Target Handicap: 18.1
Location: Las Vegas National Golf Club
Score: 52 + 54 = 106
Handicap: 23.6 / Trend: 23.9 (+0.3)
Not the greatest round of golf I’ve ever played – in fact, it was pretty mediocre by my new standards. But if there was such a thing as giving one’s self a mulligan I’m inclined to make this an occasion. I can’t say I was hungover – I wasn’t – but on my fourth day in Vegas I can honestly say I was pretty much tapped out. But that didn’t mean it wasn’t a great day to play golf and it didn’t have a great time playing with the couple the pro shop paired me up with from Lichtenstein. That’s right – Lichtenstein.
Before I get to the golf, I’d like to just state that in all my travels – and there have been quite a few – I’ve never come close to playing with people as rich as Karl and Edna were. How rich were they? Rich enough that they come to Vegas and stay at the Wynn for two weeks – count ‘em – two weeks – every year. And it’s not as if they’re staying in the standard 750-ft. room with king bed – no, they’re staying in a suite. For two weeks! And they don’t even gamble!
They were very nice people who right off the top begged my indulgence by saying Edna was learning to play golf and that it might be a little slow out there. I didn’t care – heck, I figure the longer I’m outside of the Wynn / Encore boundaries I’m probably actually making money simply by not being there. They were right: Edna was pretty bad, but we weren’t being pressed by anyone behind us, Karl (he a very savvy 10-handicap) insisted on paying for cocktails before, during and after, and the day was lovely.
Having driven up I had my clubs with me and hit the ball great on the range. I’m at the point now where my swing and the results are pretty predictable, and the things I’m working on – my play from 100 yards in – is the kind of thing you can improve upon only by playing. Enjoying glasses of Moët & Chandon on the patio afterwards (my offer of Pinot Grigios respectfully declined), we traded stories of Vegas long ago (when the town was greater than it is now but not as great as it was before then), how they were friends with Siegfried and Roy, how they travel the world on Silversea cruises, the stars they’ve met and the places they’ve been. They were beyond rich, but very nice, very down to earth, and appreciative of my sharing an enjoyable, carefree round of golf with them.
Karl was a cool guy. very competitive on the course but in a nice way. Before we teed off, over Coronas on the patio I had bought as a gesture of friendship and goodwill (this was before I found out how rich they were!) he asked me about my game. When I told him I was a 24-handicap with a goal of getting to an 18, he said in kind of a funny way that he’d be the judge of that. I thought that was kind of a strange comment, but he was so nice and so enthusiastic about playing it really didn’t make a mark one way or the other.
OK, on to the golf. The final tally was five fairways hit, 39 putts, and only one green in regulation. I had been driving the ball pretty well all year, but on this day I repeatedly found myself, even if just off the fairway, out of position. Whenever I made a good shot it was all recovery recover recovery. Whenever I found myself in great poition to hit a green in regulation I just couldn’t do it. My short game was tolerable, but the greens were exceedingly slow and I just (once again, I might add) couldn’t make the adjustment.
Case in point, the par 5 seventh. Playing from the back tees, a tight fairway with a slight dogleg left to a slightly elevated tee, I pulverized a drive that for the only time of the day beat Karl by a few yards. I followed up with an equally-impressive 5-wood that left me 20 yards short of the green. So now Karl and I are sitting next to each other, he just a yard behind me, laying two. He chips to five feet, being careful to leave it below the hole. I, on the other hand, chip it twelve feet past and above the hole. I’ve got a downhill putt and leave it five feet short. My second putt is two feet short. My third putt goes one foot past the hole. You get the picture: I four-putted for a seven. Karl misses his birdie putt but sinks it for a par.
And that was the day. Oh, there were a couple of holes I simply blew out: two sliced drives into a swimming pool on #6, two more balls into a neighbor’s yard on #16, but more often than not it was just mediocre golf – something I find myself getting all too good at. When I needed to make a putt I couldn’t. When I was in the go-zone for a green in regulation I couldn’t make the shot. But when I was forced to make something fancy out of trouble – heck, I was like Seve out there!
“You have very good swing, my friend”, says Karl over our second glass of Moët, my back starting to tighten up and my head starting to long for a whirlpool at the Encore Spa, “but you won’t achieve your goal without having a good game. You are so very close. I learned a long time ago that strokes are like women – the fewer the better. (I’d never heard that one before.) Right now you’re worrying too much about the shot you are making, you’re not playing the hole. There’s a big difference! You play defensively not to make a mistake when you should be attacking – always! These are all things that you have the ability to do, I’m sure of it. Just have confidence!”
I’m not sure Karl is right, but, basking in the 103-degree whirlpool at the Encore Spa I can understand where he’s coming from. Maybe he’s right, maybe it is a confidence thing. Maybe I still haven’t gotten over the old days when disaster was always lurking around the corner, a shanked 7-iron away. I mean, I can play double-bogey golf now with my eyes closed. Maybe there is something to this idea of fearing success on a golf course. Or maybe it’s all bullshit. Just hit the friggin’ ball, right?
There’s a hurdle here I need to get over. I’m not exactly sure what that hurdle is, but I have to stop sabotaging myself. It’s a frustrating thing. And until I figure it out I’m going to remain in this gray zone where nothing is really happening, just mediocre scores being put up on the scorecard with memories of all those opportunities pissed away as if strokes don’t mean a thing.