Asking a stranger to join in a round of golf is common course courtesy. Asking a second time is a special gift.
I was waiting my turn at the first tee at a Central Valley golf course. My thoughts were centered on a solo round where I might work on some new clubs, drop an extra ball if it did not hold up play, and just be alone with my thoughts.
When the pair in front was far enough away to assure me it was safe to tee off, my plans for a solo round were about to change.
A golfer in a motorized cart pulled up near my golf bag and pull cart.
“You can go in front of me,” I told the older golfer who sat behind the wheel of the cart. “I’m walking.”
“Wanna play together?” he asked.
“No, that’s all right,” I said.
I really didn’t want to play with someone else. I have a regular golf partner and get plenty of socializing when we get together for a round every few weeks.
When I’m not playing with my regular golf buddy, I go out alone. I’ve grown accustomed to playing alone. I just wanted nine holes of solitude: me and the course.
“You sure you don’t want to play together?” he asked once more. “I really don’t mind.”
“Okay,” I said. I didn’t want to belabor the conversation.
“I’m Tony,” he said extending his hand.
“Steve,” I said completing the handshake.
My scorecard would show I ended several shots over par. But as what usually happens in a story about golf, this is not about the score.
Our conversation started over where our opening drives landed. We covered missed approaches, clutch putts, and places where we’ve played over the years.
He told me about his older brother who became a golf professional shortly after taking up the game. Sadly, his brother had passed away a few years ago.
Then it got even more personal.
“You married Steve?”
“Yes, thirty-eight years this summer.”
I would soon learn that Tony lost his wife four years ago to cancer.
“We would have made it to fifty-two years this July,” he told me.
He spoke about his two grown sons who live with him.
“One of them likes to be confrontational,” he said. His laugh told me more about why he liked to get out of the house and onto a course.
“All the more reason to play golf,” I said to him.
We talked about why we love the game.
“You can just come out here and forget about your bills,” he said. “Forget your worries, forget anything and everything. Just think about hitting that ball.”
“There’s nothing wrong with that sentence,” I said. That’s a phrase I use a lot when I hear something good. My family is sick of hearing it, but Tony never heard it before.
Like all good things in life, a round of golf comes to a close. We shook hands one last time. I thanked him for twice asking me to join him.
“I said no the first time, but you asked me again,” I said to him. “And for that, I am grateful.”
“We had a good round, didn’t we?” he smiled.
“We sure did,” I said. “Thank you.”
He adjusted his hat, put both hands on his motorized golf cart and said, “You’re welcome, my friend.”
Steve Newvine lives in Merced
He has authored California Back Roads, Stories from the Land of the Palm and the Pine. It is available at Lulu.com