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As you get older, get used to saying 'used to'

I play golf with a group of guys who call themselves the Shankmasters. For me, that’s too cutesy. I think we should be known as the Fourth Flight, because that’s where most of us wind up in club tournaments.

We toss our golf balls into the air to determine who plays with whom. Play any tees you want. We play a points game with handicaps and we pass our money back and forth from day to day.

Ages vary but most of the bunch are retired. Most are Republicans who grumble to each other about the Democrats. You know the kind. Most of them would give their car to break 80 again or hit a drive 250 yards.

Most of them say "used to" a lot. Hit a 200-yard drive and say, "I used to hit it 50 yards farther than that on this hole." Hit a wind-aided three-iron to a green and say, "I used to hit eight-iron here." There’s a lot of used to in our games.

The Fourth Flight is a convenient arrangement. It’s nice to know there’s a game on if you want to play that day. It’s also nice to have someone with whom to share yardage lost over the years, problems reading the greens because of knees that no longer tolerate the kneeling position, achy joints, shortened backswings, all that.

The shared experience helps us slide from the past to the present and toward the future as we watch our abilities drain away. Not that it’s something awful. There is a certain mellowing that comes with it, a kind of acquiescent shrug. After all, we’re still playing our game long after baseball players, football players, basketball players, most can play theirs. Just not as well as we used to.

We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, habits and tendencies. We know who’s slow, who can’t putt it into a wash tub, who changes clubs trying to buy a game, who’s funny, who will give you a lesson whether you want it or not, who can’t see very well, who can’t remember very well, who spends so much time trying to get out of sand traps he needs a camel and a burnoose.

When the round is over and there are frosty glasses all around in the grill room, we kid about our golf handicaps, talk about how far the kids hit it nowadays, Tiger Woods, golf stuff, but we also talk about family and health problems and vacations and good places to eat, things like that. Back in the day we would talk about women, too, but not much anymore.

We win a few bucks today, lose it back tomorrow. But that’s not what we play for in the Fourth Flight. It’s the beauty of the place and of the game and the brotherhood we feel. We’d like to hit it farther, make a few more putts, but when we have drained our glasses and started for home, we’re not thinking about yesterday.

We’re thinking about tomorrow.