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Jenni Carlson: We miss sports for lots of reasons, and we want to know why you do

Golf was the sport that changed Oklahoman columnist Jenni Carlson. From her dad, seen in the upper left photo, teaching her the game to being the lone senior on the golf team her final year in high school, lower right photo second from the right, Carlson says the sport gave her a superpower — belief in herself. [OKLAHOMAN PHOTO ILLUSTRATION]
Golf was the sport that changed Oklahoman columnist Jenni Carlson. From her dad, seen in the upper left photo, teaching her the game to being the lone senior on the golf team her final year in high school, lower right photo second from the right, Carlson says the sport gave her a superpower — belief in herself. [OKLAHOMAN PHOTO ILLUSTRATION]

The golf balls would soar majestically into the Kansas sky, then while they were still falling back to earth, they would disappear behind the hill of the cow pasture.

Yes, the cow pasture.

When I was a kid growing up in Kansas, my family lived on a farm. We lived in the house built by my great-grandfather and great-grandmother, then lived in by my grandmother after that and by my dad after that. We raised pigs and cows, wheat and corn.

It was a lot of work, but when my dad had a few spare minutes, he would take a golf club and a few balls into the front yard and start hitting.

Our front yard looked westward, and across the gravel road sprawled one of our pastures. As the yard approached the road, it dropped away to the road level and left a high perch perfect for golf-ball launching.

I remember watching my dad hit balls, but by the time I was 3 or 4, he had put a golf club in my hands. At first, I got to hit plastic golf balls around the yard, then wiffle golf balls, then finally normal ones. I don’t remember when Dad decided to let me try to launch one over the road and into the pasture — and I’m sure the first few were duds — but hitting golf balls into the pasture became my first memory of the sport that became my passion.

In the years since, I have come to love other sports. Spending a winter night at The ‘Peake watching the Thunder is great. Journeying to Norman or Stillwater for a football game on a cool autumn afternoon is grand. Seeing titles won and records set and goals achieved has been the joy of my lifetime.

But golf was my foundation.

Talk to me nowadays, and you might be surprised to know I wasn’t always self-confident. I could always talk to adults, but kids were another story. I was a bit shy, a bit pudgy, and that didn’t necessarily create self-confidence around my peers.

But as I came to love golf, first in the front yard on the farm, then at a small but wonderful nine-hole course, I started to draw strength from it. I realized if I practiced and committed, I could get better and stand toe-to-toe with kids from anywhere.

They might have newer clubs or nicer clothes or (gulp) thinner thighs, but I could compete with them.

That was powerful.

Even though I won a few tournaments in high school — my parents have a wooden case of medals back in Kansas — I was never the best. Not in my classification. Not in my conference. Not even in my area. But that wasn’t really the point.

I learned that sports welcomes anyone who wants to participate and rewards everyone who is willing to work.

Oh, that’s probably a bit Pollyannaish. Sports can be prejudiced, racist and misogynistic. Cruel, too. Sports can be insanely unfair from time to time.

But the positives far outweigh the negatives.

Who knows where this farm girl would be without the superpowers instilled by sport. Would I be sharing stories about your favorite teams? Would I be telling backstories about your beloved athletes? I don’t know if I’d have developed enough self-confidence for any of it if I hadn’t played sports myself.

So, as much as I miss the games right now — and believe me, I miss them immensely — it’s the opportunities being missed by so many youngsters that I lament most. They need to feel that sense of accomplishment, that belonging, that confidence. They need those superpowers that may carry them higher than they ever thought possible.

They need to soar like those golf balls back on the farm, rising into the big, wide sky and flying out of sight.

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or jcarlson@oklahoman.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.

Jenni Carlson

Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football... Read more ›

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