One of reasons that I feel uniquely qualified to write about golf is that I’ve played the game at most every level that the somewhat serious golfer can imagine (my handicap index has ranged from 24 to 5 and now currently sits at around 10) and the peaks and valleys that accompany that experience.
I’ve won a couple of club tournaments and absolute tanked more than my share.
I’ve had stretches of play that have given me pause about taking my game to the next level, and others that would literally depress me for days.
In 1992, I had a case of the shanks that lasted almost an entire season and nearly drove me from the game.
I’ve played on cow-pasture courses in New Hampshire and the Open Championship sites of Scotland – and enjoyed both experiences.
I’ve waited overnight in my car to line up for a starting time at Bethpage Black (next month’s PGA site) and queued up at 4:00 AM to get on The Old Course of St Andrews.
I’ve witnessed at least 15 hole-in-ones and have never personally made one (not that I’m bitter).
At the same time, I’ve holed out from the fairway at least a half-dozen times, ranging in distances from 100 to 175 yards.
And I’ve broken a window of a house bordering a fairway.
These days, my game is best described as “perplexing.” No matter how much I stretch prior to a round, my back usually is balky to the point where either Advil or a Tramadol and a couple of beers are required to loosen it. On most days, this results in a round that will start shakily, but once everything kicks in, I’ll go for anywhere from 7 to 10 holes where I will rarely miss a shot. At some point along the way after that, I’ll completely mess up a hole and then, depending on my mood, recommit to the final few holes (to varying degrees of success) or laugh the whole thing off.
It’s a strange way to go about playing, and at times confounds the hell out of my playing partners, particularly when there’s a bet or a tournament involved. And trust me, if there’s something on the line, whether it’s a beer or $20 (I’m not a high-stakes player), I’m definitely grinding, particularly if there’s a partner or team counting on me.
But it’s my reaction over a bad shot that confuses people. Once in a great while, the occasional “goddam” or worse will be uttered, but most of the time, I find myself either shaking my head or, in a lot of cases, outright laughing.
It hasn’t always been that way. When I first started, clubs would fly, curses would fly, and tantrums would run rampant. I soon learned that club throwing was pretty much verboten, but the curses would continue, and the tantrums were replaced by silent, self-directed tongue-lashings filled with self-loathing (one of the overlooked but nonetheless verifiable truths of the game is that if we spoke to others the way that we do to ourselves on a golf course, we’d not only not have any friends, we would likely be locked up).
Along the way, I read some of the work of sports psychologist Bob Rotella and the straight-forward teaching of the late Harvey Penick, both of which helped guide me toward playing some of the best golf of my life.
But one of the other overlooked but nonetheless verifiable truths of the game (there are many of these) is that no matter how well one plays, or how one tries to manage his/her expectations, he/she will always feel like that should have played better. It’s like clockwork – shoot a good score, and my mind will immediately spit out, “Man, if you hadn’t missed that short putt on #12, you would have REALLY had some round!”
I’m turning 66 this year, which, despite what Gary Player might say, puts me well into the back nine of life. And there have been plenty of personal embarrassments that the game has bestowed upon me, which are lovingly recorded in other entries of this blog that will entertain and astonish you.
So these days, I laugh. Or try to, anyway.