Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bragging Rights

If you don't want to read about me tooting my own horn then move on, this isn't for you.

I started playing golf about 9 1/2 years ago. Those of you who know me know that I'm obsessed with the game and I'm blessed to be able to play almost every day.

There are many challenges in golf and many achievements for which all players strive and each goal achieved simply creates another. When we finally break 100 we want to break 90 only to become obsessed with breaking 80. We start out as worse than bogey golfers and strive to make pars on a consistent basis. Then we want to get to the point where we're making birdies. We strive for eagles and seek out that magical hole-in-one. If our handicap is in the 20's then we want to get into the teens followed by single digit and then we want to be scratch. It's a never-ending search to improve our swings, our game and our scores.

I've struggled over the past year. Last year my handicap index was about -5.4 and I decided that I wanted to get better. My hands were involved in the ball striking (not a good thing) and I wanted a purer ball-strike. This led to golf disaster - my index shot up (down?) to about -12.8 where it was just two weeks ago.

I spent some time with my coach and practiced, practiced and practiced. I've got my index back down to about -4.6 right now - the lowest it's ever been and today I had a first that was very exciting to me and my playing partners:

I shot even par.

I've been close before with a couple of 1-over rounds but that even par round always eluded me.

For those who care, I had two bogies on the front (the 1st and 3rd holes), a bogey and a birdie on the back leaving me 2-over with 4 holes to play. (Isn't this golf stuff exciting?!?!?) I birdied 15 (a par 3) and 16 (a par 5). On 17 I was on the green in regulation (a par 4 green I reached in 2 shots) but overshot the flag by about 2 feet and it rolled down to a lower tier about 80 feet from the hole. Looking back at an uphill, up-grain putt I overpowered it and went 15 feet past the pin. Aaaargh - I was even par and now I'm looking at a three-putt to go back to 1 over. I had a downhill, down-grain putt and just got it started and was excited when it fell in, leaving me even par.

On 18, a 419-yard par 4 I missed my drive but stayed in the fairway about 155 yards from the center of the green. The pin was at plus-20 meaning that the pin was 20 yards further than the center-of-the-green numbers shown on the fairway sprinkler heads, meaning that I had about 175 yards to the hole. This green also had two tiers running from right to left and the flag was on the lower tier on the left. I grabbed a six-iron intending to choke-down a little and hit it smoothly to the center of the green with a draw (left) spin to get the ball to go down the hill towards the hole. I hit the ball but had a fade (right) spin and the ball stayed on the upper tier. Now I'm about 90 feet from the hole with a down-hill, down-grain putt. I need to 2-putt to stay even and I'm starting to get nervous. My line was good but I came up about 4 feet short leaving a left-to-right slider.

Here I am, four feet away from achieving one of my big goals - shooting even par. More nerves. It went in center-cut and I was grinning big.

The numbers: 13 of 14 fairways hit, 14 of 18 greens hit, 40 total shots to reach the greens and 32 putts.

So, how does a golfer think about a round like this? In a most miserable way. I had four birdie putts inside 8 feet that I missed. I mis-clubed on a par 3 coming up 8 feet short of the green and lipping out for bogie. The missed fairway was because of a blocked tee-shot because I got stuck and couldn't get my hands turned over. While I hit my goal of 40 shots to reach the greens I missed my putting goal by four (I target 28 putts per round).

It's not that we golfers dwell on the negatives. No, we dwell on what could have been. I think those missed birdie putts were easy putts and I had an opportunity to shoot 68 instead of 72. Never mind that 72 is a wondrous score or that I held onto my nerves and made it through the challenges of the 17th and 18th holes - I could have done better.

That thought, that I could have done better, is what keeps me going out there and trying. All golfers are the same. We can always do better we just need one more chance to try and prove it.

So, what's next? Breaking par, a bogey-free round, breaking 70, a hole-in-one, reaching 18 greens in regulation, reaching the par-5's in 2 and many, many more tests of the game. But the most important - having fun and enjoying the time I get to spend with my friends.

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