August 5, 2013

At the end of Tom Coyne’s Paper Tiger – the insipration and my constant companinion during my 2012 Golf Quest – Coyne’s application for PGA Q School has been rejected, and he’s been reduced to attempting to qualify for the South American and Australasian tours. It has not gone so well. After the tens of thousands of balls beaten and putts practiced, all the sessions with his swing coach Dr. Jim Suttie and his sports psychologist Dr. Bob Winters, and the hundreds of practice rounds he’s played, while reducing his handicap to better than scratch (+0.4) he’s nevertheless finished near the bottom of the field in qualifying events. Still, the book has a happy ending: after missing the cut in Australia, he presents his fiancée with an engagement ring by the 18th green and they find a kangaroo-infested course where he’s playing simply for the fun of it while his bride-to-be flashes her ring in the sun and they count kangaroos instead of his strokes.

Like Dr. Suttie told Coyne right up front, “golf is hard”.

It’s a warm July afteroon at Cape Ann Golf Course, the bright afternoon sun slowly being displaced by milky clouds sliding in from the southwest as I scratch my way around this lovely, yet rustic nine-hole track. And like Tom Coyne’s final round with the kangaroos, I’m playing my final round of New England golf for the year for the sheer fun of it. There are no Goodboys around, no pressure putts, no expectations whatsoever – I’ve hitched up with a nice middle-aged couple, Jim and Maureen, who have graciously permitted me to crash their little afternoon soiree. No longer a Goodboys trying to put up a number, I’m just the perfect golf stranger playing my game, keeping up, not showing anyone up, just a casual round of golf with some friendly people.

It all seems so anti-climactic. Just a week ago I was knee-deep in Goodboys Invitational competition, completely focused on the task at hand, playing each shot one at a time. Same game, but entirely different when played in competition and your goal is gaining respect and putting up a number. Today, for the first time in months, there’s no competition, no agenda, nothing to work on – I’m just hitting shots when it’s my turn and complementing my playing partners’ good shots when it’s not. It feels so strange to be playing with nothing on the line, yet quietly exhilarating in its own way. It feels reassuring to know that when I have to bear down and make good shots I can do it: for example, a 30-yard sand wedge from deep rough over a bunker to two feet (sunk for a par 3), and a pulverized 4-hybrid after a skulled tee shot that helped me save par on a long, uphill par 4. Most of the time, however, I’m just playing for the sake of enjoying the game, not fighting with my swing, not a golf care in the world.

It was only after stashing my clubs in the trunk of my rental and sitting at the clubhouse bar over a cold Sam Summer draft that it began to sink in that I had accomplished everything I had set out to do this year. I had shot a rocking-chair 48 that featured a couple of pars, a couple of double bogeys, a few great shots, a couple of dumb mistakes. And it seemed so ordinary. My final hole served as a fitting coda to my 4 1/2 months of golf immersion, if only because it seemed quintessential Great White Shank golf – a smashed driver off the tee that cut off a dogleg right a tad too aggressively, a Mickelson-esque 5-iron from a tight lie under a broad maple to just off the green, a chip onto the green and two putts for a scrambling bogey five.

At the bar watching an uneventful weekend news broadcast, I thought back to that late early-March night when, needing something to take my mind off of work, I had absentmindedly picked Paper Tiger off the bookshelf and began leafing through it. An hour later, I’d decided to make Tom Coyne’s journey of several years prior my own and commit myself to a 4 1/2 month quest to immerse myself in a game I had struggled with for two decades and through maximum effort, education, and innovation see where that journey would take me and how good I could become. I knew it would take no small amount of time, money, and dedication, but it seemed something worth trying, if only to see where and how it all ended, and if I had the mental toughness to see it through to the finish.

What a ride it had been. I thought of all the swing changes and equipment changes, the lessons and the practice, the thousands of range balls hit in the Arizona heat, the dozens of rounds played, and, most of all, the people, places, and experiences that have made the journey so fascinating. If it were just about the golf and only the golf, I think the whole experience coming to a close would leave a sense of emptiness and deflation, but the feeling of self-satisfaction and quiet elation told me it had been more than just about improving the way I hit a little a white ball – it was about accomplishing something I had set out to do, enjoying the ride for the sheer experience of it all, and using my blog to share those experiences with others whether they liked it or not. 🙂

Now it was all over. I thanked the bartender, said goodbye to the pro shop attendant, and stepped outside into a glorious early New England summer evening. The clouds had dissipated and the sun, now low on the horizon, burned bright orange against my face and skin. I popped some surf tunes into the CD player, backed carefully out of the tiny lot, and headed out to see if I could find a place with fried clams and scallops that didn’t have a long wait (I didn’t). Instead, I found an empty ice-cream shop where I ordered myself a tall chocolate frappe and turned south towards home. There would be no more New England golf to play this year, but there was still plenty of New England summer left to enjoy.

Next: some lessons learned and a few final thoughts as to where I go from here.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 02:11 | Comments (0)
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