A teenager, thin and wiry with a shock of brown hair, steps up to the tee. Driver in hand. No fuss, just a couple of waggles and a final, quick peek down the fairway. He pulls the trigger.
I admire the simplicity of his swing, an intoxicating mix of speed and power, mobility and coordination. Coiled tautly, he effortlessly rotates his body, shifts his weight, literally explodes through the ball. What follows is an intimidating thwack, with a real smash factor.
Like a tracer bullet, the ball scorches along the edge of the tree line before climbing majestically into a cobalt sky. Drawing left ever so slightly, it finally settles on an impossibly thin ribbon of grass some 300 yards away.
Fifty years ago, that boy could have been me. Back when youth, natural athleticism and rhythm, allied to a proper grip and stance, might produce the same sound and a similar result.
However, as the decades slip by, various events throughout a busy sporting career subsequently take a physical toll. I learn that aging is indeed a real thing, even though I try mightily to avoid it. Alas, it proves impossible to turn back the biological clock. Even a friend’s insistence that “middle age” now extends to 60, or 65, provides little comfort.
Three major surgeries leave a mark. As does a graft, a blood clot, cracked ribs and several dislocated fingers. Bones now increasingly brittle, joints stiff. Hip flexors struggle to flex, knees ache, an ankle keeps locking. Bending and twisting become a chore. Furthermore, I now seem to be shorter than before, an inch in height, maybe more, mysteriously disappearing. Meanwhile, the scale, red digits stubbornly staring back at me, confirms I should lose several pounds.
To compensate, I undertake long walks. Do pushups. Stretch and work on my core. Ride a bike. Even visit the weight room, at least until I catch sight of an elderly gent. Stooped and weary, he mimics my every move. Then I notice the mirrors. Mirrors everywhere, and with it confirmation the old man in question is actually me.
A bit downcast, but finally home from work, with book and crossword in hand I sink into a favourite chair. It brings sweet relief, spoiled only when having to get up gives rise to feelings of exasperation and irritation.
Eventually, I doze off, naps a precious commodity. A kaleidoscope of sporting images floods my brain. I measure the countless joys and happy occasions, the special performances, wins and championships. The laughter and camaraderie. I reflect on opportunities to attend and take part in, thanks to rugby and basketball, a raft of major national and international competitions. Remember so many of the wonderful people involved. Loyal teammates especially. Balanced against these pluses, the disappointments, frustrations, and crushing losses, are insignificant.
In addition, I rationalize that a body now showing considerable wear and tear seems a relatively small price to pay for so many magic moments. I have been lucky.
And, of course, by way of recompense, I can always dream.
And so, in my mind, I venture back in time, arrange to meet the teenager for a golf match. On even terms. I see him limber up, demonstrate the same superb technique, execute the same impressive drive. The white orb again travels an obscene distance.
Yet, I am undeterred. Young once more, skilled, agile and flexible. Trained for this very chance. Trusting my luck will not run out.
I take my place between the markers, tee up the ball. Go through a pre shot routine. Aim confidently for the very middle of the fairway. Start my takeaway.
A dream dissolves into pure fantasy. My lower back tightens. I can’t get my body to turn. A disjointed swing lacks any tempo or power. Lacks club head speed. Contact is high on the face, off the toe, the result a weak pop-up arcing to the right. The ball dies, just short of the 200 yard marker, in the second cut of rough.
I turn away in disgust. So much for hope and ambition. I toss the offending 3 wood to my caddie. Yet, he too has morphed into someone else. Now old and wizened, in addition to a golf bag he carries a clock. The name tag on his robe informs me he is Father Time.
Pulling on a head cover, he replaces the club. Together, we shuffle slowly towards the ball. I glower, but he is grinning. Because he knows.
Knows that, in due course, Father Time always wins.
And, as I snap out of my reverie, already planning and scheming to fight any further decline, I know it also.