Tennis with an old man, golfing like an old lady

Back in my mid-20s, I participated in a recreational tennis league.  It was just for fun, a reason to stay in shape and test my mettle against other casual tennis players around town.  This was a city league in Gainesville, Florida, which might still exist, where you contact other people in the league to set up your match.  You then report your results to the league to determine your rankings.

I was a reasonably decent tennis player back in my day, back when my back allowed, back when I displayed flexibility, endurance, and lung capacity that hadn’t been hampered by another thirty years of whiskey and cigar smoke.

I don’t remember exactly where I finished that summer.  I had my share of wins and losses, but I do remember one blazing hot, Florida afternoon, when I showed up to play tennis all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, only to find my opponent waiting there for me. 

He’d arrived before I did.  He was in his mid-seventies.

A pushover, I immediately thought.  Friendly enough upon initial handshake, I would assuredly mop the floor with this guy.  How could a seventy-year-old man possibly compete with a kid in his mid-twenties?  My plan was to run him into the asphalt on that hot, Florida summer day and leave him gasping for breath.

You can probably figure out where this story is going.  I lost to this old man.  Final score: 6-4, 6-0.

I don’t remember exactly whether I threw my racket in frustration that day, but it was certainly possible.  I’ve been known to channel Johnny McEnroe in my bratty, angered past.

My opponent kept hitting drop shot after drop shot, leaving me off balance all afternoon.  I didn’t stand a chance.  So much for underestimating my opponent.  Of all the tennis matches I played that summer, that one stood out the most.  It was a lesson in humility, the whole not judging a book by its cover lesson ringing true to this day.

He was gracious in victory.  He probably saw it coming a mile away too, a young punk who thought he had the old man beat, only to flip the script with enough drop shots to frustrate the ardent professional.

I was reminded of this story recently because an 84-year-old professional golfer shot under her age in the US Women’s Senior Open.  And to think I struggle with ten minutes on a Peloton.

The odds are you’ve never heard of JoAnne Carner.   Growing up, the only female golfer I’d ever heard of was Nancy Lopez and that’s because she was married to Ray Knight.

Unbeknownst to most of America, JoAnne Carner is a two-time major LPGA Tour winner.  She won the US Open in both 1971 and 1976.  She is a three-time Player of the Year award winner, a 19-time tour champion and has 124 top ten finishes.  She boasts over $2 million in career earnings.  No word yet as to how much the Saudis will pay her for a LIV appearance.

I shot in the seventies, once, nowhere close to my age.  I was with three of my closest golfing buddies that afternoon at the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota.  By the time it was all said and done, I cried like a baby. 

Carner didn’t cry but celebrated in style after dropping an inconceivable 80 at the Senior Open in Portland, Oregon.  Carner, who has retired from the Tour more times than the Who, and at her age probably performs better, has finally, once again, said she’s called it quits, but not before proving to anyone paying attention that anything is indeed possible.

With all this talk about who’s buying what league, which golfers felt slighted in the great PGA Tour auction and which ones took the money and ran, it’s a pleasant change to talk about a golfer doing the unthinkable and shooting under their age.  Congratulations once again, Joanne Carner.   

Living to the ripe old age of 84 is difficult enough.  Writing lower than that number on your scorecard is a fine way to spend a hot summer afternoon.

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