Yesterday morning I had a presentation to a great audience. It's been nice this week presenting between races here in Arizona. After the presentation I had an afternoon free so I called this golf course that runs along I-10 to see if they could get me on. I had driven by this course three times in the past 13 months and each time I had severe golf envy. It was my lucky day as they would be able to get me on. The catch? I'd be playing with three random strangers.
I love when I get to travel across Missouri because so often I'll play in towns where the courses aren't busy and there's little to no chance of a social situation playing out. This round, however, was going to be a golf outing with no chance of avoiding a socializing with people I have never met before.
Nervous? Just a couple hours prior I stood in front of 40 people I had never met, never seen, and spoke for an hour about my life and personal examples of living life with Asperger's Syndrome. That was easy. Playing golf with strangers? I was petrified!
I got to the course, rented some clubs, and proceeded to my golf cart. I was looking all around wondering who I would be paired up with. If you've followed my blog for a while you will know that I have not had the best of luck with other golfers as I've had no less than four posts talking about the rudeness of people I have come across on the golf course. I was hoping, no, praying that I wouldn't be paired up with golfers like those because that would make for the longest 18 holes known to man.
I was seated in the golf cart, on the passanger side as that's where my clubs were, and I waited. Eventually a person came around and looked at me and said, "You must be the random person that's playing with us." I didn't know how to take that as if this was a joke or if he was a little peeved that a random person had been matched up with him and his group.
If it was mean there was no indication afterwards as we headed to the first tee. He asked me if I had played the course before and when I said no then he asked me if I was from Tucson and I said no again so then he asked me where I was from, I said "Saint Louis" and he laughed. Here was the thing; the three people I was playing with had a business associate who was supposed to be playing with them but he didn't get out of Saint Louis, where he is from, so what were the odds? They were supposed to be playing with a person from Saint Louis, and they got one, just not the one they were expecting.
That conversation, I believe, broke that ice. We approached the 1st tee and my breath was taken away by the beauty of this course. These views were nothing like what I saw from the interstate and this was nothing short of golf awesomeness.
On the tee box of hole 1 the person I was riding with introduced me to the other two people and off we went. I was reserved for a bit, and the three of them didn't push me to talk or ask too many questions, but by playing the sport of golf, and being unlike the rude golfers I have encountered in the past, I felt confident with my words.
On the fourth hole I was asked what my day job was and I explained and told them I travel all across Missouri which then I was asked, "Ever been to Nevada, Missouri?" Again, talk about a small world! I've presented there twice and I believe I'm there next week or the week after. Two of the golfers I was playing with went to high school there.
On the 5th hole I now felt like part of the group; as if I belonged. It was an odd feeling, one of which can't be explained in the manner it deserves unless one has felt it. I didn't feel like an outsider, or a person from out of state, or a person with Asperger's; what I felt like was a person who was enjoying a round of golf with three other people and trying to make sense of the sport of golf. Is this what normal is?
The round progressed and with each hole I knew it was one step closer to the end. This sense of fitting in with people I don't know is rare for me; it's even rarer that those people around me understand my humor and my dry comments are laughed at.
As things always do, the round came to an end. This is where Asperger's showed itself. As soon as the round was over I started to receded back within myself. When the golf carts were dropped off I stood, awkwardly I might add, and eventually said something along the lines of, "thanks, it's been fun." and they acknowledged it and then the guy I rode with said, "Want to come in and grab a beer?"
My reaction to that question was a simple no as I don't drink. It wasn't until I was about two miles from the course in my car that I realized that question was more than just a question on a drink as the drink was probably irrelevant as the question has more to do with the interaction with the person than it does the fact of consuming liquids. As great as I felt on the course I now felt a sense of remorse at my obliviousness to the social aspect of that question.
Another thing that I need to mention is the fact that, in the midst of the nerves and all, I don't know any of the other golfers' names. They told me them, I heard them, but with all my nerves and processing names aren't something that take a high priority. They should, but they don't.
At the end of the day, for those golfers, I'm going to be an after thought; a random golfer that filled out their round. Maybe they learned something about the autism spectrum, perhaps not, but for people not on the autism spectrum the art of socializing comes much more easy than it does to myself. For myself, though, being able to socialize and to feel comfortable is a rare thing. That round of golf was more than a round. Sure, the course was one of the best I've ever played but my round quickly became more than hitting a small ball around trees, sand traps, and trying to hit into a small hole in the ground. Yes, it was much more; it was 18 holes of feeling free. Those golfers may not know it, and will probably never find out, but my round of golf, even though I shot poorly, was my best round of golf ever.