I didn’t know how important golf would become when I learned to play. Through the years it has helped me learn to accept the challenges of cerebral palsy. The game was a passion of my father and like most boys I wanted to do the things he did. Cerebral palsy held me back from participating in all my dad’s activities but I was determined to learn the game of golf. It had some cool elements to it, golf was played outside, the pace was slow and calming, I got 14 clubs to choose from, and I thought golf clubs were cool looking. The different design of each hole was also exciting. Golf is unique because the playing surface changes with the finish of each hole. A golfer never knows what the next challenge will be. So, my dad shortened a couple golf clubs and taught me how to swing. It took patience to learn the entire movements of the golf swing. There were parts of the swing we modified to make it easier, like my left arm bending during the back swing when ideally it would remain straight. The modifications helped get around the stiffness and rigidity of my body. By the end I had a golf swing working with cerebral palsy instead of against it.
In learning the game as a young child my muscle movements could adapt more easily. I was still teaching my body how to move with the help of physical therapy. Learning movements foreign to my rigid body became normal, though cerebral palsy still made it brutally challenging to perform those complex movements. The frustration of learning new things always grows with age, but I’m thankful for working through the challenging process of learning to perform activities like playing golf and skiing while young. I used wiffle golf balls in the yard to practice the golf swing for hours, I would get upset and quit sometimes, but always tried again the next day. Eventually ironing out the beginners kinks of a golf swing. It took extra time to create the swing, which worked for my body, along with the muscle memory I would need to repeat it. I enjoyed golf so much we dug dirt holes in the grass and made imaginary golf holes throughout the yard.
When my brother and I finally got good enough we started playing at a real course. Hitting an actual golf ball was more exciting than the wiffle ones for the yard. We both enjoyed being on the course immediately. Once we experienced it there was no keeping us away from golf. I had a companion to play with and loved being outside on sunny days. The summers of my youth were spent playing golf.
My goal as a child was to become a professional golfer. The problem was with my handicap the goal couldn’t be reached, but I was unaware. The friends I played with growing up began hitting the ball much further than me and I didn’t understand why. From my perspective I thought as I grew maybe my golf shots would begin traveling the same distance as theirs, but cerebral palsy was holding me back. It became sad getting older and realizing the shots I hit only carried half the distance of other guys my age and discouraging to think about an absence of strength holding me back from my dream of professional golf. I even struggled competing with other players recreationally. My brother was good enough to play in high school and college. I envied the physical functionality he had which lead to his vast ability.
It was a difficult pill to swallow realizing I wouldn’t come close to playing as well as my brother or my friends, but the beauty of golf is, I could still play rounds with them. Even if it took me two shots in order to reach one of theirs it didn’t disturb the game. We still enjoyed paying in each other’s company. I still experience times of frustration when it takes longer getting my golf ball from tee to green and having to hit from the forward teeing area instead of the back teeing area with the big boys. I power through the discouraging emotion because I enjoy the game. Taking the opportunity to play the hole at a shorter distance does increase my enjoyment. I don’t get as frustrated when playing the forward tee, as it allows me to get the ball further down the fairway next to their ball. In my youth I thought playing from the forward tee made me weaker, but the different teeing areas are set up to make the game fair for all. I now realize with cerebral palsy making the game of golf easier can make them more fun. I don’t have to struggle in order to be included.
The game has taught me so much that relates to my challenges with cerebral palsy in life. Most important is the patience required on the golf course and in life. Outside of golf, life is full of the need to move quickly running here and there to get the most out of each day. Cerebral palsy has never allowed me to move through a day quickly. I watch others getting things done with more speed and through frustration with my speed I remind myself to slow down and have patience. Golf requires much of the same mentality. While others hit their shots miles past mine I try calming the frustration and realize my accomplishment lies in simply playing. Carrying these principles into everyday life seems crucial. Most things take longer and are more difficult to accomplish; staying patient, relaxed, and realizing the accomplishment is in the effort given, makes any physical activity easier to navigate.