February 19, 2013

The glass of Pinot Grigio sat there on the polished wooden bar at the Wynn Parasol Up staring back at me, clean, crisp, and expensive. The happy sounds of another Saturday night in Vegas were unfolding all around me: pretty waitresses hurrying to and from tables filled with people looking forward to a night on the town, bartenders busy at work, the sounds of corks popping and bottles opening augmenting the din of a hundred conversations taking place around me.

“That’ll be $15.50”, says Odie the bartender.

“$15.50 – that’s outrageous!”, I say in mock horror. “Why, I could buy that bottle for half as much at the local Fry’s. Where do you get off charging that kind of money?”

Odie doesn’t blink or hesitate. “Look around you.”

I give a nod, smile back, and charge it to my room. I take a sip and, sure enough, the Pinot is as cool and crisp as it looked. My bones don’t seem to mind the chill even though just a few hours earlier they’d needed a thorough defrosting in the hot whirlpool bath and steam room at the Wynn Spa after 4+ hours of golf at Ice Station Zebra, otherwise known as the Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort’s Snow Mountain Course. We’d played in temperatures hovering around 50 with 40 MPH winds that cut through your clothes as if you had nothing on. They don’t call it Snow Mountain for nothing – here’s the view looking towards the tenth tee:

It had taken a solid hour between the whirlpool and the steam to finally drain the last chill out of my bones, but now in the happy and cozy Parasol Up the only concern on my mind was what my de facto swing coach had to say about my play that day. Going by the numbers themselves – 50 + 53 = 103 – the work I had put in since my outing two weeks prior at Superstition Springs had really paid off: eight less putts on similarly fast greens, my chipping game much crisper, and improved play with my irons. Sure, as a resort course, the fairways at Snow Mountain were wider than those at SS, but the ten fairways I hit during the round would have been fairways hit just about anywhere – they were that clean. Despite the cold (the hardest thing all day was placing a ball on a tee with trembling hands), I found a good and fairly consistent tempo all day – something I felt pretty damned proud of, but would my swing coach agree, or would it be a couple of snarky comments before saying, “let’s hit the town!”.

Of course, not all was peaches and cream out there – truth be told, my 103 was nothing to crow about. After all, I’d thrown a rocking chair 94 away as carefree as I’d just signed my room to that $15.50 glass of Pinot Grigio with four holes of really pathetic play. On the par-5 6th, sitting in the middle of the fairway with just 250 yards remaining I’d yanked a 5-wood (the one club I’m having trouble hitting) OB left when an easy 3-hybrid (which I’d smacked perfectly two times already) would have done fine. Lying three, I chunked my first attempt at an approach shot, my second left me out of position and short-sided, then two chips and two putts later and I’m in for a crowd-pleasing nine.

But that wasn’t the worst of it.

We’re playing skins, so we come to the 12th hole with four skins on the line. After splitting the fairway, I hit a beautiful 5-iron to within a yard of the green, then chipped to eight feet. I only had to two-putt to take the hole and the skins. My playing partners now go into full Goodboys Invitational weekend mode and start giving me the business. After all these years one would think I’d be immune to such treatment, but instead I fold like a cheap bridge table and three-putt. On the next hole, still in PTSD mode and not thinking clearly, I take out driver even though I’d been hitting my 3-wood near pure all day and boom not one, but two big banana slices OB left before losing a third ball on another poorly-chosen 5-wood on my way to a big fat eight. I then three-putted again on the next par-3 for a six before settling down and bogeying my last two holes.

6, 12, 13, 16 – four holes of death, and all completely avoidable. One thing’s for sure: it’s not just the physical game that can get you, but the mental game as well. If I’m going to make any noise at this year’s Goodboys weekend I’m going to have to show improvement in both those areas.

I hear a “Yo!” and it’s my swing coach saddling up to the bar next to me. Ben “The Funny Guy” Andrusaitis orders himself a Stella Artois and we small talk a bit about our own ways of thawing out since arriving back at Wynn. The moment of truth had come – after all, TFG hadn’t seen me play since last fall, and certainly had never seen me play with my new Callaways.

“So, what do you think”, I ask, taking a sip of Pinot to steady the nerves at the shot of pure honesty sure to come.

TFG hesitates a second – a pretty girl has caught his eye – then gives me the low-down as as only he can: straight, right to the point.

“You’re really coming through the ball great”, he says. “Got those big muscles working for you, just like Bob Mann says. A big improvement, you’re really making progress. The only times you got into trouble were when you started over-swinging – those two drivers, a couple of crappy chips. There’s no way you shouldn’t be shooting under 100 consistently. Keep it up.”

Another girl catches his eye, and he takes a sip of his Stella. “But jeezus, you really sucked three-putting from eight feet. I mean, eight feet? With four skins on the line? Mother of God!”

OK, so there’s still work to be done – especially with that damned 5-wood – but the way I look at it, this is a marathon, not a sprint. And to shoot a 103 in extreme conditions just confirms that all the work I’ve been doing is starting to pay off. I have little doubt there will be bumps in the road along the way, but I’m hitting better shots and making better decisions out there. Like with anything else in this sport called a game, the key is becoming more consistent in all phases. And in that regard, I think I am making progress.

Filed in: Golf & Sports by The Great White Shank at 20:35 | Comments Off on Making Progress
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