Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Golfing Diaries: Illusions(?) Of Progress

Driver, 9 iron, happiness
This weekend, I rolled out to a course I hadn't played for something like 20 years, because that's what my golfing habit has been like. To recap... I played pretty routinely in my 20s prior to marriage, moving to the West Coast and having kids. Back in the day, I got it down into the 90s and played a bunch of nice courses, but parenting and moving to wildly more expensive parts of the world led me to more or less give up the game for a decade. Now that I'm in my mid-40s and my kids are old enough to not really need (or, honestly, want -- it's what kids do) me around quite so much, I've picked up the game again.

Linfield National is near enough to the Limerick nuclear plant in suburban Philadelphia that the cooling towers can be used as site lines for a dozen shots or more. It's tight -- 6,000 yards from the whites, with some shared tee boxes and fairways that are narrow enough that seeing players in other groups is pretty constant -- with a lot of elevation changes, and a fair amount of water. Greens are challenging, with a lot of break and altitude changes, and the bunkers aren't particularly fluffy. There's more risk/reward than most moderate slope courses, but the rough isn't so bad as to provide major amounts of teeth. It's also very well-maintained, and a hell of a bargain at sub $30 for the cart on a Saturday afternoon.

I got there late for my tee time due to traffic and life complications, and was pretty much on tilt from that. I hate being late, and whenever it threatens to happen, the Traffic Gods kick in, and in this case, so did a prior failure to gas up. My hybrid will tell you how many miles you have before fail, which also wound up irritating me, as I chickened out and got more about 10 miles from the course on an out of the way exit, only to find gas en route to the course later, which would have saved me more time. But so be it. I hit the links as a solo player, and pretty much flew through the round with larger groups waving me through, and the particular concentration that you get from knowing that no one is going to help you find your ball but you.

Golf, like poker, is an activity that can't be predicted, no matter how good you are at it. If you have poor luck, or any kind of mental or physical failure, you will get deep into the negative weeds and pretty much stop playing the game, preferring to wallow in self-hatred and annoyance. When it goes well, it's got the feel of a great roller coaster ride, combined with the illusion that progress is being made, and that you are getting better at something that you care about. Yesterday at Linfield was the latter.

There are few better shots in golf than when you are in the fairway, waiting to hit to the green, and you get the wave up sign from the group in front of you... then hit it on the screws and give yourself a pro putt to the gallery. I did that a couple of times yesterday. I don't have a great deal of distance to my game -- my drives tap out around 225 or so with roll. On a 390-yard hard dogleg left, I murdered it on the left edge of the fairway, cutting the yardage like I wanted to, and just escaping the bunker that protects against risky behavior. With a tree 20 yards ahead, a 9-iron in my hands to the green, I successfully ignored the mind trash and gave myself a good chance at birdie. It just stayed out for the tap in par. 390 yard par 4, played successfully with driver and 9-iron. I don't care if the card was off and the hole was much more likely to be 350 or so; it's still one of the best feelings I've had since taking up the game again.

I shot a 45 for the front nine, with back to back pars (I'm lucky to have one per nine) and nothing worse than a double bogey on any hole. The back nine was worse, with the driver deserting me for a while, and a water carry par 3 not going to plan, but the badness didn't stay too long. On the 18th, with the last group of the day watching me hit for no good reason, 80 yards from the hole, I hit a 56-degree wedge to within 10 feet of the pin, one of those high arching straight moon shots that make me feel like, well, I can play the game. More than a little, and maybe enough to keep getting better at it as I get older. I broke 100 (awesome for me, particularly on a day when I wasn't saving a ton of strokes on the greens), finished in under three hours, didn't have anything hurt and left with the knowledge that I'd be back.

And, probably, play a lot worse than I did today, and not have nearly as good of a time in doing it.

But not the certainty.

Makes all the difference in the world, it does.

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