt I’ll go play Bandon again, no offense. I just didn’t like the scene, last time. Most people I know play on public courses and have a hoot doing so. It’s an absolutely fun, challenging, and frustrating game to play with friends.
Enough rant. My intention here was to recognize some of the life lessons that poured forth from Trish Johnson’s golf win on Sunday, and from all the other players as well. It was a flat-out demonstration of skill, nerve, and perseverance — delivered with humor, grace, and kindness. Every player in the field would have scorched me and my buds by 20 to 40 strokes, and they played that difficult course four days straight.
The most famous player in the field was Annika Sorenstam of Sweden, one of golf’s all-time greats. Only a legend, that’s all.
Like I said, I started looking at the life lessons that came pouring out of Trish’s win. Without taking too strong a grip on it (Sorry, obligatory golf lingo), it was a show of courage, audacity, resolve, determination, overcoming adversity, learning from your mistakes — all those wonderful life qualities.
Because after that long wait on the 17th tee, Trish Johnson crushed her drive down the middle.
She aggressively tried to go for the green in two, maybe figuring she would hammer down the championship for sure if she birdied the 17th. She ended up in a sand trap, had a recovery shot roll to the bottom of the sloped green, and had to hit an ocean liner of a putt back up the hill. It was a mess, and she ended up with a bogey 6. Just like that, the lead was down to one shot with one hole to play, another Par 5.
Well, now what do you do? Wilt? Fume? Get anxious and swing wild? Find more trouble? Lots of people do, in life.
This time she played it conservatively. Another good drive, an easy iron about halfway, then another onto the green. Two putts for par and to win the championship. She beat steady American Leta Lindley, who finished earlier in the afternoon, by one shot. Catriona Matthew, Johnson’s playing partner for the day, finished third, two strokes back.
One swing of the club over four days was the difference between champion and second place. Afterward, Johnson told a TV interviewer she was “knackered,” which is British slang for worn out, exhausted.
Then she said something else.
She’s 57 now and spends part of her time doing golf tournament commentary on TV. She loves watching the younger women professionals play in American and European events. She marvels at their ability and knows she can’t keep pace with them now, but she draws something keen from watching them.
“It makes me really want to compete,” she told the TV interviewer. “I think that never leaves you. You lose your ability to hit shots or whatever, but you never lose your competitive spirit.”
And if that doesn’t make you smile and lift your head in appreciation, then maybe you need to go back to the 17th tee box and wait around.
Eric Mortenson is a Pacific Northwest writer who spent 37 wondrous years at Oregon newspapers. Per Eric: “I’m a husband to one wife, dad to four kids, and a useful human to two dogs and two cats.” Subscribe for free at: [email protected].