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For all the times I've thought about giving it up...

From time to time, invariably during or after a particularly frustrating round, I’ve thought about quitting golf, never having to face another downhill righthand breaking putt, never having to ponder again why those shots that used to go so true now wander off like curious dogs, never having to deal with the thought that maybe that’s my game, my usual game.

I’ve contemplated the wisdom of what someone said, that there’s no contentment like that of a man who has given up golf.But I can’t quit golf. I love it too much and in spite of all the double bogeys, I think it loves me back. Why else would it feel so good to stand on the first tee again tomorrow? Golf’s more than a game. It goes straight to the heart and stays there.

We were discussing this over lunch recently, George and Denise Stoddard and I. They’re members at Cedarwood Country Club, where I play. I asked them to tell me how life is after golf when you’ve loved it dearly. George, 81 years old, had to quit playing about a year or so ago because of arthritis in his hands and a problem with his back. Denise, 67, quit about the same time because of bouts with sinus headaches that wrung the energy out of her.

He had his regular games with the guys, she with the girls and they played together often. Sometimes they played as much five times in a week but the games tapered off and finally stopped.

“It seemed so final,” said Denise, a former elementary school teacher whose love of golf shows in her eyes and in her words. “It was such a regular part of our lives and it was a fun part.

“When I was teaching, everything was so regimented and then all of a sudden I was retired and I was out there on the golf course, free as a bird, with the sun on my face and the wind in my hair. Life was great.”

George looked out the window at the Cedarwood golf course where they had spent so many hours and said, “It looks like it’s in gorgeous shape. I wish I could get out there.”

“Golf gets in your soul,” said Denise. “Those shots you occasionally hit pure, little things like that are what make you love it. Not winning tournaments or shooting low scores, just the little things.”

And, of course, the friendships. The Stoddards have kept a social membership at Cedarwood and they’ll come in from time to time to visit with their former playing companions.

“Life after golf,” said Denise. “You just have to look at it as an opportunity to find a new normal, to reinvent your life.”You travel, spend time with the kids and grandkids, read, do volunteer work.

And look out the windows at the fairways and remember the time you hit the green on that long par four for the first time or the first time you cleared that pond or the day you got it all together and shot your best score ever. And probably you remember the laughs and the sunshine and the breeze and the sound of crows off in the distance and that putt, the one you made from all the way across the green.

Those you can keep, the memories, long after the clubs have gone silent.