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Her thoughtful gift became lifelong love

Without a doubt, one of the best gifts I ever received was a sawed-off, little seven iron.

I was about 13 years old and had recently discovered the joys of skateboarding. I spent endless hours out on the driveway and the streets of our Largo subdivision trying to learn to stay upright on my unsteady stick, frequently crashing elbows and knees first into the pavement.

Our next-door neighbor, Ethel Morrow, widely regarded as the crankiest and meanest retiree on a street full of them, was convinced my newfound hobby would be the death of me.

One cool spring afternoon, Mrs. Morrow beckoned me from the street. Leading me to her garage, she pulled a rust-pitted seven iron from a golf bag and put it into my hands. She explained that it was an old club that she had asked the club pro to cut down to fit my height.

"Do you know how to golf?" Mrs. Morrow asked me.

No, I said.

"Do you want to learn?"

Sure, I said. (This was long before the term "Whatever" infected teen speak.) Mrs. Morrow took me to her back yard and dropped a couple of balls on the ground. She showed me a basic grip, explained the mechanics of chipping and let me have at it.

That was 31 years ago.

When I emerged from Mrs. Morrow's lair an hour or so later, my skater buddies thought I had gotten into trouble. Mrs. Morrow was a fearsome presence on our street, and they were sure I had somehow committed some capital crime that resulted in unimaginable backyard punishment that might have involved interment.

I explained that Mrs. Morrow had just given me a golf club and was teaching me how to play. They thought I was crazy.

And perhaps I was, because there was something about golf that instantly fascinated me.

It's an amazingly simple activity. You hold a stick and try to swat a ball to a place you already picked out in your mind. Most of the time, it goes someplace else. Sometimes it gets fairly close to the target. On rare occasions, it does exactly what you hoped it would do.

I wore out our family's back yard knocking chip shots back and forth.

Next, Mrs. Morrow taught me about putting. We went to a practice green at the local club, and, again with a modified putter, we worked on finishing the job, getting the ball into the cup.

Having acquired a shaky mastery of those two clubs, Mrs. Morrow decided it was time for me to tackle a real golf course. One day, she invited me to go along with her and husband George to the Largo Municipal Golf Course, where the couple regularly played, to try out my newfound skills on real golf grass and real golf holes.

Like most novices, I was miserable at the game. But I tracked down every errant shot and moved the ball closer to the hole each time. We played only nine holes that day, and it probably cost me 60 strokes to get to the finish, but I was hooked.

I played with Mr. and Mrs. Morrow two or three times more before venturing out on my own. By that time, some of my skater buddies, perhaps through osmosis, had taken up the game, too.

So off we would go, riding our bikes with golf clubs slung over our shoulders, to the closest course. Most of the time, that meant Pinecrest Golf Course in Largo, where kids could play all day for $5 or $7.50. And play all day we did, 18 or 36 or sometimes 54 holes or until there was no more light in the sky.

I don't recall ever keeping score. Those numbers were not important to us.

But these numbers are important to me: Mrs. Morrow died in 2001 at age 87. She was 60 years old when she gave me the gift of golf. I am 44 years old. Her gift has been with me for 31 years.

I can only hope to still have a seven iron in my hands when I am 87.

Logan Mabe plays as much golf as he can afford. You can contact him or share your golfing life stories at LDMabeaol.com.

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