Anyone who plays sport of any kind will be familiar with the gradual ascent through various stages of accomplishments as you get older and progressively better in your activity of choice.
It could be scoring your first try in a full contact game of rugby or competing in a local swimming gala. These are the barometers by which we measure how successful we are in our chosen sport. However, for many the most important milestone, the one that drove us most ferociously and with fervour beyond our ages, was beating a parent. That was Everest.
Golf is unique in fact that one day you could be teeing the ball up with someone twice your age with half your golfing capability, and the following day you could be playing someone half your age with twice your ability. And yet, because of the handicap system, you are able to have a game that can be finely balanced for over three hours of play. It also means that competitive matches with a parent are a possibility pretty much from the day you can hit a ball.
There is a long lineage of golfers within my family, but none have I played as many rounds with as my Dad. He’s a good player. He currently plays off six and could quite easily be lower if he spent more time practising (admittedly not entirely his fault). His typical shot shape is a classic draw with a lower ball flight, which is down to a combination of trying to squeeze every ounce of distance from every shot with older equipment in decades past, and his upbringing on a wind-swept links course as a boy.
Growing up, neither of my parents pushed me too hard in either a sporting or academic sense. It’s something I’ll be forever grateful for. Being left to my own devices, however, did mean that some of my junior counterparts overtook their parents at a younger age. I took my time, due to both a lack of talent and the ability of my father.
The desire and drive to get there, to beat him, was always in the back of my mind. When I was a junior, every round we played together, whether he knew it or not, was my Open Sunday where we were tied for the lead going into the final round. And every Sunday, I watched him lift the Claret Jug.
Then, one weekend, it happened. We played our 18 holes and walked off the last green with me counting up our scores as usual. I had to check the card twice before informing my Dad that the time had come: I was the Champion Golfer of the Year.
At the time, I remember thinking I’d made it. He’d play it cool and act like it didn’t bother him, but I’m sure he would admit he was a little disappointed that the torch had finally been passed. And yet all I can still vividly remember seeing in his face was pride.
Up to this stage in my life golf had always been about competition, the drive to get better, improve and to beat whoever I was playing with, including my dad. His reaction that day painted an altogether different picture of what the shared rounds between us really meant.
To him, it was about the bond between father and son, of golfers and of best friends. Ever since, I realised that each round we have shared together has meant something altogether different. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a competitive edge and there’s still a tinge of disappointment when he does get the better of me, but I’d take losing to him over beating anybody.
I now realise that I care as much for his game as I do my own. If I know he’s played, I look forward to asking him how he got on, what he shot and who he played with. The first two questions will provide answers that will adjust where I am on the happiness scale for him, but the third will always leave me with an ounce of jealousy. I want to be one of the playing partners.
I’ve often joked that if and when the time comes and I have a child of my own, the first thing they’re going to hold is a seven-iron. I really hope that my child might discover the same love of golf that my Dad and I share, so that we can have the same shared experiences I have been so fortunate to have: 18 holes as competitors, family and the best of mates.