What we’re thankful for this Thanksgiving

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There is a course with a driving range up the street, and for years I believed the range was no good. The balls are beaten to hell and painted with a cheap protective coating that leaves a nasty mark on your irons. There’s no grass, and with little cushion between the mats and concrete underneath it’s not uncommon to see some poor bastard nursing his wrists and cursing to the heavens. Every five minutes a voice crackles over the loudspeaker pleading to whoever is raining balls over the net—just 230 yards from the hitting area that guards the par-3 eighth—to stop before someone is knocked out cold, a voice ignored as golfers would rather chance manslaughter than to refrain from whaling away with the driver. A large bucket is $15 and because this is a metro area and the nearest public facility is 25 minutes away, there’s usually a line. To call it hell would be extreme, but purgatory was probably too kind.

At least that was my former view, before the range was shuttered at the onset of the pandemic last year. When it reopened, whatever qualms harbored were replaced with gratitude. Some of that is not knowing what you’ve got until it’s gone, sure. But since its return, I’ve tried to see it for what it is instead of what it’s not. It’s a range that allows high-school players to hit for free. The hitting bays are heated and covered so you can hit no matter the season (and this being the Northeast, sometimes those seasons all pass through in one day). There’s no dress code and zero stuffiness. A bar is a few strides away yet no one gives a second look should a smuggled cold one emerge from a golf bag. It is a range that has floodlights in order to work on your game into the night, and a range that keeps those lights on an extra 15 minutes because they know sometimes one bucket isn’t enough.

I know it’s not perfect; seriously, it would be nice to hit balls made after 1998. But it is decidedly not hell. Far from it.

In that vein, we compiled a list of other golf places and people and things worthy of our thanks. Some are big, some are small. Some are serious and some are silly and some are sentimental. They all come from the heart. And if they come off as a bit sugar-y, well, we’ve had our fill of sour as of late. Which is why we are thankful for:

Stories like Mike Visacki, Brett White and Rachel Rohanna. The leak of the Player Impact Program underlined the belief that the professional game is powered by and revolves around a finite number of planets. True as that may be, the tales of Visacki, White and Rohanna are a reminder that the sport is a big universe, where even the smallest stars—if only for a moment—can burn bright.

Bunkers In Baghdad. The non-profit, which sends golf equipment to U.S. soldiers stationed across the world, has donated more than 12 million golf balls and a million clubs since its founding in 2008.

Whenever the broadcast croons, “And look at this line Bryson DeChambeau is taking …” We’re two years deep into his transformation from man into mountain. You would think the eye-popping distances and “Did you see that?” drives would eventually wear. They have not.

Whenever the broadcast croons, “It appears Bryson DeChambeau is calling for a rules official.” Sorry, Kentucky Derby, this is the most exciting two minutes in sports.

Whenever the broadcast croons about Bryson DeChambeau, period. Say what you will about the guy. But if you say you don’t care, you’re lying.

Maintenance crews. Busting their tails, often for little money at bad hours, so we can enjoy a bit of heaven.

The PGA Championship. Once viewed as the “black sheep” major, the PGA has become one of the more dependably entertaining events on the schedule. Don’t laugh: The last five years have delivered breakthroughs to Justin Thomas and Collin Morikawa, the theater of Bethpage collapsing on itself, Tiger Woods winning at Bellerive by coming in second and Phil Mickelson defeating Father Time at Kiawah. Speaking of …

Phil Mickelson. Giving us all hope that for one hole or one round or one weekend, we can be just as good, if not better, than we ever were.

Amy Bockerstette. You may have thought her 15 minutes were up. Truth is she’s only beginning. Vaulting to fame after a practice-round rendezvous with Gary Woodland went viral in 2019, Bockerstette has since opened the “I Got This” Foundation, its mission to promote golf instruction and playing opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities. In May, she also became the first person with Down syndrome to compete in a national collegiate athletic championship.

Those 3-4 swings when you feel like you’ve discovered it. Every thought and lesson and tip coupled with the countless hours chasing the sun have aligned to produce the very shot and feel you’ve long chased. You feel infallible, and there are glimpses into the future of breaking 80 and maybe becoming club champion and even qualifying for the U.S. Open and taking the 54-hole lead as you hold off the likes of Rahm and Xander and Cantlay. Granted, “it” immediately leaves, and the struggle to replicate the feeling leads to existential angst and questioning if there is a higher power, and if so, why they would be so cruel to give then take away so quickly … but for those 3-4 swings, yeah, life is pretty good.

Advocates Tour. For decades the sport has pontificated about growing the game without doing much about it. The Advocates Pro Golf Association is one of the exceptions, its circuit providing a competitive environment for minority golfers while fostering avenues for the sport to reach an audience it has historically ignored.

Nelly Korda. The women’s game has longed for an American super-duper-star. Though her bid for LPGA Player of the Year came up just short, Korda fulfilled that wish and more in 2021. Don’t expect her stay at the top to be short, either. Even with …

Jin Young Ko’s heater. Five wins, a runner-up, and two T-6s in her last nine starts. All with an injured wrist. That, my friends, is en fuego.

Gimme putts. Every language of golf has gimme in its lexicon, but it lacks a universal definition. It is an ambiguity, as the Ryder Cup proved, that acts as an agent of chaos and controversy. So watching a playing partner rake away on your behalf is a sign of respect that never goes unappreciated. While we are here …

Helpful opponents. You blew your drive into the high stuff. Never really had eyes on it, and your search time is about up. Just then you hear, “Hey, you’re playing a ball with two blue dots, right?” Golf’s version of a governor’s 11th-hour reprieve.

The return of the 19th hole. While the sport blossomed in 2020, many course and club watering holes were shut down due to COVID protocols. This summer welcomed a good number of those bars back, and with their return came another step toward the familiar. And to that we raise our glasses: the 19th hole, the only hole a golfer can’t bogey.

Jordan Spieth back to being Jordan Spieth. Aside from a certain 15-time major winner, no player in golf is as galvanizing as Spieth, but for the better part of three years we wondered what was wrong with him. What a treat to see him get right.

Tyrrell Hatton’s indignation. Always pointed at himself, the only thing coming out on the business end being his club. It’s been asked why we view Hatton’s displays with charm and delight while the very same behavior from others is criticized, and the only real answer we have is if you have an English accent you can get away with anything.

Megha Ganne. Doing bigger things at 17 than most of us can dream of doing.

Starters that sneak you off the back. Don’t fret about the Thursday night mixe-couples league, the man with the clipboard has you covered.

Significant others who tolerate our golf obsessions. It takes a special someone to realize the member-guest is as sacrosanct as a wedding anniversary.

Matthew Wolff’s courage. He was open about his battles, knowing some would think less of him for them and that stepping away from the spotlight would only make it brighter when he returned. But he did what he felt was right, not just for himself but for others. Here’s hoping he’s stronger because of it.

And finally, and most importantly, we’re thankful to all first responders and front-line workers. They risk their lives so we can go on living ours.

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