Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Scratch One Off The Bucket List



During the Ukrainian visit to Augusta, Dana Atkins, president of The Augusta Chronicle, was gracious enough to invite everyone to his house for a barbecue, where we all gathered on his back deck for some awesome food and a little socializing.


After dinner, he quietly stole Anatoliy away and the two headed out to the garage.


To say Dana is a golf enthusiast is an understatement.


He started pulling out every golf training aid he had. There was a mirror, a weighted driver, a power swing fan and even a hinged training club. It was everything Anatoliy needed to become the Tiger Woods of Ukraine.


Dana worked with Anatoliy as I stood by, taking pictures and shooting a little video. This was history in the making. He gradually worked through the training aids to actual clubs. I watched as Anatoliy would take a few swings, often losing his balance and ending up on his tiptoes. But with each swing, the grin on his face grew wider and wider. He was in heaven.


Anatoliy had never held a golf club in his hands before tonight and talked to us about how it was dream of his to swing a club.


Golf hasn't taken off in the Ukraine like it has elsewhere. In a country where the average income is less than $400 a month, it's hard to find the disposable income to afford a golf habit. Plus, there are only a handful of golf courses in the entire country, where many people don't know the game. Just about the only golfer they recognize is Tiger Woods. The headline for a story in a Ukrainian newspaper on the US Open didn't proclaim Justin Rose the winner. It said Tiger Woods lost.


Such is golf in Ukraine.


We were going to introduce them to golf in America.


During their trip to Augusta, we wanted so badly for them to see Augusta National but knew that wasn't possible. The best we could do was take them to the main gate on Washington Road and let Anatoliy look longingly down Magnolia Lane.


But Dana had a special treat for our friends. He had arranged for the group to hit balls at the driving range at West Lake.


As luck would have it, it was raining that day. The same way it has almost every single day for the past month.


Anatoliy, though, wasn't going to be deterred. Having held a golf club for the first time the day before, he was determined to hit a few balls. And the monsoon that was upon us wasn't going to interfere.


As the rain poured, we all huddled under umbrellas to watch as Dana worked with Anatoliy on his swing. Anatoliy made a few whiffs and dug up some worms, but his dream finally came true when he made contact with the ball. This may have been the happiest time in his life.


When Kim and I were in Ukraine, everyone we met was introduced to us with a list of their list of sports accomplishments first and then what they did. Sometimes those came before we even learned their names.


Now, Anatoliy can add one more accolade to his list. Golfer.




















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