December 30, 2013

“Give me the bad news, Kent”, I said to my playing partner as we drove toward the sixth hole at Phoenix’s Stonecreek Golf Club on a warm and sunny Monday morning. Actually, I knew what he was going to tell me, and the only thing hotter than the sun on my face was my righteous indignation at the carnage that had taken place up to that point.

“Let’s see… that’s a triple, triple, triple, quad, and a double. That’s fifteen over after five. You’ve got some work to do.”

Indeed I did, and it wasn’t supposed to be this way. After all, my last couple of driving range sessions had gone really well, and today’s warm-up was as good as I’d had all year. Yet, I’d already lost three balls (courtesy of a well-struck 8-iron that had taken too aggressive a line by mistake, a sculled drive off the second tee into the drink, and a big banana-sliced drive off of four into someone’s backyard that I hadn’t done in a month) and had already missed two putts from less than four feet. can you say, “disaster”?

I was steaming inside because I was letting the course play me, not me the course as one is supposed to do. And I’d worked too damned hard over the past month to let this kind of thing happen. I was supposed to be beyond this, right?

We had a wait on the sixth tee – the #1 rated hole on the course, a winding par four with a fairway that looked the width of a 2 X 4 with a waste area all down the right-hand side, houses down the left, and a large pond protecting the green – so I decided to take a short walk and that’s when I suddenly found Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” suddenly playing in my head:

Well I won’t back down, no I won’t back down
You could stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won’t back down

Gonna stand my ground, won’t be turned around
And I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down
Gonna stand my ground and I won’t back down

Hey baby, there ain’t no easy way out
Hey I will stand my ground
And I won’t back down

Well I know what’s right, I got just one life
In a world that keeps on pushin’ me around
But I’ll stand my ground and I won’t back down

Hey baby there ain’t no easy way out
Hey I will stand my ground
And I won’t back down

…and I felt Petty’s lyrics speaking to me personally, to the point where I felt like I was in a Dr. Bob Winters emergency intervention session. I could almost see myself up at his whiteboard, writing the words that needed to be said – and heard:

“You’re Doug Richard. The Great White Shank.
You’ve got just as much ability as anyone else out here.
You’ve worked hard to cultivate a great swing, and this is your time.
You have a great swing, you know what you have to do.
Now go out there and do it.
No excuses.
Stay aggressive.
Leave nothing in the bag.
And do not – and I mean –
do not be afraid.”

Even though the course was crowded, a little over 30 minutes later I looked with pride at the front nine that had been turned from chicken $hit into chicken salad, and a passable chicken salad at that. A bogey-par-bogey-par finish had gotten me out at 52. Not only that, but I had found three of the last four fairways and had actually tightened up my short game a little bit.

My back nine started out rocky with a shanked 7-iron into a dry creek bed following a monster smash. It wasn’t pretty, but I was able to keep the damage to a double-bogey. A wayward drive on 11 got me in trouble, but not as much trouble as a shanked pitching wedge that left my playing partners scratching their collective heads at what they were watching. My ball came to rest against the side of deep bunker, but my Christmas gift from Santa (a previously-used 60-degree lob wedge) got me out of trouble with an out that left me with a three-footer for a double-bogey that I missed. On twelve, a downhill par 3 with bunkers on the left and a lake on the right, my four-hybrid was pushed just enough to leave me with an impossible sharp sidehill lie that I chunked across the green into – you guessed it – the lake. A chip and a two-putt later I had posted another triple bogey.

Eight over par after three holes. It was time for another intervention. Again, our group is waiting on the tee. Again, I’m telling myself how good a player I was and hoping I was listening to the boost of confidence I was giving myself.

And once again, I found myself on a tear that I took straight into the clubhouse. A par on the par 5 thirteenth. A double on fourteen following another missed four-footer. Bogey on fifteen (this time a three-footer missed for a sandy). Bogey on the par 5 sixteenth (I would play the par 5s today at one-over, BTW). Bogey on the par 4 seventeenth (this time a five-footer missed). Bogey on eighteen to close out a 50 on the back nine and a 102.

As we all gathered for a beer at the 19th hole in the warm afternoon sun I felt like I had played 36 holes, never mind eighteen. I was physically and mentally wiped, but quite satisfied that I hadn’t allowed a few bad holes on either side to snowball into something worse. I felt like all the work I have put in over the past month has really started to pay off. Seven fairways hit. And even with all those missed putts, I still only made 33 total, which is as good as I’ve done since Goodboys weekend. More than anything else, I’ve got a confidence with my tee game that I’ve never had before (like, ever) and have picked up a good 10-20 yards with my new move. Today I was playing with ten and twelve handicaps today and more then a few times out-drove the best they had.

I’m closing out my 2013 very satisfied with all the work I’ve put in this year. Even tough my scores still don’t reflect it, I’ve come a very long way since that first round at Superstition Springs back in February. I’ve had my ups and downs during the year for sure, but everything seems to be moving in a positive direction. The fact that I was able to shake off some bad holes (not to mention that brief case of the shanks!) gives me confidence that I’m not far away at all from putting up some low numbers again. There’s still a fair bit of work to do, but I know where the issues are and what I need to do to fix them.

This closes out my Golf Quest for 2013, and someday it’ll be fun to go back and read all my related posts from the start of the year to see just how far I’ve come since my first entry back in March. There are a lot of people I have to thank for bringing me this far: my swing coach Alex Black, my de facto sports psychologist Dr. Bob Winters (courtesy of Tom Coyne‘s Paper Tiger, which has been a constant companion and source of enlightenment throughout the year), and, most recently, that Rickie Fowler look-alike who showed me the move that has brought me such confidence and never-before consistency I’ve found with my woods and hybrids.

It’s been a great 2013. Let’s take it to the course in 2014.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 22:07 | Comments (0)
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