Endless Summer

I forgot how good this is 🙂 A non-fiction narrative story I wrote for my sports writing class in grad school at Medill. 

The summer I was sixteen, I felt like I was living in the green grass on the other side of the fence. I had just gotten my driver’s license, but did not have a job, so my parents didn’t make me pay for gas. I lived in sunny Orange County, but it would be two years before the television show made the area renown – I considered Laguna Hills to be as inconsequential as sweet home Alabama. But most of all, I remember the summer I was sixteen as the summer that my best friend Danna and I took golf lessons from Ryan Brick.

Brick always wore black pants because they don’t show dirt. He was tall and athletic, had dark reddish-brown hair that was always perfectly gelled, and we could never decide if Brick was more attractive with or without the sunglasses. His eyes were a beautiful blue.

Danna and I were the worst players on our high school’s girls golf team. In fact, the reason we were on the team had more to do with league rule changes than athleticism. The previous year, the girls team would compete with four players and count three scores. The year Danna and I tried out, the league decided that the girls team must match the boys: play six, count five. Without us, the Laguna Hills girls golf team wouldn’t have enough players to compete, so, Danna and I garnered seats we didn’t deserve.

Brick told us that, after lessons with him, we’d be players number one and two. We believed every word. What we didn’t know was that our lessons with Ryan would come to an end, even before the summer was over, and that it would be our fault.

Best Friends Forever 

I met Danna in a church nursery when we were two years old. We lived a few blocks apart and our moms took turns picking us up from elementary school. We went to the same junior high, and then the same high school. When it came time to register for classes our freshman year, Danna and I were looking to avoid the physical education, or P.E., requirement.

We joined the colorguard team. This involves flipping flags around and tossing them in the air, dressed in a velvet spandex outfit with sparkles, all while moving to choreography on the football field with the marching band. One year was more than enough of this, so we looked for a plan B to take care of our remaining P.E. credits.

The summer after freshman year, we attended volleyball camp. I nearly passed out one day and had to go home. When Danna and I told the volleyball coach that we were also trying out for the golf team, she smiled at us. For the first time.

Both our dads were golfers and were more than happy to take us to the driving range, and buy us full sets of golf clubs. No, wait, that’s not entirely true. Danna learned by using her 14-year-old brother’s set of clubs, and my dad tracked down used clubs for me at thrift stores and golf shops. The heads of my original woods were made of actual wood.

My dad loved to have a buddy to take to the driving range, because it made the seven-dollar large bucket of range balls more economical. Learning golf from my dad was the first time I got to hang out with him exclusively – without my mom and my sister around. A girl can never get enough one-on-one attention from her Daddy, even at age sixteen. But, Dad’s advice would lose its thunder when I met the newer model of “Golf Man”: Ryan Brick.

Laguna Hills High School

At golf practice, Danna and I had a hard time taking things seriously. We got a talking to from our coach after he spotted us pushing each other into a sand trap when we were supposed to be raking it. Luckily, he never caught us throwing range balls out onto the grass when were bored with hitting and wanted to speed things up.

The other girls on our golf team shared our quasi-competitive values. “Whenever the other team shows up, I always look to see if we’re prettier than they are,” Tamara Rosenbaum said before a match one day. Being the more attractive team made us feel better about our lack of wins.

The exception was Newport Beach High School. Those girls were not only gorgeous, but they were machines with golf clubs. I was afraid of their coach. Even more intimidating was their home course – Newport Beach Country Club. It cost $100,000 to join, and that’s not counting the annual fee.

My team’s home course was also exclusive, but in a different way. We played at a place called Laguna Woods. It was the golf course belonging to a retirement community. My dad wanted to play a round there, but couldn’t – he’s not old enough. My golf team regularly enjoyed hitting holes designed for senior citizens, which was probably reflected in the total yardage and the slow break on the greens.

Needless to say, I was not prepared for Newport Beach’s professional-grade course. The first time I played there, I lost about ten golf balls in water hazards, the rough, and the like. Around hole seven, I told the rest of my foursome that I was out of golf balls and couldn’t play anymore. It was a lie. I just gave up. For most competitive golfers, this would raise the obvious concern about how to count my score, but the girls in our league enjoyed a loophole.

We call it “Double Par Plus One”

Because the league’s recent rule change required each team to field more girls, the coaches predicted that pace of play would slow down. Teams across the board were forced to use golfers like Danna and I, who might take three shots to get to the green on a par three, and then cross the putting green five times before finally knocking the ball in.

The problem was that our matches were played after school. We’d begin around 3:00 pm, and the third foursomes of girls would often find themselves racing daylight to finish nine holes. The coaches agreed on a system called Double Par Plus One to keep us on track. For me, it was a life-saver. We had a limit to the number of strokes we could take, and if we hit the glass ceiling, we were directed to pick up the ball and take the maximum score.

The highest total score a girl could get was 81. This was nothing to be sneezed at on a full round of 18 holes, but we only played nine. And because we had to follow USGA rules to the T, it wasn’t that difficult to hit the stroke limit.

Swinging and missing one’s tee shot counts as a stroke (unless you can convince the other girls that you intended it to be a practice stroke). Sometimes a large water hazard would separate the tee box from the green on a par three. Each tee shot that didn’t quite make it counted as two, because every time the ball dropped into the water, we had to count a penalty stroke. More than once I saw a girl hit Double Par Plus One without even getting to putts.

Sand traps near the green were sudden death. All the other girls, who’s balls were already on the green, would stand and wait while I hacked my sand wedge at the ball, watching it shoot straight up and land back in the sand, or, fly over the green into another sand trap. Sometimes, it seemed wiser to take Double Par Plus One to save face.

When Danna and I signed up to take golf lessons the summer after our first season, it was more about stopping the bleeding than ambitions.

The man who was hotter than Brad Pitt

For a sixteen year old girl, taking lessons from a gorgeous golf instructor was a dream come true

“Sometimes, during the week, I try to picture Ryan in my mind. But he’s always hotter in real life,” I told Danna one day. Little did I know that my imagination would have to suffice, much earlier than I expected.

While Danna and I were experimenting with golf, Brad Pitt was still happily married to Jennifer Aniston, and had recently been named People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive, for the second time. Still, Danna and I unanimously decided that our golf instructor was actually hotter than Brad Pitt.

“Extend,” Brick always told both Danna and I. It really helped. With Brick behind us, we were suddenly sweeping the range mats with our long irons and watching our shots roll down the hill. That’s right, the golf range where we had lessons was on a hill. Golfers could hit from both directions so it was against the rules to hit a driver downhill, for safety concerns.

“Once, I busted a window in that shed at the bottom of the hill,” Brick told us. Breaking rules was not foreign to him. He would show off by hitting balls over the range netting, onto the fairway of the ninth hole.

“Who’s gonna say anything if the school principal is smoking?” Brick said. “He’s the guy in charge.”

Brick was definitely my hero, but I felt like there was a hole in his reasoning. He seemed to justify his actions with a sense of superiority. It was premature.

The last day we saw Ryan

Our lessons with Brick were usually on Saturday mornings at 10:00 am. Not an ungodly hour, but still early. We knew what car Brick drove because he had pointed it out – a white Toyota truck with backseat doors that opened backwards.

One morning in late July, Danna and I arrived per usual: chugging up the hill in my white 1991 Toyota Tercel, with a broken air conditioner, only a radio for music (not even a tape player) and windows that literally rolled down by cranking a lever in a circle.

We didn’t see Brick right away, and we also did not see his car. Our hot golf instructor was late. Both Danna and I knew that we’d prefer to sit in the grass and pick flowers, but we didn’t want Brick to show up and think we were lazy. We decided to start warming up by hitting range balls, but there were no balls sitting out.

Brick always carried tokens in his pocket to get range balls out of the machine. The one time he was out of tokens, he overturned a bucket, stood on it, and scooped balls out of the top of the machine. Danna and I didn’t want to try something risky like that, so we walked up to the pro shop and asked the lady for some tokens.

“They’re seven dollars” she said.

“Oh, we have a lesson with Ryan,” Danna explained.

The lady seemed to be confused, or mean. She still refused to give us tokens, and began questioning us. She was treating us like children – clearly she could not tell that I was old enough to drive.

Danna and I both knew we were not at fault; in fact, we were being more well-behaved today than usual. Voluntarily hitting range balls was totally out of character. So, determined to prove our innocence, we answered all the lady’s questions.

Yes, we have a golf lesson with Ryan every week. No, we’ve never paid for golf balls (That would be ridiculous, we thought. Our parents already pay Ryan for the lesson). Ryan just has tokens with him and we always use those.

Empty-handed, Danna and I walked down to the golf mats and kept ourselves entertained by taking practice swings. It sure was late, and we still didn’t see our golf instructor.

And then, we did see him. For the last time. With sunglasses on, he walked up and told us the bad news. He was suspended from teaching lessons for ten days.

“So I can’t teach you guys today, and I can’t do a lesson next week either, but maybe the week after,” Brick said. He explained that the course’s rule was that golf students had to pay for range balls during lessons – something of which he had never informed us, or our parents.

Danna and I were tongue-tied and needless to say, felt somewhat responsible for Brick’s bad luck. “Well, I guess we’ll call you, or my mom will call,” Danna said. We never did.

Not all dreams come true

Danna and I went on to fiercely battle (with each other) for the number five spot on our golf team our junior year. After that, Danna gave up competitive golf, but I played one more season. In my senior year, more qualified girls joined the team, and I fell out of the running for even the number six spot. But, my coach had a bit of compassion and still let me compete in league finals. We played eighteen holes at San Juan Hills Country Club in the rain. Out of more than ten teams with six players each, I came in dead last.

Partway through college, Danna told me that she still had Brick’s phone number saved in her cell phone, although she had changed the name to “Sexy Beast.” Apparently we both prefer to remember Brick in his glory, before two naïve girls threatened his job security.

I’ll never know what could have happened, if the lessons with Ryan had continued. I might have perfected my swing, gone on to be my team’s top player and earned a scholarship to college. But those dreams fell to the wayside, along with the fantasy that summers last forever.