As I have said, I discovered golf when I was 41 years old, and not discovering it twenty years earlier has been a big regret in my life. It has taught me many life lessons, some came easily, some I am still working on. Being competitive, it took me several years to realize trying harder didn’t always produce the desired results in the game of golf, that patience and lessened tension were the prerequisites of performing well. Learning to appreciate the present, to forget the bad shot, to not over- celebrate the good shots, and to be thankful for the time spent doing something I loved was probably the most lasting of the game’s rewards to me. The fact that I became a decent golfer of course fed my competitive spirit. I kept the fires burning during the winter months by doing extensive research on the characteristics of golf clubs, which shafts worked best for golfers of different skill levels, and which clubheads performed well. That research led to a basement workshop filled with sets of shafts lined up on the workbench next to sets of clubheads waiting to be wed to those shafts. Epoxy, tube cutters, files, swingweight scales, boxes of club grips all became familiar to me on winter evenings. I would make a new set of clubs for myself each winter, sell my old clubs, and make clubs for others for several years. My kids and wife all had sets of clubs I made, and still use them.

There is another benefit I received from golf. It may have been responsible for saving my life. I have dealt with arrhythmia for several years, treating it with medication and about three years ago with a surgical procedure that temporarily cured the rhythm problem for a few years. As I approached that time envelope, I started having bouts of arrhythmia that would begin suddenly and usually subside within a day or less. I woke up one morning feeling my heart beating out of rhythm, and didn’t get too concerned about it, thinking it would correct itself later in the day. There was something a bit different in the character of this arrhythmia, something about the kind of irregular beat I felt but I still didn’t get too upset, until the next morning when I woke to my heart still flip/flopping around. I figured I needed to go into the ER and be cardioverted, which is a shocking experience, but one that usually brings the heart back into rhythm. I was being pretty casual about the whole thing, being familiar with the process, and expecting to be home before lunch. Dr. Villa was the ER doctor. I have known him for many years, and his passion for golf far exceeds mine, so I always enjoy our conversations about that frustrating game. He came into the room shortly after I had been hooked up to all the tubes and monitors, and told me I was not out of rhythm, my pulse was steady, my blood pressure was a bit high but not crazy. My wife and I both said we could feel the heart beating oddly, so Dr. Villa said I needed to wear a monitor for 48 hours to track the rhythm. I complained about the monitors because the tape always caused sores and actual scarring of my skin. ”Well, we will just keep you hooked up to these monitors for the rest of the morning then and see if there is any activity”, Dr. Villa said, then proceeded to pull up a stool beside the bed and start talking golf while keeping an eye on the monitors. We talked about the new rule changes, the effort to speed up play, the advantages of the new equipment available, in effect, all things golf. After about an hour, the nurse brought in a tape which Dr. Villa studied intently, then began counting with his finger along the tape until he reached nineteen. “You won’t be going home today”, he said. “You do have an arrhythmia, but it is in your heart’s lower chamber, and even though it is now a steady arrhythmia, if it becomes unsteady, we have no way to correct that here, so you are going to the Heart Hospital in Sioux Falls.” I complained again when he said I was going by plane. I love to fly, but had a terrible experience the last time I had flown with vertigo because of my history of ear infections, so I campaigned for a ground ambulance, which he nixed, saying the plane was equipped to handle a potential emergency with me where the ground ambulance wasn’t. So with a big dose of Benadryl, I was put on the plane and made the trip without complications. As I was settling into the flight, I thought back on the last few hours. What if Dr. Villa hadn’t kept me in the ER so he could personally observe me. What if our common love of golf hadn’t filled the time while I laid on that bed. After thinking about all those ‘what ifs’, I chuckled to think that part of this whole day, the best part, was the time talking golf with Dr. Villa. I tell people Dr.Villa and a conversation about golf probably saved my life.

Gary Heintz owns an insurance agency in Pierre and writes a column for the Capital Journal. He is also co-producer of the Dakota Western Heritage Festival, held annually each September in Ft. Pierre.

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