February 2, 2013

“There are no trees, there is no water, there is no out of bounds. All there is as far as you’re concerned is that one special place – like that little, secret intimate spot that only you and your chick know drives her mad with unfettered desire – where you want your ball to land”, Dr. Gustav Keppeldorf is explaining at Callaway’s Von Schlieffen Institute for Advanced Course Management in Daphne, Alabama, where it’s just me and him talking in the school’s vast auditorium.

Well, actually, it’s him talking, me listening intently – spiral notebook filled with scribbles and arrows and red ‘X’s crossed over imaginary redwood forests, reed-filled frog ponds, majestic lakes, and vast oceans, all having one thing in common: golf holes running alongside and through them. With us for this session are, I’m estimating, $200K worth of golf and swing video training equiment. Dr. Keppeldorf’s words this afternoon echo with a particular forcefulness, making the sound of thunder and rain pouring down just outside the locked Exit door seem all that more impressive and profound.

“What about rocks?”, I ask.

“Forget the damned rocks, you imbecile!”, he shouts in a not-so soothing bedside manner thick with his distinctive Leipzig accent. “Your golf years up to this point have filled your brain with all things you’re NOT supposed to do – don’t do this, don’t go there, don’t f*ck up. Do you not understand after these three days that golf is not about “no”s, it’s about saying “yes” to all the good things golf has to offer: yes to fairways, yes to greens, yes to pretty golf cart girls, yes to par, and – in your case – yes to bogies. Yes to repeating the same swing over and over, and yes to committing yourself to that yes every single time. Certainly, Mr. The Great White Shank, you can learn to do that. I’m saying yes for you.”

I’m recalling this particular interchange on the par 4 14th tee at Superstition Springs Golf Course after three balls have been “yessed” to three different forms of water. The hole, a fairly tight dogleg left, has water left (a lake running along the full stretch), water front (the butt-end of another pond reserved for a front-nine hole placed there solely for decoration, shouldn’t come into play from the middle tees), and water OB right (a long canal separating the course from an adjacent sub-division). I’ve already put a ball in each: my first 3-wood was a big, full blast hit on the screws but my over-swing caused it to slice into the lake; my second sculled into that finger of pond, coming to rest beside a dead fish (fortunately, the three elderly gentlemen I was playing with were too busy getting hand-shaken margaritas from the cart girl so they didn’t see that one); my third a double-cross blast that took one hop on the cart path deep right before splashing into the canal.

Dr. Keppeldorf would NOT have been pleased.

“That’s a trifecta”, I say to my playing partner Pat, a 16-handicap, Montana snowbird retired from the family funeral home business. “Three bodies of water, three balls”.

“I only saw two, what happened?”, asks Pat, taking a long, cool draw on his margarita.

“Don’t ask.”

I wasn’t angry, didn’t throw a club, didn’t register any form of displeasure, in fact. Heck, I might as well have been telling him about all the fallen leaves and lemons Carmelo and the boys would be cleaning up from my side yard right around this time. I didn’t tell him that my head had started curiously swimming two holes ago (more on that later) – instead, I wanted him to know he wasn’t playing with some pissy and unsociable golf moron; I was a trooper with plenty of opportunities for good shots and good outcomes remaining in this first round of golf since my graduation from the Von Schlieffen two weeks ago (grade: a solid B-). I would proceed to thin a 7-iron short left, then chip past the pin to rough on the right before two-putting for a crowd-pleasing 10 (no more Goodboys double-par dispensations for this guy anymore!).

57 + 55 = 112.

That’s what the scorecard will say, but (and here my fellow Goodboys will roll their guys and undoubtedly insert something snarky) progress was definitely made on my first round of 2013, the first playing my Callaway RAZR X HLs. The remaining holes would go pretty much like the prior 14: triumphs following disasters, quality shots following crappy ones. Real yin / yang golf. On 15 (180-yard par 3) I’d slam a 3-hybrid hole high just off the green to the left, then chip on and two putt for bogey. On 16 (straight 381-yard par 4) I’d duck-hooked my driver short right, crushed a 5-wood through the leafy branches of a tree (Dr. Keppeldorf would NOT have been pleased) into a deep grass bunker short left, then hit an easy pitching wedge to twenty feet before two-putting for another bogey. On 17 (2nd hardest hole on the course, a 484-yard par 5 with water everywhere right and that same damned OB canal left to a doggy-right faux island green), I’d crushed a 3-wood to the middle of the fairway before sculling an intended 5-iron lay up, then two more so-called “approach” shots into the lake before chipping tight and one-putting for a nine. On the finishing 18th (388-yard part 4), I nutted a 3-hybrid just short of a babbling brook, then crushed a 4-hybrid pin high ten yards left of the green before making my best chip of the round to three feet and one-putting to end my day with a nice par.

Two bogies and a par on my last four holes. That, as they say, is a defining moment.

Ten minutes later, after traditional end-of-round handshakes and farewell back slaps with Pat, Al, and Mike, I’m sitting on the shaded patio situated above the ninth green nursing a chilled Pinot Grigio (complimentary as a result of a $5 raffle entry where I’d won two free drinks and 10% off any hat or shirt in the pro shop by pulverizing a particularly-aggressive 3-hybrid onto a 189-yard par-3 green before 4-putting for double-bogey) and a newly-injured and swollen ring finger knuckle (courtesy of a handshake greeting from Pat five hours earlier). A table of seniors sitting next to me are sharing thoughts about their golf games and the performance of Apple shares on the NYSE over beers and a platter of loaded nachos (one guy in particular seems to be doing play-by-play as he trades shares from his mobile device), and a guy topping out at no less than 360 lbs. is waddling off the green below us after at least 3-putting the ninth – he never actually gets the ball in the hole, he just happily accepts a gimme from his partners even though he’s still a good six feet away; as fellow Goodboy Ben “The Funny Guy” Andrusaitis would say, there was still a lot of meat left on that bone.

Unlike my scorecard, the Grigio is going down smooth and clean. Eighteen holes filled with moments of triumph (two pars, three bogies) dwarfed by a lot more tragedies (a four-putt, five three putts, lots of sloppy chipping, only four fairways hit). I’d lost eight of the twelve new Callaways given me as a Christmas present by Tracey and showed a lot of rust around the greens, but that was to be expected since I hadn’t played since October. Still, I’m thinking as a woman chips in from off the green and one of the guys at the next table remarks, “plays well for a woman”, there was much to be proud about: I never stopped grinding out there no matter what my previous shot did or didn’t do, I love the clubs I’m playing, and, believe it or not (and perhaps most importantly), I enjoyed myself. All of which I’m particularly proud of.

After keeping careful track of all my distances, I see little difference in the distances I’m averaging with my Callaways vs. what I averaged with my old Cobras. No surprise there – as the old saying goes, it’s not the arrows, it’s the Indian. I’m averaging 230-240 yards with my driver, had a 3-wood top out at 220 (that lovely tee-shot on 16 before all hell broke loose), and I re-discovered my old putting stroke on 13. While fully aware I need more work with my irons and short game, I know that’s just reps at the range and playing more actual golf – something I’ve committed to doing this year. While it all (feels like) starting over, it’s good enough, at least for now.

I suddenly realize that it’s damned near 4 PM and, between the work crises I’d been dealing with prior to leaving for the course and my laser-like focus on this first round of 2013 as a true “new beginning” in golf, I’d forgotten to eat a thing all day. Crap, no wonder I got the woozies starting on 12; I can’t believe I finished off as well as I did. I make a mental note that I should never let that happen again – damned good thing it was only 72 degrees today; to make the same mistake another month or so from now would be a very stupid (and out here, dangerous) thing to do.

My next round of golf is one week from today in Las Vegas. As they say: Bring. It. On.

Filed in: Goodboys by The Great White Shank at 12:54 | Comments (0)
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