Luck Be Damned

Well, the year is almost three-fourths over, and I’m working on my 61st consecutive season of never having made a hole-in-one. Granted, there have been some gaps in my golf career – I was pretty much out of action from ages 1 through 9 and 14 thru 31 – but a conservative estimate would put the number of rounds that I’ve played in my life at well over a thousand. And yet, nary an ace for the Golf Nerd.

Oh, I’ve come close plenty of times, and I’ve certainly witnessed my share, including one wonderful moment in August of 2013 when the Golf Nerd Goddess, on the second hole at TPC Las Colinas, holed out a perfectly struck 6-hybrid. It was a glorious shot, but I couldn’t help feeling a slight tinge of envy as she clicked a photo of the ball in the hole with her iPhone (this is now her screen-saver shot) and then stored it away for safe-keeping. The ball and scorecard from the round are enshrined in a plaque hanging on our barroom wall (and let the record show that despite a fierce hangover, yours truly sank a 12-foot putt on 18 to card an 89 – a very mediocre score, but it looks a whole lot better than a 90).

My father, a very good player in his day, never made one either, but he was a man of many idiosyncrasies and stated on more than one occasion that a hole in one was more a matter of good fortune than any degree of skill, and that he never wanted to make one. Once he and I were partners in a match, locked in mortal combat that only a $2 Nassau can produce against a couple of his friends. We reached one of the par-3’s on the back side, and I hit a high, lazy draw that appeared to be all over the flag.

“Go IN!” I urged.

“No, don’t go in!” my father implored.

“What the hell are you talking about?” I cried, stunned.

“If it goes in, it’s a lucky shot!” he responded.

“If it goes in, we win the hole!” I yelled.

He looked at me for a moment, then shook his head.

“You always have an answer for everything, don’t you?”

[Post script: I missed the ensuing short birdie put and we lost the match]

I’m not dismissing the luck factor – after all, getting a 1.68” diameter ball into a 4 ½ “ hole from 10 feet away with a putter is difficult enough for most of us, let alone doing so with an iron or wood from more that 100 yards away. A friend of mine posted on Facebook recently that her son aced a 297 yard par-4 hole. The only way I can hit a ball that far these days is with either a gale force wind in back of me or on an airport runway.

But some people have a knack for making them. The late Art Wall, winner of the 1959 Masters, has 45 officially (which means that the shot needs to be witnessed and has occurred in a stipulated round). Among fellows I know, the player who has the most is a retired coach – and that’s what we call him, Coach – who, at last count, had a total of 13. The Coach’s backswing barely reached his waist, but he was ridiculously accurate.

A few years back, about a hundred of us formed a pool where anytime someone made a hole in one, he would collect $10 from each pool member. At that time, Coach was sitting on 9 aces. He signed up for it, and for the first time in years, he did not make one. I believe there were 7 holes-in-one within our group that year, which meant Coach (and the rest of us) had to pay out $70. This did not sit well with him, as Coach has been described by his closest friend as the type of person who will rub two nickels together in hopes of producing a quarter.

So the following year, a fellow known as The Assman (long story there) made the first ace of the season, and promptly set out to collect his money from the group. Coach politely told Assman that he would not be participating in the pool that year, as he paid out too much money the previous year and felt that the odds were against him ever making a hole in one ever again. He then proceed to make three aces that season, costing himself nearly $3,000 in the process – a fact about which the Assman took great pleasure in reminding him.

But my favorite tale regarding a hole in one occurred a number of years ago during our Thursday night 9-hole league. Pac-Man and I were paired up in a match with the aforementioned Assman and Spice Daddy. The groups that night were sent out in a shotgun start, so our opening hole was number 11, a drop shot par-3 that was playing about 120 yards.

The Assman’s tee shot found the hazard fronting the green, but Spice Daddy hit a beauty, stopping no more than an inch from the cup. Never at a loss for words, Spice crowed over the result. I looked at my partner and half-seriously said, “Go ahead and knock this one in, Pac Man.”

“No way!” gushed Spiced Daddy. “I’ve got him blocked.”

Pac-Man stuck his peg in the ground on the far right side of the teeing area, lined himself up, and let it fly. The ball hit the front of the green, and then tracked toward the hole like a putt. It got by Spice Daddy’s ball – and fell in the cup.

Pac-Man and I laughed and high-fived, while Spice was silent for about 10 seconds – which constitutes an eternity for him – before blurting out, “YOU LITTLE PRICK!” Which only made us laugh harder.

[Post Script – we smoked them in our match. I managed to shoot one-over par despite only hitting one green in regulation, getting up and down for par a ridiculous 7 times. It was fun taking their money – but I would have given anything to have switched roles in the match with Pac-Man. I’d rather be lucky than good any day]

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