October 3, 2018

Target Handicap: 20.0
MyScorecard.com Handicap: 27.5 / Change: (+0.3)
Location: TPC Scottsdale – Stadium Course
Score: 53

Welcome to the Golf Quest – The Next Generation. You might note that, unlike previous Golf Quest posts, I’m no longer arranging my Golf Quest around prepping for the next Goodboys Invitational weekend. First of all, I have no clue as to when that weekend will be (a change of venues might be in the wind). Secondly, no matter when that might be, I’m admittedly on the fence and taking a wait-and-see attitude as far as my future participation goes. Given my age and my stage in life, it feels far more comfortable to have a target handicap I can work towards without having to worry about getting my game together within some predetermined time schedule. Now that I’m nearly 63 and (hopefully) four years from retirement, I’m much more comfortable making being a 20-handicap golfer a larger target in my overall golf experience. No pressure, just play whenever I can and see if I can make inroads towards that magic number.

It was with that mindset that I decided to try and play nine holes at TPC Scottsdale’s legendary Stadium Course this past weekend while Tracey and I were spending a couple of nights at the nearby Scottsdale Princess to celebrate our 32nd wedding anniversary. It was Saturday, and Tracey had lined up a message and assorted activities at their spa, so I grabbed my clubs and took the shuttle down to the TPC to see how I might amuse myself for a few hours.

The golf shop folks at TPC were the most accommodating and gracious folks I’ve met at any golf shop, anywhere. Told them I had a few hours to kill and what would be the most cost-effective way of doing it. Was told I had my choice of spending $80 for an all-day pass with access to their driving range, chipping area, and putting green, or I could pay $112 for 9 holes at the Stadium course were I willing to wait an hour until the twilight rate kicked in. That was no-brainer – I could hit the Toro restaurant grill for a beer, then go out and work on my game for half-hour or so.

A beer and my own cart later, I’m at the driving range with unlimited balls to hit and the chipping and putting area just across the cart path. It was cool to think a hacker like The Great White Shank could be standing and hitting ball in the same exact place as any number of tour pros would be doing at the Waste Management Open. I felt relaxed and then reassured when I didn’t shank or skull the first few pitching wedges I hit to limber up. I felt even better when the first few drives I hit seemed to lack that friggin’ dipsy-do, right-to-left push/slice that had cropped out of nowhere when I played with my Goodboys pal Killer a few weeks ago.

I had been hitting balls for maybe fifteen minutes, just focusing on tempo and slowing down, slowing down, when Aiden, who had been so nice in escorting me to the driving range and showing where everything was, drives up and asks me if I want to get out a little early. Five minutes later, I’m standing on the first tee at TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium course placing my orange Wilson 50 on a tee with my playing partners, a couple vacationing from China who spoke no English and some dude with tattoos all over his body just off a place from Vancouver, watching.

The course was absolutely gorgeous, a Tom Weiskopf design that you have to play to believe. A course with every hole laid out so beautifully. No 2,000 yard carries like at the tricked-up Foxwoods course we played during Goodboys weekend this year. Just a thinking man’s course where you can see the entire hole laid out in front of you, look at the little orange ball in your hand, and think about how best to get said ball into said hole in four or five strokes. The greens were perfect – you didn’t want to be above the hole, ever. And if you were below the hole you still had to give the ball a whack. But they rolled pure from beginning to end. And the sand trap? Like white powder – several of which I found myself in. Unbelievable.

The first tee has been a problem for me all this year.
This time I slammed a drive center-cut 230 yards smack-dab in the middle of the fairway.
We were off.

But this is The Great White Shank standing in the fairway, just 111 yards from the green. I grab my 9-iron and try and focus on taking an easy swing. I yank it 20 yards right, one bounce off a hill, and into someone’s back yard. Took a drop, chip and two putts for a double-bogey 6.

The Great White Shank can play double-bogey golf in his sleep.

But it was the triple bogey blues that got me on #s 2, 3, and 5. Three putts on two and three after chunking a 5-iron on #2, skulling a 5-wood OB on #3 (after another beautiful drive, no less), and on #5 after my drive trickled into a big and beautiful fairway bunker ending up just under the lip. All I could do was laugh at where it ended up and try and power it out backwards. Which I did, but then, after a majestic 7-iron fade to twenty feet, ol’ Mr. “Three Wiggle” got me again. But it couldn’t have been any more fun. You could just see the grins on our faces as we tried to navigate our way into good positions on each hole. It was golf the way it should be – multiple ways to play each hole, choose your risk and reward. In some ways it reminded me of two of my favorite courses, Passaconaway and Portsmouth – courses with character and your challenge laid our right in front of you.

I made a few mistakes out there, left (I’m guessing) six strokes out there, putted really poorly – 22 putts. But overall, it was just an enjoyable round. Finished bogey-bogey-bogey the last three holes which was very satisfying. The sun was setting low and the last 100-degree day of the year was working its way towards dusk. The Pinot Grigio in the Toro lounge afterwards tasted great as I drank in one of the great golf experiences of my life. Would have been nice to play 18 and the stadium par 3 #12 (without the stadium, which is put up and taken down every year), but nine holes was good enough. And a fantastic Mexican restaurant at the Princess was waiting.

I’ve still got a lot of work to do to get to a 20-handicap – besides working on that 3/4 swing my Goodboys pal “The Funny Guy” keeps encouraging me to do, I’ve got some work to do on the angle of my take-away and getting it less flat. But the short-game tip Killer gave me a few weeks ago is really paying off, and I’m confident my putting is going to come around. Sure, my handicap now stands at a whopping 27.5 (!) but I’m confident that with work 7 1/2 strokes isn’t going to be that hard to shave off.

But that’s my goal: 7 1/2 strokes. Whenever I can whittle them down. Could take me a year, could take me two. But it’s a nice goal to have. And when I finally achieve it, I’ll look back on an early fall Saturday afternoon at TPC Scottsdale with a sense of wonder and pleasurey. Paired with lodging at the Scottsdale Princess just down the street, it’s a golf destination combo that’s pretty damned hard to beat.

The Golf Quest is on…

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