THE SKINNY: Senior discovers life-threatening golf hazards other than sand traps

(Photo by Chuck Hansen)
Senior Sonja Hansen and her little sister, fourth-grader Morgan, drive around Tehàma Golf Club in July 2013.

About a month ago the sign-up sheets for spring sports were rolled out. Students flocked to scrawl their names and enlisted friends to participate in order to scrape together teams.

“Who can catch a ball?” one person asked.

“Uh,” a kid raised his hand, “sort of.”

“Great! Do baseball. You’ll play first base.”

To my surprise, the sign-up sheet for the golf team was more or less filled by the time it made its way to me. For the fifth and final time, I wrote my name at the bottom and made myself the traditional empty promise.

“This year will be different. This year I will show up to practice.”

Maybe this year I will fulfill my vow. I did swindle seniors Smita Sikaria and Carlos Nunez into joining me. (By the way, guys, now that this is published, no take-backs.) Perhaps they can keep me from straying from the team.

I’m not entirely to blame for my inability to commit. I’ve had a history of going head to head with this sport famous for enthralling retirees and presidents. Something always seems to get in the way of me becoming the next Tigress Woods.

The first time I signed up for golf was in eighth grade. I made my decision based on something that controls so many of my choices: embarrassment.

(Photo by Chuck Hansen)
Hansen and her sister, junior Bianca, try out their first set of clubs at Haggin Oaks Golf Complex in August 2013.

Every Thanksgiving, my extended family treks down to Carmel for feasting, singing, dancing and living it up on the beach. Starting when I was 12, I’ve been invited to break away from the hubbub and spend a day on a golf course with my dad and a few of his friends.

The golf courses that we play, mainly Spyglass and Tehàma, have been bought and sold for hundreds of millions of dollars. So imagine the cost of the holes I leave after aimlessly whacking at the tee or the price of the damage to the torn-up putting green after my careful handiwork. My dad never keeps score, and all of his friends are super easygoing to the point where I almost seriously maimed one of them out on the course and he simply laughed it off.

One of my dad’s longtime friends is a world-famous guitarist, known to me and my sisters as “Uncle Jeff.” I was attempting to scoot around Uncle Jeff’s golf cart in my own when a low-hanging branch wedged itself into my cart. I mistakenly pushed on the gas and felt my golf cart begin to lift and start driving up the tree. Sweating profusely, I heard only my dad’s thunderous laughter in the background.

Luckily it was Uncle Jeff to the rescue. He dislodged the branch, but it jolted and nearly smashed his fingers. But it was fine. I mean, it’s not like you absolutely need fingers to play the guitar.

The destruction I inflicted on excursions like these (along with my being a greater hazard to golfers than sand traps) weighed on my conscience.

So I joined the middle school golf team that spring. My dad got my sister and me a basic set of clubs, some of which I think I’ve lost, to share. I didn’t have golf shoes, so I frequently donned my pair of Converses.

Daily practices at Haggin Oaks followed a simple  routine. Warm up putting for about 15 minutes, spend half an hour driving and then end chipping.

(Photo by Chuck Hansen)
Hansen gives a thumbs-up as Morgan tees up at Peter Hay, a small course in Pebble Beach for children, in July 2014.

Driving was the most trying. My wonky shots made my balls fly off at angles and ding against the metal dividers at the range, alerting other golfers, who would shake their heads and sadly tut. While my teammates’ shots would soar into the sky, my balls landed feet away. Once I ran out of balls, and I hopped down onto the field to retrieve a couple (because I’m dangerously ignorant). An old man told me to get up before I got hit and then yelled at me for being careless. I grabbed a few balls anyway and stuffed them in my pockets. If I had gotten hit, I probably could have left practice. Sweet.

I never played in any real tournaments, (about which I’m not at all bummed) but once had the opportunity of doing a practice round of nine holes.

The team was divided into groups of four, given scorecards (I immediately misplaced mine), and sent out onto the course. I ended up losing every single one of my balls, mostly because I didn’t feel like tramping through the shrubbery to find them.

Freshman year was a little more challenging – primarily because the new coach was unable to understand that I was indeed on the team. If I had a nickel for every time I had to run with my golf bag strapped across my back and clubs clinking as the shuttle pulled away from the school parking lot, I could afford to replace the clubs that I’ve lost. More often than not, I’d miss the van and have to call my mom to pick me up.

Being left behind wasn’t a big deal though. Most times I was the only freshman to show up to practices among several junior boys who were obsessed with politics.

I didn’t engage with them much until one of them almost killed me. (Are you beginning to see a pattern? Golf is more dangerous than football).

(Photo by Chuck Hansen)
Hansen and Morgan hold their clubs behind their head at Peter Hay, in July 2014.

I had run out of balls at the driving range and walked behind one of them to grab our team’s basket. I thought he knew I was right behind him. The boy wound up his swing, and right before he thrust his club down onto my head, I stuck up my own iron to take the blow. There was a loud clink, and everyone at the range turned to see two high schoolers with gaping mouths and clubs in the air. It appeared as though we were caught having a ridiculous light-saber duel.

The next year, I attended a single practice. Well, I guess it wasn’t really even a practice. No one else was there. After a couple minutes, I called my parents and asked to be picked up. Watching elderly men break a sweat at the driving range can quickly become awkward when you’re alone.

Junior year I signed up and never went to a single practice, mostly because I forgot the season had started. I can only assume that my teammates were lost that year without their fearless captain’s careful guidance.

But all that will change this year. I can do it. I have the technology. I can be better than I was – better, stronger, faster. I have my license, and my knowledge of the sport is at its peak. This is my golf career’s golden age.

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