The Keys to the Kingdom

Funny thing! Once I shot my age last September I think I had the idea that the feat would become a regular occurrence. Oh I knew I wouldn’t play that well every time but surely, I reasoned, another 73 would come within a month or two. Guess what? It hasn’t happened! I did get a 74 in April but that’s as close as I’ve come. And it’s not that I haven’t been trying. Oh my, every Wednesday that I tee it up in the Luther League I’m anticipating a return to glory. Alas, my handicap has been climbing…according to the Arizona Golf Association I’m in danger of leaving the single digits.

So will I ever shoot my age again? The cynics among you might say, “Sure if you live long enough,” but I don’t think it’ll be that long. In fact I see signs of hope…because I’ve found some keys!

Golfers are always looking for keys. Sometimes you can even hear them mumbling their keys on the course…things like, “Keep your head down…follow through….maintain spine angle…” There are a million of them. The idea is that there is one thing that you can tend to just before the swing that will insure a perfect shot. And the deceptive thing about keys is that they always work once! Invariably though, having discovered the perfect swing thought one day, the golfer discovers that the next time out there are different results. But despite endless disappointments the addicted golfer always keeps hoping that some day….

I get my keys in a lot of different places….sometimes it’s from talking to Sue (those are the best) or I’ll pick something up from watching golf on t.v. or maybe I’ll dream about it. At any rate the other day I went out with two, one from Colin Montgomery, the great English golfer, and the other from Revae Stuart, who doesn’t believe golf is a sport. Colin had said in an interview at the Senior USGA Open that he only has one swing thought, i.e. to finish his backswing, which I found interesting. I don’t know that I’d ever heard that before. Revae had sent me research about top performance athletes…it included a video saying that the best putters focus their eyes intensely on the ball before striking it.

So I went out to Ken McDonald for nine and used my newly acquired keys for the first time. It was hilarious…Colin’s worked pretty well, but Revae’s didn’t. I tried to focus intently but then started wondering which dimple I should focus on. My brain debated over every putt…and I missed every one. I’d decided to go back to what I’ve learned from Sue. I had such a good time playing that day…it was fun…and the two hours were full of joy.

I guess that’s why I play golf…it really does give me joy…and I look forward to every round. And one of these days I’ll shoot my age again….I’m convinced it’s inevitable! (And who knows what keys I’ll use!)

 

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YES!!!!!!!!!

A little over three years ago, just before my 70th birthday, I announced to the world that I intended to shoot my age in the very near future. Since then I’ve continued the quest, enduring one disappointing round after another, until I actually began to think that it would never happen. There have been times when I’ve come close, moments in fact where I started rehearsing my celebration speech while still on the course, but always something would happen…I could be playing well, but my brain always seemed to let me down. Negative thoughts with all their insidious power would pop into my head and I couldn’t figure out any way to erase them.

Until today!!!!!! Today on the friendly confines of Ken McDonald Golf Course in Tempe, Arizona, with temperatures heading toward 108, I finally shot my age!!! Aside from last month’s eclipse there really weren’t any indicators that the day was at hand. I hadn’t been playing particularly well and had been struggling with my rhythm…though I had made some progress with my putting. Last Monday, in the Senior Tournament even the putting deserted me and I shot an 83. So today when I showed up for the regular meeting of the Luther League I wasn’t brimming over with hope. I was mostly anticipating a good morning with some of my friends…expectations were not high…and when I bogeyed the 4th and 5th holes I was pretty much reconciled to another mediocre round, especially when I left an easy birdie putt short on number 7. But I had a good rhythm, was swinging well, and managed to birdie holes 8 and 9 to finish the front nine at even par.

Then my mind started to go to work on  me. My friend, Larry, an avid baseball fan, was keeping score and knew exactly where I stood…but in the best traditions of baseball no-hit superstition, he kept his mouth shut. As the back nine began I had a set back on the easiest hole, bogeying number 10, but rebounded with a birdie on the tough 12th. Then it was a matter of hanging on and I managed to get to 17 still at even par. Once again, just like last February I stood on the tee needing only a par and a bogey. I did everything I could to erase the memory of that triple bogey debacle from my mind…and hit a terrible drive! I rebounded with a good second shot and another saving putt for another par. All I had to do was bogey 18! My second shot into a green-side sand trap made things a little dicey…sand is not my friend, and this was my fourth trap of the day. Negative thoughts were rattling around my brain and my explosion shot wasn’t pretty…I caught it a little thin and hit it over the green. I was left with a two putt from the fringe for 73. The putt was stroked a little firmly, but right on line, and it hit the pin and bounced out of the hole, hanging on the edge. Larry groaned…he thought I was still 72. I was exultant…and almost hugged them both. The monkey was off my back!

So…now what? Do I quit golf? Silly question! As I told my friends at the 19th hole I’ll be saving this scorecard…and I want it to be the first of hundreds. I love the game for the way it engages my whole person…and I love the joy it brings me. This has been a fun quest…but now that I’ve achieved my goal I’m nowhere close to giving up…and there’s plenty of room for improvement.

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Playing A Round

Wow, this site has been virtually abandoned for months! But hope has not been abandoned! I still keep believing that one day I’ll shoot my age…and tomorrow it’s going to get one stroke easier. Since I did shoot a 73 when I was 72 I’m confident that it won’t be long now. Of course some of you probably remember I felt the same on my last birthday, having shot a 71 when I was 70 and a 72 when I was 71. But this year will be different! I promise you!

I did want to report on some of my latest golfing activity, namely the courses I got a chance to play in Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Nebraska while on my trip to Erin Hills for the US Open. No, I don’t have a bunch of low scores to talk about but the experiences at each course were remarkably similar. In other words, I played about the same each time…and upon reflection, I think I know why.2017-07-02 17.37.04

I have concluded that playing these courses was like being set up for a first date. Arrangements in each instance were made by friends who thought I might like the experience. First impressions were good. The courses were well manicured and attractive to the eye. Contours were in all the right places and fairways carefully mowed. Like on a first date I wanted to look good! Yet I consistently got off on the wrong foot and ran into problems on the first tee. Evidently the course could sense my anxiety and was conscious of a basic problem. You see…and I hate to admit this…I only wanted to play a round! I wasn’t interested in a long-term relationship, and I think the course wanted more commitment. It resented being used for an afternoon dalliance.

Evidence of that lack of commitment became apparent almost immediately. Being worried about where the ball would go I failed to swing with conviction and hit weak off-line shots that the course guided into even more difficult situations…some even flew off the course and into the woods. I was chagrined and embarrassed. Invariably after a few holes I would regain some composure and begin to hit shots that I thought might be impressive. Indeed, at times the course became passive and allowed me to have my way, more out of pity than anything else. I began to think I might be able to score.

But as on a date where there’s an effort to make a good impression, I soon discovered the hazards. Some were obvious, like a pond on the left side or out-of-bounds on the right, but frequently they were hidden, like sand bunkers just over a hill, and where recovery was never easy. And once I realized there were traps on nearly every hole, my swings once again turned tentative and I sensed that the course was ready to be done with this playing a round.

Greens are the showplace of a golf complex and these courses were no exception. These greens were quick and the slopes deceptive. As a slow plodding player I was no match for what I encountered. Two putts quickly turned into three and sometimes even four as I was reduced to a yipping mass of nerves. My playing companions laughed at me but seldom took pity as I desperately sought the line and the pace. Several times I even heard the course begin to giggle at the folly of my strokes. By the time I walked off the 18th green the date was over…the course was unimpressed and I crept into the 19th hole more than ready for a beer to drown my embarrassment.

And now I’m back home again with my true love, the welcoming fairways and greens of my faithful Kenny Mac. I’ve gone out for a few nines just to say “hi” and it’s been nice. The course does not resent me for my brief encounters while on vacation…in fact the subject hasn’t even come up. We’ve had a long relationship and I’ve got a feeling I’m going to be rewarded soon. That’s just how it is with us. 73, here I come!

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No Cigar

I just looked and I haven’t written a post on this site since September 16…I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that I had abandoned the quest to shoot my age and had taken up bowling instead. Admittedly it would be easier to get a 72 at a bowling alley than on a golf course, but I have not given up. In fact I probably think about my goal every  time I tee it up.

I have continued to play regularly and have experienced the usual ups and downs, with a streak of some pretty solid rounds in December. One of my friends, thinking I was 73, even congratulated me after a nice par on number 18 for a 73 at Ken McDonald. That did give me hope…it seemed like my game was coming around. Then last Wednesday I got off to a good start and after five holes I was 1 under…as I was walking to the 6th tee I was wondering how I would handle the pressure if I was even par coming to number 18. Not to worry though…I quickly got a couple of bogeys and the anxiety disappeared.

Then last Saturday it happened. I had decided to really focus on hitting to a target, something that Sue really stresses, and not allow my mind to wander to other things. I hadn’t warmed up much, just a couple of hits with my driver on the practice tee, and I hadn’t practiced putting at all. Since it was a Men’s Club Tournament we were hitting from the back tees and I didn’t have much hope for a low round. But I started out hitting the ball really well…I hit 8 of 9 greens on the front nine. Putting wasn’t spectacular…I missed two short birdie putts and had one three putt. But I finished the nine at even par.

On the back nine I continued to hit the ball solidly and on number 12 nearly holed my second shot…it was a nice tap-in birdie. Of course I gave that back on 13 by missing a five footer, but then I made another birdie on 15. Number 16 is tough for me and I missed my second shot leaving me a 50 yard approach shot on my third. I got it to about seven feet and made a really solid putt. When it dropped I exalted. I was now one under and standing on the 17th tee. My mind raced ahead to the finish and the anticipated celebration. It was a slam dunk. All I had to do was par 17, the easiest hole on the course, and bogey 18 and I would have it!  Just three days before I had birdied 17 and parred 18.

I took a couple of deep breaths and tried to focus. “Pick a spot and hit the ball to it,” I told myself. I took what felt like a normal swing with my driver…and nearly missed the ball. I watched with a sick feeling as my low hook splashed into the water barely a hundred yards in front of me. I honestly believe that I’ve never hit a worse tee shot on that hole through hundreds of rounds. I was in a daze as I tried to finish the hole and putted out for a triple bogey 7. After my bogey on 18 I finished with a 75! It was a good score…but horribly disappointing…I felt like Jordan Speith at the Master’s!

So what to say? I hope I’ve learned a lesson. Playing a solid round of golf requires staying in the present! Maybe next time I’ll be able to do that! No, next time I WILL do that. My day will come…and it’s going to be soon!

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Getting Stung

Last Saturday I was playing in a senior tournament at Encanto Golf Course in Phoenix and was not doing well. Friday I’d been battling dehydration (my own fault) and had a difficult round. Now as I finished the ninth hole (number 18 on the card) I was more optimistic. I had just hit a fine 30 yard pitch shot to about 10 inches and was pretty much guaranteed my par. As I stood on the green waiting for my playing companions to finish so I could tap in, I heard a bee buzzing around my head. The next thing I knew it was in my face, caught in the hairs of my mustache, and I felt the sting. Then there were other bees flying about, not many, but they were attacking. The other golfers got stung too and I got one more sting on my forehead. It hurt so bad! I finally tapped in my putt and we ran for our carts. After stopping for ice at the club house we continued the round. It was a golfing first for me, and I hoped it would be the last.

And then today it happened again! It was the second Monday of the month and I was at Ken McDonald for the regular senior tournament. I’d tied for first in my flight last month and had high hopes. I knew my two regular playing companions would not be there but looked forward to playing with someone new. According to the tee sheet I was to start on hole 12, about a half mile walk from the club house, and I headed out there early. At 7:30 a threesome in carts pulled up…my group was a no show…and they said I could walk with them. But then I saw that there was just a twosome on number 11, a short par three, and I yelled over to see if I could play with them instead. They said okay and I walked over. I introduced myself to Tom and he introduced me to Randy and they hit to the green. After I hit they took off in the cart and were at the green before I was halfway there. I had a long putt, about 60 feet, and after fixing my ball mark and getting my line, I stroked my putt. As it was halfway to the hole I heard Randy say something about “fucking pontificating,” and wondered if it was a comment directed at me. I was disturbed and wondered if I had somehow offended him. Tom made his birdie putt, Randy got a par, and I was left with about a two footer for par. I sensed they wanted me to hurry and still thinking about Randy’s words, I missed it. As we turned to walk off the green I asked Randy for a clarification. He turned and told me with anger and many words that I was too damn slow. Tom said in a quiet voice, “Geez, Randy.”

I then had a decision. I could apologize and do my best to keep up…or I could just quit and go home. I chose to leave and told Tom and Randy. Tom shook my hand and they jumped in their cart and sped off to the next hole. I retraced my steps back to the club house thinking of how my mood had changed from a few minutes before. Golf is for me an escape, a place to go where I can be in another world, and focus on very physical things. Am I a slow golfer? I do try to keep up…when most ride carts and I choose to walk sometimes I have to really hurry. It’s a matter of pride for me not to slow play…but I am deliberate when I putt. That’s part of the joy of it for me. Randy only saw me make one putt…and it was enough to make him angry and curse. And his words  felt worse than the bee stings!

As I walked along I began to cry and I realized there was a lot of stuff going on inside me. This wasn’t only about the golf. I miss Cherie so much! For a while now I’ve just been saying “I’m okay” in response to questions about how I’m doing. And I think I am. But that doesn’t mean I’m not sad. I choked back tears in the pro shop as I explained to the young woman at the counter what had happened and asked for a refund. I was embarrassed. I cried again in the car and when I got home…deep sobbing…and then I walked the Camino with tears rolling down my face to see Cherie. I sat in front of her niche and cried some more. She was my caregiver…and now she’s gone. And sometimes it just hurts so bad!

I don’t know how Randy felt today. I think he probably didn’t care very much. I was nobody to him. I doubt he gave the incident a second thought, and if he did, I suspect he felt completely justified in what he said. Who knows? His words may have even been appropriate. All I know is that they stung!  We just don’t know what’s going on with the people we meet. But in every instance the words that we say are important. They can tear down or build up. I know I’ve said more than my share of hurtful things in my lifetime…today they came back to me with a vengeance.

 

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A Hard Decision

As some of you know, the 59 (5 over par) I shot on the Jack Nicklaus par three course in Cancun really didn’t meet my requirements for shooting my age. As per my initial blog in this series, I want it to happen on a par 71 or 72 course that is over 6,000 yards. That may sound picky but those are my rules…and as every one knows, I’m all about the rules.

So I’ve continued my quest through July and August, playing a few times while on my trip(mostly on unfamiliar courses where I’m lucky to break 80), and now more regularly upon returning to Tempe. I have had a couple of nice rounds, a 74 and 75, but I haven’t felt that my game was that sharp. Lately, on these hot afternoons, I’ve taken to just playing nine holes…I enjoy that more than the driving range, and it’s nice exercise as I’ve tried to shed vacation pounds. Plus, I don’t get so worn out…it’s hard to walk and carry at these temperatures.

Today after brunch with my granddaughter, Sarah, I headed over to Kenny Mac for nine. It was an absolutely gorgeous day, no clouds and relatively moderate temperatures. I was  hopeful. I’d hit the ball pretty well a couple of days ago and I thought I’d figured out a couple of new keys. My timing was good…I walked on the first tee with no wait and after a couple of practice swings hit a drive in the fairway and then an 8 iron on to the green for an pretty ho-hum two putt par, a good start. I then proceeded to play one of the best rounds I’ve ever played. I hit eight of nine greens, had 6 birdie putts of less than 12 feet, and shot a 35 for the 9 holes. I hit only one bad shot, my tee shot on number 8…the one hole I bogeyed.

So what was my secret? I didn’t just get up and swing, I planned my shots! I stood behind the ball, decided where I wanted it to go, and then hit it there. It was amazing. By the time I was done I was actually laughing to myself. I don’t know that I’ve ever hit the ball so well.

But then came the hard decision. Should I go in to the clubhouse and pay for the back nine on the premise that this could be the day?! I stood outside the door and thought about it. I was feeling good…and obviously I was playing very well. But there were a couple of problems. First, I was playing alone….and if I did shoot my age, who would believe me? I’m afraid that my friends would be skeptical. They would think I had cheated or taken some mulligans along the way. Of course I would know…and God would know…but I really want a human audience when that day comes. I want someone to cheer and yell “way to go” and maybe buy me a beer.

The other issue was my job. I’m working now and I’d taken yesterday off to watch football. I’d promised myself that I’d get a couple more meditations done today, and that wouldn’t happen if I played nine more holes. So I went on my way, loaded my clubs in the car and went home. Surely I’ll keep hitting the ball this well, right? I mean, I’ve discovered the keys. What could possibly go wrong?!

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Believe It!

Some dear readers offered chastisement after my latest blog, letting me know that since a month remained until my birthday, there was still a chance to shoot my age during my 71st year. My reasoning for pessimism had been sound, or so I thought. Because of trips I would be away from the friendly confines of Kenny Mac until early August. I had reasoned that when I accomplished my goal it would be in a place where I was intimately acquainted with yardages and the breaks of greens. I wouldn’t have a chance on a course that was unfamiliar to me. Or so I thought!

Well…let me tell you a strange story! I’ve been on vacation with family at Riviera Maya near Cancun and I brought my clubs along so that Sue Wieger (my oft-mentioned golf guru) and I could play a few rounds at the Jack Nicklaus signature course on the property. Sue is all about positive thinking and she believed that my above mentioned reasoning was bunk. If I maintained focus on process rather than results, eliminated negative thinking, and played in the present I could have spectacular rounds on any course. And that’s how I played on Tuesday!

I didn’t even write my scores down and simply enjoyed the golf. I hit straight long drives, crisp hybrids, and amazing short irons right at the pins. Her mantra is “what trap?…what water?” and I didn’t even see the hazards and the bunkers. And the putting was unreal. Three footers, five footer, ten footers…they all hit the back of the cup. It was like there was a magnet in the hole! When we were done with the round I was ecstatic. It was the best I’ve ever played!

Later on we were in one of the many pools at the resort relaxing from the round when Michael, my son-in-law, asked if I had shot my age. I didn’t even know! And as soon as the tw0-for-one happy hour at the swim-up bar was over I headed back to the room to find a scorecard and reconstruct the round. You might have thought that would be difficult but I found that the happy hour Dos Equus had sharpened my memories and hole by hole I remembered my shots…the great drive, the tap-in birdie, the holed putt from the fringe…and I wrote in the scores for each hole. When I was done I added up the nines and came up with a total. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had shot my age!!!!!

And more than that, my score for the 18 holes was 59! I had blown through my age! Now for some of you 59 is just a number, but for golfers 59 is the Holy Grail. This is the lowest score ever recorded on the highest professional levels…it’s what Annika shot, and David Duval, and Al Geiberger, and only a handful of others. And now add my name to the list! Of course this was not a sanctioned round and I think the fellow below was the only other witness besides Sue. But still, 59 is 59!

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Oh…there is one more thing. In the interest of complete truthfulness, knowing full well that my honesty may diminish my achievement, especially among nitpickers and scoffers, I do have to add that this signature Nicklaus course, with all its water and bunkers, did have 18 holes…but they were all par threes. I did shoot 59, but par was 54.

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