April 5, 2014

“You’re not very good with your short irons, are you?”, my playing partner Roy says to me.

We’ve just finished the twelfth hole at Kokopelli Golf Club, and for the fourth straight hole I’m walking back to the cart feeling pretty satisfied with my bogey five. In this case, I had bombed a drive that had caught the downside of a mound just off the left side of the fairway, leaving me 135 yards to the pin. Following the agreement between me and my swing coach Alex Black during last week’s lesson, I had resisted the urge to just walk over to my ball and whack it; instead, I took several steps behind the ball, identified an aiming point in front of the ball, took a practice swing to visualize the shot I wanted to make, and then proceeded to hang it out left of target between some moguls off the green. A decent enough chip to get me just off the green and two putts later, I had tapped in for my bogey five.

One of the most interesting aspects of playing golf here in Arizona is teaming up with strangers. I don’t really have any close friends here, and the acquaintances I do have, neighbors and co-workers and such, don’t play. So my golf is played with every kind of golfer you can imagine. I’ve been fortunate in that there’s only been a small handful of times where golf has been played with unfriendly people; most times, there’s always good conversation, a few laughs, and enjoyable comraderie to make it an enjoyable experience.

My playing partner at Kokopelli was an elderly fellow wintering from Illinois named Roy. Roy was a good egg, and we hit it off from the start. As on most occasions when strangers meet, we started off with the usual “where you from” and “what do you do” and that kind of thing. We talked about our golf games and what we were working on, and it wasn’t long before we were cracking jokes with the other twosome and making light of whatever challenges were were facing during our respective rounds. Roy couldn’t hit the ball long, but he always kept it in play – an aspect of the game he obviously took a great deal of pride in. He definitely noticed the three lost balls off the tee (two on one hole) I hit on the front nine, and when he tallied up my score and announced I had shot 52 (he a 49), he made sure I knew that I had left a lower number out there.

“Those lost balls (four) and that four-putt on eight killed you”, he said with a frown. “You’re a twenty-seven handicap and you leave a 44 out there? I’d have trouble sleeping at night”

“Oh, I sleep fine”, I assured him. What else was I supposed to say? He was right – I had left a heaping helpful of strokes out there, for sure.

So when we’re walking off twelve I guess Roy got tired of seeing me toss away strokes as if they meant nothing. Unlike me, he obviously took the whole concept of getting that little white ball from the tee into that little round hole on the green in as few strokes a possible very seriously.

“You’re not very good with your short irons, are you?”

I didn’t know what to say – after all, I’ve spent so much time working on my tee game and my short game (only 28 putts today) that there hasn’t been a whole lot of time to spend on my short irons (7, 8, 9, pitching wedge). Besides, these clubs are always the toughest to practice with on the driving range because it just doesn’t equate to what you see playing a real round of golf.

“On the last three holes you’ve had three opportunities to get on the green in regulation (that is, on those par 4s, putting for birdie), and in all three cases you couldn’t hit the green. What clubs did you hit?”

“Er, 8-iron, 9-iron, 7-iron.”

“And in each case you did what, miss the green and after chipping, two-putt for bogey.”

“Well, my goal is to play bogey golf, you know.”, I say in my humble defense.

I can tell Roy isn’t satisfied. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to play bogey golf – heck, that’s what I’m out here trying to play. But for God sakes, man, when the Lord gives you an opportunity to make a par you have to take it! You can never be satisfied with bogey. I’ve watched you all day. Those penalties. That four-putt for a nine after putting your drive just off the fairway. And those short irons – why, you’re throwing away strokes as if they don’t mean a thing!”

A pause. “OK, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to criticize.”

“No, that’s OK, I say. I know what you’re saying. Nothing I haven’t told myself a gazillion times.”

But I’ll admit my confidence was shaken. On thirteen I triple-bogey seven the par-4 after tattooing a drive that left me just over 100 yards from the green. On fourteen, I triple-bogey a par-3, hitting two balls off the tee OB right – the first a pulverized moon shot into the adjacent junkyard, the second a topped screamer into an acacia bush. It isn’t until fifteen that I finally get my head back in the game, double-bogeying a par-5 after a dead yank off the tee. I think Roy has given up on me when I once again miss the green on sixteen after a decent drive (a chunked 9-iron), leading to a careless double-bogey. I bogey the par-3 seventeenth before parring the par-5 closing hole (#1 handicap hole on the course) with flawless play from tee to green for a 50 and a 102.

As we head for the cart return, Roy is his “Father Knows Best” best. “I know you say you’re a 27-handicap, and after watching you today I believe it. But you can play so much better. You’ve got the ability, I can see it – you just have to trust yourself and your swing. Don’t be afraid to play aggressive when you have that opportunity. It’s all well and good to strive to play bogey golf – and for you that would be great. But don’t ever be satisfied with bogeys for the sake of bogeys. When the opportunity is there for par, go for it! You might even find yourself making a birdie or two.”

Sitting over a cold Sam Adams afterwards I can’t help but think how far away I am from where I would like to be. It’s all well and good to have the goal of shooting 88-95 on a regular basis, but I can’t even break 100 regularly right now. I’ve worked so damned hard on so many facets of the game – my driver, hybrids, fairway woods, sand shots, chipping, putting – yet each aspect of the game comes and goes like some UPS driver doing his daily rounds. I wonder if I’ll ever really be able to put all the pieces together. I wonder if it’s all worth it. At any rate, Roy was right – my short irons really aren’t very good.

I guess it’s just another piece of the puzzle I’m going to have to find a way to solve.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 00:10 | Comments (3)
  1. Nobody who plays golf as much as you do should ever have more than 1 three-putt per round, and should never see a 4-putt.

    That being said, Roy was 100% right. Keep doing what you’re doing off the tee – that appears to be working for you most of the time – but don’t ever give away the green or the hole when you’re within 135 yards.

    There’s a reason why they put a flag in the hole.

    So you can aim for it.

    Comment by Dave Richard — April 5, 2014 @ 7:25 am

  2. Well, that four-putt on nine was just the icing on a very rancid cake. I had missed the fairway right and disobeyed my first commandment of 2014 – when you get in trouble get out of it. Tried to be a hero and ended up in a worse place that led to a lost ball and my third penalty stroke of the nine. On the next hole there would be another.

    So yeah, Roy was right.

    Comment by The Great White Shank — April 5, 2014 @ 10:14 am

  3. […] I was hitting the ball poorly – in fact, the work I’d put in on my iron play following the criticism of my last round was really paying off. But playing out of trouble had proved unusually troublesome, and a round […]

    Pingback by GoodBoys Nation - Archives » Yin Yang Golf — April 21, 2014 @ 1:54 am

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