Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Round That Got Away

When I guessed the right club from 160 yards into a strong wind and the ball hit the flagstick, I knew something was happening.  I try not to pay much attention to my score, but as I tapped in for the easy birdie, I knew exactly what I was shooting: I was even par after 7 holes.  Everything was going my way.

It was a week before Thanksgiving in Indiana, too cold to golf.  Too windy.  But I had the day off work and was determined to play.  It was just me and a couple other diehards on the course. I put on my winter hat and headed to the first tee. I wasn't expecting much. It had been a few weeks since I last played.  I hadn't counted on it being so windy.  I was already cold.

I hit a mediocre drive that settled in the right rough.  As I lined up my second shot I was already thinking: It's going to be one of those days.  Pitching out from under the trees. Hoping for bogey. If only I could hit it hard and low, fade it a little left to right, I might make the front of the green.  I set up the shot, took my stance, swung without thinking too much.  The ball did exactly what I was trying to do. It landed just short of the green. A good chip and a short putt later and I'd parred the first hole. No big deal.

But the good shots kept coming: par, par, birdie, bogey, par.

Seriously? This has to be my best start in a while, maybe ever. Surely I can't keep this up...

A few years ago someone gave me Dr. Bob Rotella's book, Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect and this has always stuck with me:

"Most golfers, if they play often, have experienced a string of holes where everything fell into place, and for a while at least, they played the golf they had always sensed they were capable of.  For one golden hour, perhaps two, the golf ball went where they wanted it to go and they strung together pars.  There is no such thing as a golfer playing over his head.  A hot streak is simply a glimpse of a golfer's true potential."

Call it whatever you want.  But I had it.  I was on fire. I was in my golden hour and I could do no wrong. I was hitting good shots, making the putts, watching all the breaks go my way.  After nine holes I was one over par, my best opening nine ever. I had to pee and nearly stopped in the pro shop, but I was getting anxious and thought stopping would throw me off.  So I held it.  I had to keep going. 

I've shot 79 twice in my golfing life, once after a streak of playing nearly every day for two weeks, and once out the blue at the very beginning of golf season.  But neither round was magical.  They were just rounds where I didn't screw anything up. 

But somehow this seemed different.

On the back 9, the wind was blowing even stronger.  I made par on the first two holes, no sweat. By this time, of course, I’m thinking: This is my career round, but by how much? Two strokes? Four? Seven?  Keep this up and you might shoot 72.  Imagine the celebration that would come later.  Would anyone believe me?

I even managed a par on the Hill Hole, my former nemesis.

Enter the 14th hole, a 149 yard par 3.  There are no sand traps, no water in front of the green, plenty of room to miss to the right if you want to hit a safe shot.  It's a huge green.  The flag was right in the middle.  It should be a 7 or 8 iron, 2 putts and another par. This is not a scary hole, except for the woods to the left.  

As I’ve become a better golfer, I’ve learned that I will occasionally and inexplicably hook a ball to the left, way left, not even close to the right direction.  This is apparently a common thing as ex-slicers overcome a chronic case of missing everything to the right.

And that’s exactly what I did.  I hooked my tee ball deep into the trees to the left of the green.  I knew it was gone the second I hit it.  It wasn't even close.  50 yards to the left.  I had no choice but to tee up another ball.  And I did it again, a huge hook, this time even worse. I teed up another ball and came up short of the green. By the time the hole was over, I’d made a quintuple bogey 8. Career rounds don't include quintuple bogeys.

After that, all the breaks went the other way: a bad lie in a sand trap, a backwards kick off a tree, a hard bounce off a sprinkler head.  I went on to double bogey 15, 16, 17, and 18. As I tapped in my putt on the last hole, I noticed that I was cold again and had a headache from the wind.  My feet hurt.

Hobbling back to the parking lot, I couldn't help but dream about what could've been.  Any golfer knows that's no way to think, reliving every missed putt or sliced iron. But the worst part was I knew it would be the last time I'd play my home course for the season before the cold winter weather moved in for good.  I didn't know whether to be thrilled with the best 13 holes I’ve ever played or to stew about the last 5.

Either way, I knew it would be a very long winter.


  1. What a sad story. Wonder if/when we'll play another round together? Time's a ticking on 2014, perhaps even on the decade.

  2. I didn't mean for it to be a sad story necessarily. Trust me when I say I'm extra careful on that 14th hole now.

  3. So what did you shoot for the round?

    And if a hot streak is indicative of a golfer's potential, what about all my cold streaks? What do they indicate?

    1. I ended up shooting an 85, a number I would've been happy to take at the beginning of the round. Dr Bob Rotella would say your cold streaks indicate you aren't comfortable enough with your swing to forget about it and just play. That's when you get on a hot streak...when you can somehow forget about the swing thoughts and just relax.

    2. I have a hard time doing this. See the post from 2012 called Mechanical Voices.