June 20, 2013

I think I woke up the kid manning the counter at the Superstition Springs pro shop when I walked in around 1 PM to pay for my range balls – the last I would be requesting for quite some time. The temperature outside read 103 and the only sign of movement anywhere in the shop came from Golf Channel on the flat screen over the manager’s office with the CLOSED sign on it.

“Two large buckets of balls, please.”, I ask. “Say, I haven’t seen you around here, are you new?”

“Naw”, the kid says. “No one’s around, the course is empty. You’ll find the range empty as well. Sure you want to hit balls out in that heat?”

“I live for this”, I reply. “Tee it up.”

The kid wasn’t fooling, I’ve never seen a driving range so void of life. Just like last time, except this time there’s no one else out here – not even the Asian guy who’s always here – and someone had at least raked the balls off the range. As I walked to the ball machine I stopped to take the scene in. It was not just quiet, it was deathly quiet, like that scene in One Upon A Time In The West (one of my all-time faves, BTW) where the McBain clan are putting out the wedding feast and suddenly all the birds and crickets stop before Henry Fonda and his men emerge from the brush and shoot them all.

And the kid was right about the heat. I mean, I’ve been out here in the heat before, but this was really something. No birds chirping. No usual sounds of idle chatter, balls being hit, golf carts being washed down and run between the various locations. It was the golf version of the end of the world, just me, my Callaways, and my Big Gulp filled with ice and Coca-Cola. (Good thing on the latter, since no one had bothered to fill the water stand.)

But none of this matters – not the sun, the heat, nor the emptiness, for I have work to do. Today’s focus is on set-up and my swing thoughts going forward towards Goodboys weekend, just 31 days away. A dozen sand wedges pinched to 40, sixty, and 80 yards. A dozen pitching wedges hit anywhere from 50 yards to 90 yards, attempted both picked and trapped. Four nine irons followed by the same for the eight, seven, six, and five. Four balls off the turf, then four off a tee for each club. Looking and feeling pretty good so far, although you never know with the damned wedges because it’s far different on the golf course then it is on the range.

It’s blistering hot, so me and Big Gulp take a short walk and hang out in the shade under a spindly tree. It’s no cooler, just a little darker, but it helps. I’m thinking about how far I’ve come and how consistent I’ve become at striking balls, not just on the range but quite often (though not often enough) while playing actual rounds. A rabbit darts out from under a nearby set of bushes, looks around, realizes it’s too damned hot, then heads back under cover.

Back out into the sun. I move on to my hybrids and start spanking what will be come Goodboys weekend very important arrows in my quiver. The three hybrid I’ll use on tight holes where once upon a time (in the west or otherwise) I’d haul out my 3-wood. But so far I haven’t gotten a feel for that club so it will come along but only for the ride and a rare cameo if I’m screwing around on the range back east. Same thing with the four hybrid as a replacement for my 5-wood. I pulverize a dozen fours before I decide, what the hell, and drag out the 5-wood. After six or seven skulls and lousy hits, the 5 goes back in the bag, doomed to the same fate as its cohort the 3-wood.

A few long draws on the still-icy Coke and it’s over to the putting green for some chipping and putting. As hot as it is I’ve got some really good tempo and chip and putt five dozen balls, four at a time, to various pin locations. More times than not, I one putt – I really like this new putter and have gotten very comfortable with the way it feels and putts. (Of course, in a month I’ll be on New England greens and grasses and that’ll be back to square one.) The black surface of my putter’s head is so hot from the sun it’s amazing the balls don’t stick to it. As much as I love beating balls, I’m glad this is it as far as range ratting in Arizona summer heat goes.

I’ve been out here more than an hour and I’m still all by myself. The Coke has turned to Coke water but surprisingly there’s still a few cubes left to keep it cold. I wipe my face and neck with my towel and get back to work. I’ve still got a couple dozen balls left and it’s time for my grand exit. First, a dozen balls crushed with my driver (ten of twelve hit on the screws dead center, one ugly slice, one duck hook), then it’s back to the sand wedge and pitching wedge, six balls each as I started with. Some are a little forced, but the heat is really coming on now and it’s time to say adios.

I’ve got one ball left. It’s decision time, and for a moment out there in the heat, just me and my clubs under a shimmering, cloudless azure sky, I take a moment to think back to the very first time I came out here with my new Callaways just after Christmas, a different golfer with a completely different swing, attitude, and approach to the game. Who, if you had told him then that come mid-June he would have hit more than two dozen buckets of balls, spent more time on the range between March and June than he had in the last three years, and immerse himself in the game to the point where he could tell you his swung speed, ball speed, and relative trajectory off the tee, he would have looked at you and asked who you were and what did you do with The Great White Shank.

I tee a ball low to the ground and pick out my target straight ahead – a trio of date palms situated at the far end of the range between two mountains of the McDowells far to the north, hazy and brown against the blistering heat. I grab my three hybrid, carefully set the clubface directly behind the ball placed well forward, take my stance (slightly closed), square up my shoulders, and tell myself to “keep those $#@% hands quiet. I draw the club back straight and slow, then come through with Alex Black’s power move. The ball jumps off the clubface high and straight, splitting the natural fairway created by the 125 and 150 yard markers. A ball that would play on any tight par four you could toss in my direction.

I’m finished.

There’s a sound behind me, and Joe, one of the regulars I see from time to time is getting a bucket filled. I grab my gear and head for the parking lot.

“I see you left me some heat and a few spaces”, he smiles under his wide-brimmed plantation hat. “See you in a few days.”

“Not this time, Joe” I reply. “At least until the fall my range rat days are over. It’s time to play a couple rounds before I head back east for my annual tournament.”

He smiles. “Oh I’ve got a feeling I’ll be seeing you before then. You’ll find a reason – all us range rats do.”

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 03:53 | Comments Off on The Range Rat Says Adios
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