22 (my nickname for my fourteen year old, Dane) left me in the kitchen before embarking on a short journey to Boston to meet his friend. As is our standard hello and goodbye, we first slapped our right hands together. That sting feels amazing. Never losing contact, we gather our fingers together in a strong embrace and subsequently and in unison, bring our fists down towards our waists, abruptly stopping them around our midsections. Finally, we use our connected hands to draw our bodies together and stand there for a few drawn out moments, feeling the intimacy reserved only for a father and his son, a son and his father. Below, Donnie Cimino riffs on his version of this moment. I don’t play golf but can still catch his vibe. Follow his lead below. It’s strong.
A handshake. It’s one of the most significant gestures two individuals can express to one another. A handshake can have a wide range of meanings and purposes. It could follow an introduction or signify the closing of a life changing business deal. A handshake can carry the weight of the world or be as meaningless as a pre-peeled banana in a plastic wrapper. In the realm of handshakes, there is one that is unique in its own existence. A handshake so ambiguous one could argue it holds clarity. A handshake that carries a type of closure that is uncommon in the plethora of handshakes. The handshake I am talking about is the one that follows the final putt on the 18th green.
The importance of the handshake itself is shaped by the relationship of the golfers in the group. When playing with a family member, I often play with my dad, that final handshake represents the pleasure of being able to spend time in solidarity that often eludes us in today’s culture. With technology encompassing so much of our lives and representing the main means of communication, golf allows us to travel back to a time where Facebook and text messaging were non-existent.
Golf follows a strict book of unwritten rules and etiquette. Being glued to a smartphone is a breach of these rules. The handshake often represents a thank you to your partner. A thank you for spending hours away from the grip technology has on our society. A thank you for diving into the issues and events that are meaningful to our lives. A thank you for having the patience to deal with me shanking 3 balls into the water while you wait to putt your birdie.
The importance of the final handshake struck me as I was sitting on the porch of a local country club watching groups of four attempt to hit the ball from the fairway over the water onto the 18th green. The majority failed, however some were able to miraculously smack the 1.68-inch, 45-gram golf ball within feet of the cup that sits 4.25 inches in diameter on the green. Regardless of the outcome when that final ball hit the bottom of the ever-elusive cup, players removed their caps and offered a firm handshake and look in the eye to respectfully present closure on the hours of successes, failures, and conversation that came with playing the 18 holes over a 4+ hour round. I start thinking to myself, “Do these people know each other? What did they learn about each other after hours of playing?”
Over the entire course of a game, I would estimate the total time actually spent standing over the ball hitting or putting adds up to about 30 minutes. That leaves over 3 and half hours, or in my case 4 and a half, of time spent conversing and building a relationship with your golfing companions.
I was recently playing a round of 18 with a high school friend, Joe, and two middle aged gentlemen, Will and Trevor. By the time we got to the 9th hole we were diving into deep conversation concerning Will’s failing marriage. Will was disclosing private information regarding issues most would find too personal to divulge to newly met acquaintances. However, after just 9 holes, he was venting about the nuances that had led to him to reconsider the vows he had made over 10 years ago.
Regardless of my lack of experience surrounding the trials and tribulations of marriage, I was giving input to Will’s options moving forward. There was no place for me to run, no phone to distract myself with- the only option was to listen and give feedback on Will’s difficult situation. I can’t think of another circumstance where someone would broadcast something as personal as an impending divorce to a stranger than on a golf course.
When we shook hands after I three-putted for double bogey on the 18th, I knew things about Will that his wife didn’t know. There is a strong chance I’ll never see Will again, and that parting handshake was probably the last encounter we will ever have together. But that handshake was ultimately a sign of trust for sticking with each other after hours of laughs, stories, and sliced drives off the tee box.
Whether you are a scratch golfer or can’t break 100, the forum of the golf course is built for cultivating relationships. The score of the golf game itself is irrelevant in this narrative. In fact, the game itself is irrelevant. We often find it difficult to step away from the strings that pull us every which way in our everyday lives. The lure of notifications from Twitter and Instagram beckon, distracting us from allowing the conversation to form our opinions about the people we are spending time with.
To those reading this, regardless if you’re a golfer or not, I implore you to take a friend out to lunch, have a conversation with a stranger, or play 18 with your cousins. When your time spent with them is over shake their hand, look them in the eye and thank them for sharing that experience with you.