I chose the article “Driving Lessons” by Steve Friedman, which can be found in the 2006 version of the Best American Sports Writing anthology. While I’ve always been a big sports fan, this year as I worked for The Daily Evergreen as the women’s golf beat reporter my interest in golf grew exponentially.
However, as I read this article it became less of an article about golf and more about the relationship the author had with his father. In his unique storytelling way, Friedman manages to tie his experiences with his desire to impress/please his father in a way that makes the reader conjure up their own experiences mentally even while reading about Friedman’s.
One such example for me is almost identical to Friedman’s, albeit in a different atmosphere.
In the very first paragraph in the book, Friedman writes “…my father tells me to grip the seven-iron “like you’re holding a bird in your hand and you don’t want to crush it,” and I say “Okay,” which is what I always say to my father and I think he is criticizing me, or when I have absolutely no idea what he’s talking about, or when I’m filled with a vague and guilty rage towards him, or when all three are happening at once… I’m forty-nine now, and I’ve been saying okay for forty-seven years.”
I couldn’t help but laugh inside and tear up a little bit as I remembered my own father trying to explain to me how to understand physics when I was a high school senior. My dad was a double math and science major who graduated from USC, and my math limitations are reached once letters are introduced. As far as I’m concerned, that’s no longer math but rather spelling, and that’s a whole different matter entirely.
As the story continues and Friedman relays his struggles to conquer golf and his father’s love for the game, we can feel Friedman’s frustrations in his inability to hit a golf ball adequately.
For anyone who’s played a round of golf, or a partial round, or even just gone down to the local driving range, the waves of memories come crashing back. For myself, my frustrations and struggles are still raw, still real, and it is encouraging to read along with someone else. Playing with friends who are further along in their skills for golf can add to the frustrations, so it is refreshing to read of someone else traveling the same path.
Friedman also does a masterful job of weaving memories of his past and childhood seamlessly into the present, where he is taking golf lessons from his father a few days prior to them playing a few holes with Friedman’s older brother. Friedman honestly relays his experience and descriptions of his attempts at the driving range. Most of them are horrible, and Friedman does a good job of poking fun at himself, another example that strikes close to home for me.
“I’m a good athlete, but I’ve never been a quick study at sports that require balance. What I possess is a dumb, mulish capacity to absorb pain and humiliation until I master a physical movement.”
I’ve recently been more committed to swallowing my pride and asking for help when I need it, but prior to this conscious decision, I was stubborn. For whatever reason, I’d decided it was better for me to keep my mouth shut and struggle through experiences. I’d rather avoid admitting I didn’t know what I was doing and need help. Of course, this led to much unnecessary frustration along the way, but my pride and ego were intact, which is what I wanted at the time. But I also feel that I am not alone in my ways, and reading Friedman relate his story struck a chord with me and probably many others who came across this story.
Friedman’s storytelling style flows in a natural, casual manner. He doesn’t seem to force any of his stories to fit and has chosen excellent examples of his childhood to share. It is very easy to imagine sitting on his front porch, sipping iced tea and watching a sunset while listening as he waxes poetically about his experiences that he’s shared in this article.
One of the reasons I think this story is relatable is because it’s not just a golf story. Golf plays an integral role in the story, but this is also a human interest piece as well. Friedman’s relationship with his father is shared throughout the course of the essay, as well as history of his father’s life. But it wasn’t until after I started writing this review of why I liked it that I realized Friedman never shares his father’s name. Friedman’s ability to develop characters into strong pieces of his weave shows that the man’s name wasn’t necessary, which is another tendency of strong writing. It allows the readers to develop the character in their own minds, all the while being guided by the author to still reach the conclusion that the author intends.
It was obvious to me why this piece was chosen as one of the best-written articles because it is relatable to multiple audiences. The story manages to appeal to hard-core golfers, amateur, casual golfers, and people who have no connection to the struggle of golf or the attraction to the game. It’s a great piece about maneuvering around relationships, rather than being defined by them.