Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Golf Diaries: Above and Below Levels

This Hole Blows
It's been a good year in golf. I keep getting closer and closer to what I feel is my true level, which is a guy who shoots in the 90s with stretches of strong competence, rather than a true hack. Maybe even with a round where it all comes together, and I'm even better than that. With the year starting to run out -- I don't play when it's cold, and neither should anyone, really -- I booked a discount walking rate at my local muni course and got out on a partly cloudy morning, with three guys who obviously play there, well, all the time.

Here's the thing about golf; it's entirely on you. There's luck involved, sure, and you are battling the elements, but if the round starts to go badly, there's no coach or teammates to bail you out. Which means that your own mind is your best friend and worst enemy, and managing it is as much of a task as the course, really.

Here's something else about me: I'm very self-conscious about how I appear to others, and do everything I can to avoid seeming like a problem. So when you pair me up with three guys that are dramatically better than me, and who play at a quick pace because they always know where the ball is going, and the shortest distance between every spot on the course... well, Not Comfortable.

Some of my best times on a golf course have been while playing alone. There were a number of rounds while on assignment in Oregon, when I had weekends to myself and the ability to just go and play 36 holes if I felt like it, on courses that were abandoned due to the start of hunting season. Some part of me is just longing for those rounds again, when I was relaxed, playing at whatever pace worked best for me, and without any social pressure at all.

So the guys I went out with? Had no idea just how difficult they make the game for others, or how inconsiderate they were. The best and oldest of the players kept leaving the tee box before I'd hit, and all four of them would be off like a shot on every drive, so I was pretty much running to catch up on second shots. They bitched to the ranger about the pace of the foursome in front of us, when there really was no problem. I kept feeling like I should just quit the round, especially when the front nine kept seeing drives that didn't get off the ground.

But I kept at it, because, well, what other option does one have, really, in the middle of a round? Besides, I kept hitting enough decent recovery shots, and not scoring disasters. And finally, after a 10th hole where I couldn't escape a sand trap for love or money, I finally got to the point of not caring what anyone thought, and taking more time to address in the tee box.

Miracle of miracles, shots started happening. My short game, particularly my 8-iron bump and run chips, got me a number of nice up and downs. I played a par 5 with unnatural maturity, refusing to pull out the 3-wood for a 200 yard water carry that really isn't in my bag, and also not screwing up the set up and approach wedges where a sulking screw-up can really ruin your day. I nearly pulled off three pars in a row, which I've never done in my life, but keep getting closer and closer to doing. And while the round ended sloppy -- the 17th at Mercer East is an embarrassment of a hole, a straight par four with drainage issues where my near dead-center drive was in a near unplayable bog -- I still felt fairly good about my score and round.

The next level is close. I just need to remember that, especially when my brain is telling me something else.

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