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3:33 Sports Short #53 // The Last Shot by Ira Sukrungruang

The rain season in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Thunderclouds obstruct the northern mountains. It is as if they’ve disappeared from earth, and the ancient scholars were right: the world is flat. The wind picks up. Palms sway like dancing fingers. Litter scatters across tarred pavements. And though the city speaks in rumbles and horns, the wind roars over every sound. 

It’s a strange day to be at a driving range near the airport and mall, a busy district of Chiang Mai. The driving range is a hundred yards long; only wedges are allowed. An awning shelters us from the weather bubbling and boiling above.

For me, golf is a marker of memory, a link to the past. The shadows of my former selves are with me in every swing. I am three again hitting a ball for the first time, impressing my father into eruptive laughter. Or six when I took aim at a real green on a real golf course. Or nine when I played my first tournament, a crowd of on-lookers gathered behind me. Or eleven when I first beat my father at Balmoral Woods. Or twenty-two when I taught my ex-wife how to play among the dry sage in central Colorado. Or a few weeks ago, when I went to the range with my new love and watched the easy control she had over the club.

I feel the weight of all those swings, all those moments, as I take aim at the blue flag in the distance.

My mother, seventy-eight, sits and complains about how I can’t keep my shots straight. This is her job, to critique, to drive me to hit a better and straighter ball, even when I haven’t competed in over twenty years. She shakes her head and says, “So crooked.”

Aunty Sue asks if she can hit one. She hasn’t touched a club since 2004 when she lived in Chicago. Before that, my mother and her played nearly every day after their shifts at Oak Forest Hospital. On one of their last vacations in America, they drove with friends to Alaska and played every golf course along the way.

“Don’t hurt yourself,” my mother says, but Aunty Sue ignores her. She lines up, wearing old nursing scrubs. She looks straight ahead at the high netting that surrounds the range. She’s eighty, but when she makes contact with the artificial grass—thwap—the ball soars. She does it again. And again. And again. Eight perfect swings. Eight perfect shots.

“That’s the sound you want,” my mother says.

The driving range workers stop and stare. It’s not everyday an older lady swings a club. It’s not everyday an older lady knocks it straight and perfect.

Aunty Sue looks into the distance, past the yardage markers. Sometimes, her hand trembles. Sometimes, she needs a boost to get into tall cars. Sometimes, she’s unsteady, needing my hand to guide her along the way. But now she looks young, backlit by black clouds and blown palms. The wind tosses her hair. She appears to be a heroine in a kung fu movie, deep in thought, contemplating how she might save the world from evil forces. But I believe, she too is thinking about her past, thinking about the moments when she walked carpeted grass, reliving those grand golfing memories of her life. Or perhaps, she sees beyond the game, at the person she once was, the life she led, the choices she’s made, the regrets she’s swallowed. 

“Not bad,” Aunty Sue says.

“You should play again,” I say.

She hands me the club. “I want to remember these shots as my last.”

To know when something is done. To leave without regret. To remember the best of those years.

Thunder booms. The sky finally breaks, and we hide under an awning, marveling at a world suddenly made of water.

Ira Sukrungruang is the author of The Melting Season, Southside Buddhist, Talk Thai: The Adventures of Buddhist Boy, and In Thailand It Is Night. He teaches in the MFA program at University of South Florida. For more information about him, please visit: www.buddhistboy.com.