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Playing Through Covid, Coming back from Covid, & the Grip of Golf

One Woman's Experience of Golf in the time of the Pandemic


When the world shut down in March 2020 and my university teaching transitioned to Zoom, I turned to my husband and asked, “Will the golf courses remain open?” Looking back twenty months later, at an estimated 1.8 million deaths worldwide, I am loathe to admit that an early concern was whether or not I could continue hitting the links. At the same time, I am grateful to the game of golf for the privilege of playing through a Pandemic.

The Author and her Father
Cara Kilgallen and her Father

In golf, “Less is more,” meaning that lower numbers equal better scores and smoother swings produce stronger results. Here is a significant life lesson that we should all heed as we rekindle connections and restore community in the wake of a global crisis that in many respects stripped us of our humanity.

While I remained physically healthy through the Covid-19 crisis, this dreadful disease has affected many whom I love and admire. One year ago, I lost a truly special family member whom we had to mourn virtually and several others I know became mildly to severely ill. And as an English professor, as well as a Department Chair, I feel tremendous heartache for the countless students and colleagues whose lives have been ravaged by this epidemic.

As an anxious academic who does not do well with down-time, I needed an outlet to remove me intermittently from the stresses of digital department chairing. An avid athlete who values the mind-body connection, I have golfed since an early age when my grandparents first inspired me to pick up a club; however, only recently have I grown to appreciate the game’s true value as a spiritual exercise of sorts, one that allows for a feeling of transcendent connection to the world.

While playing an eighteen hole and four plus hour round (my husband and I love to walk the course), my mind tends to wander and, like many golfers, I have a tendency to overanalyze. Are my feet positioned correctly? Do I maintain the right grip? Am I breaking the wrist too much? How about the people behind us, are they catching up? These questions occupy me, but the less I try to allow them to burden my mind, the better! As we become accustomed during these times to fewer human interactions, I seek to internalize this feeling that less is indeed more, both in post-Pandemic world and on a golf course.

Picturesque Golf Course in Idaho
White Clouds Golf Course (Sun Valley, ID)

This deepened understanding of golf has come through my re-reading of John Updike, an author whose writings I re-visited during these trying times. Updike learned the game in his twenties, and he speaks sincerely about the struggles of mastering the art of a smooth swing. In Golf Dreams, a compilation of fiction and nonfiction published in 1996, he writes often comically about the grip that the game holds on women and men of varying ages and social classes.

Many associate golf with wealthy white men who have the leisure and privilege to play from morning until night; however, as Updike and others note, the game attracts a wide array of playersfrom various backgrounds and it continues to evolve as an increasingly inclusive sport.

It is also becoming more accessible, as the majority of recreational golfers like my husband and I play public or municipal courses rather than exclusive country clubs. Updike’s stories often explore the middle-class aspect to the game.

Updike’s words capture a universal desire among golfers for effortlessness, a physical sensation that is possible but often fleeing when swinging a club. Throughout Golf Dreams, the author turned golfer creates a number of parallels to the writing process: “My golf, you may say, is no poem; nevertheless, I keep wanting it to be one — a series of effortless sweet shots engraved in the air, with some crisply tapped putts for punctuation.” If only written expression went so smoothly, but Updike seems to find golf a far more arduous art form.

The Author getting ready to play her tee shot
The Author on the tee box still enjoying the game at nine months pregnant

As a teacher and scholar of American literature, I admit to playing far more golf during this Pandemic than I did writing; however, any guilt from sneaking in nine holes between Zoom meetings and classes has subsided by now!

As the 2021 Tokyo Olympics approaches, I eagerly await more Covid comeback stories like that of Jon Rahm. Less than one month after his third-round disqualification from May’s Memorial Tournament following a positive test, Rahm’s remarkable victory at Torrey Pines made him the first Spaniard to win a U.S. Open. Unfortunately, at these Olympics, he has once again tested positive alongside Bryson DeChambeau.

Golfing legend, Greg Norman, who recovered relatively recently from Covid-19, recognized the gravity of this illnesswhen he urged followers and fans to take the Virus seriously. Indeed,even the most graceful golfers are not immune, but the game’s true beauty and elegance can certainly sustain us through these terrifying times. Any passion that nourishes the soul is worth cultivating, now more than ever!


Cara E. Kilgallen is an Associate Professor of English and Chair of the Department of Languages & Literature at Sacred Heart University. She is currently on sabbatical as the departmental chair. In addition to her grandparents with whom she first gripped a golf club, she cites her father as one of the main inspirations for her love of golf.

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