It’s 8 o’clock on a Sunday night and I’m shivering beside the 18th green, waiting for my son. He’s in a pack of four boys and everyone’s quiet, save the occasional clapping from spectators as each boy finishes his round. I look at my son to gauge his stance. If he’s too loose, he has given up; too tight and he is angry with himself. After five hours of play he doesn’t look tired, but surprisingly composed. I watch him chip onto the green and drop his putt. He glances up at me, pleased.
He shrugs, “5 over,” and veers off to submit his score, leaving me to mingle with the moms.
It’s the regional Junior Boys Championship, a two-day, two-club tourney, and the day before he had scored well, made par. I take the “5 over” as a sign for how our evening might unfold: he sullen, me issuing platitudes, trying to piece together a narrative from his garbled jargon of the game.
My son hasn’t been golfing for long, but he adores it, in an endearing way – he saves money for clubs and wears his shirts tucked in. He’s 15, and has had a junior club membership for two years. In that time he’s started competing – not too seriously, but consistently, shooting well enough to make his golfing grandfathers proud. I do not golf well myself, but I do appreciate the aesthetics of the game.
The organizer gathers the players, announcing the results. My boy wins a sleeve of balls for closest to the pin, and I think “That’s great. He won something. We can go.” I look over to give him the nod – it’s a school night and dinner’s late, and, and – but he doesn’t look back. He’s got his hands clasped behind his neck, elbows akimbo, waiting for what I don’t know.
I ask the woman standing next to me, “What’s this for again?”
“To see who qualifies for the provincials.”
I ask her for details – the where and the when, only half-listening. We’ll be away then, I know. I have plane tickets to England and a plan. The plan includes quality time with my son. It includes history and culture and family, and the two us travelling together, sitting side by side on planes watching movies from a split headphone jack, our brains smeared with jet-lag, joking, having fun.
“Oh,” I chime. “We’ll be in England then.”
A trophy goes to a boy in a bright orange shirt, the brim of his hat rakishly tipped up, and another to a boy in lime green and crisp white pants. I huddle against a wall noting my son in his worn (lucky) chinos and watch him pat a pal on the back. I see him growing up without me; I see, too, how golf has helped make him the patient young man he’s become. I feel grateful in that second, and then sad – his passion isn’t my passion. Anyhow, he’s grown too good to play with his mom.
“And the winner of the juvenile division, first low gross, is …”
I hear my son’s name. Watch him step forward, and I shake my head: Oh, no.
Oh, yes. He’s carrying a big gold trophy, shaking hands. And I’m holding up my phone to snap a picture thinking: crap.
I mouth the words “What?! You won?!” and he beams back, stunned.
England was my idea, of course. My son didn’t want to go. I wanted to take him away because all he does is golf. After school, on weekends, for hours every day, he’s at a club his parents can’t afford to join. I never see the kid, really. At 15, he has found another home, a very old and pleasant one on the ocean, practically across the street from our house. But I’m lucky to get a wave when I walk past him on the course. It has gotten to the point where I go for sightings. I go because I miss him, and because he looks so healthy and epic framed by mountains, ocean and green grass.
Golf is a good game, I know, and I grew up around it myself, but golf means my son has taken to watching televised play and talking about college in places like Texas and Oklahoma. Golf is glamorous now. And I want to protect my son from such high hopes because becoming a professional golfer is – I have to say it – a very very long shot. It requires coaching I can’t pay for, and it requires me to stop saying that my son is too smart to be an athlete. Golf requires self-mastery. Golf, in my life at least, requires that I grow up.
The announcer lists the names of the boys who will be representing our region at the provincials, my son’s name first. I see his shining smile and recognize that this is the moment from which there can be no retreat, and wonder how, in all my years of mothering, had I not learned about surprises like this, how hopes can be dashed and a heart filled in the same instant.
The announcer says “Revelstoke,” and I instinctively suck in a breath, thinking “No, no, not Revelstoke: Oxford! He’s going to Oxford – we’re visiting a student there, a role model, a friend.”
But I catch myself this time, and that breath comes out in a big blustery laugh, because what the heck can I do? I’m a mother. I’m proud and punchy with love.
Finally, one old silver trophy is left for the winner of the under-18 class – the regional Junior Boys Champion, whose name, the announcer says, will be engraved alongside the names of men now playing on the Canadian tour. Who wins this grand prize? My bristling boy. The boy who had asked, “Mom, why can’t I just golf?”