Playing Through

Typically the winter weather in Atlanta is mild compared to other parts of the country. Californian by birth (Southern), season changes are still a novelty even after 30 years of living in Georgia. The last few years February and early March seem to have the winter bite that you would expect from December and January. That said, tiny violins withstanding, getting out and actually playing a round has been a non- starter the last two weeks. So when the weather turned a bit and temps hit 70 (for a day), I jumped at the chance to at least get a 9 spot in after work. Works out nice for me as my son is on the high school golf team and their home course is our local neighborhood course and he had a scheduled practice. I never know what to expect out there when my playing and practice time have been limited. Aside from putting in my basement, I really haven’t swung a club. Having no expectations are often a blessing.

Teeing off on 1, foregoing an actual warmup, I striped a 3 wood down the middle deep leaving a little pitching wedge into the green. Left my wedge about a yard short of perfect with a front pin placement. Lipped out the short birdie chip leaving a sweeper for par. Hit a nice driver on an uphill par 5, laying up with a 7 iron left myself 85 yards to the back pin placement. Knocked it tight to 6 feet making birdie. Starting to feel good, nice rhythm to my swing. As I’m riding to the 3rd hole I see a twosome up near the green thinking I may see a little traffic after all. Not trying to get 18 in here, 9 is the goal, we have plenty of sun light. Hit a very good 5 wood fading it to the end of the fairway, which drops off into a little valley of sorts. The 3rd hole is all about placement. Pulling up to my ball, I notice the twosome, one of the guys is still trying to make the green, the other guy is stalking his putt trying to figure out the line. At this point, I pull my laser just got get an idea of yardage so I know which club to pull. I’ve done this a million times, if the flag is in, I like to get an idea of the number so I can take the time to visualize what I’m trying to accomplish.

Things get weird all of the sudden. I’ll call him Fuzzy for the purpose of illustration. Fuzzy stops stalking his putt and looks my way. Now, I’m 100 yards away, but I feel like we are standing in the center of some old western town. I’d go for my piece, but all I have is another ball and a divot tool. It’s a standoff, golf style. Don’t think I breached protocol, but maybe he took it as an insult that I would dare to laser the flag while it’s still “his” green. Keep in mind, his buddy is still coming up from nowhere with zero chance of knocking it the inside of 20 feet. I’m not angry or intimidated, just perplexed that Fuzzy is miffed at my actions. I’m a single, I should play faster by rule. The stare down is a good 30-40 seconds, no exaggeration. At this point I can’t decide if he’s looking to wave me on or he’s just trying to assert his golf dominance. I place my hand on my clubs and pull out my phone to wait out this cat making a tour putt. He goes through his pre shot, then he freezes over the ball, to the point I’m thinking he might be stuck. Finally, he strikes the putt, of course knocking it 5 feet by….slick downhiller, I’ve done the same thing from that very spot. His playing partner has got his to a 10 feet after the doomed pitch shot and two putts. Still, I’m not agitated just yet, bad holes happen to the best, no need to get upset. To his credit, Fuzzy lines up his comebacker, pre-shot, freeze and then strikes a good putt making it. At this, he pulls the ball from the hole and looks my way, still just kind of staring, finally he starts the walk off the green.

A pretty funny take on the stare down…..albeit these two cats are legends.
Now I’m irritated. I’ve done nothing wrong here in my view. I’m just playing golf. Not hitting into guys, not standing in the fairway in a aggressive manner, just playing golf. Insert inner dialogue “Fuzzy is going to see how this hole is supposed to be played….jackass”. I line up my shot as they are pulling away in the cart. You can clearly see the 3rd green from the 4th tee box. I wait to hit till they are on the tee box. Again, making sure they are clear and I’m not being an ass hitting right when they get in the cart. We’ve all shanked a few, better safe than sorry. I feather a nice sand wedge to about 4 feet under hole. I look to see if Fuzzy has seen it…..”oh yes he has”…a little victory. Will he let me through is the question? They are still on the tee box as his partner is lining up his shot. I make it back to my cart as they are driving away from the tee box. I pull my 5 wood on this shortish tricky par 4 and stand on the tee box fully expecting to wait for them to clear the fairway. At this point, he waves me through, wildly with some vigor. Playing through is a litmus test usually either validation or an indictment of the state of your game.The key is to take your time, same routine, no worries about you slowing them up. Just missed the fairway, fanned a 8 iron to the right on my approach. I was able to play it down for a par and give them a wave as I made my way to my cart. No words were exchanged, just the wave of recognition.

The whole mysterious exchange kind of hung with me the remainder of the round. I actually got 17 in which is a real feat given how late I started. We “spring” ahead this weekend with our clocks so it wasn’t because of the additional sun light. 2 and half hours, 17 holes and I swear I played at a pace thinking I had all day to play. Kept mulling the idea, if I had done something to precipitate that kind of reaction from the guy in front of me? Always strive to play a good pace, but by no means do I consider myself to be a very fast player. If anything, I think I take too many practice swings and I think way too long on putts.

This correlates nicely with the topic of slow play. When should you let the group behind you play through? In general, if you are in a foursome and you have a twosome or less behind you, you should probably let the other group through at some point. Especially if you have a hole open in front of you or there is a decent gap between your group and the group in front of you. Odds are, there is space behind the twosome which may make your golf outing a little less stressful. Now you only have to worry about all the hazards in front of you, not the guys waiting to tee off behind you. If there is a single behind you, they are probably a “player”, no harm letting them through in almost all scenarios. The only time I wouldn’t let a single mow through is if I’ve been waiting on every tee box as it is. There are times the spacing gets out of hand and you can have two different groups waiting to tee off with another group still in the fairway. Those are days you wish you were somewhere else.

Moving On

 

Slow play? It’s a dirty word in the world of golf. Much time and significant resource has been devoted to trying to determine a remedy to the ill that plagues the game. How many times have you been excited about getting out on a Saturday only to have your excitement crushed by the dreaded 5 hour round? How does that even happen? Many of us with young families don’t have the 5 hours to devote to a round of golf. If you add in warm up and travel to and from the course, your time requirement could be 6 or 7 hours. Pretty much shooting your Saturday right in the knee. If your spouse or significant other isn’t a golf sympathizer or participant, you could land in some very uncomfortable waters. Time is a precious commodity that shouldn’t be squandered by slow play.

Racking my brain, trying to figure out what can be done to improve pace of play a few tenable ideas have bubbled to the surface. When you are sitting on tee box waiting for the fairway to clear, you have time to ponder different scenarios, perhaps even complex algorithms aimed at fixing the problem. One idea bandied about in golf circles, should courses assign tee times using flights based on handicap? Hardly seems equitable in the scheme of things, especially if you are on a budget as those early times at most courses can get pricey. Economics aside, some guys, even scratch players, prefer playing in the afternoon or can only play in the afternoon. The theory is based on bunching players together with similar playing ability providing premium morning tee times to players who meet certain handicap thresholds. This system is not too dissimilar to what goes on at some of the great old courses in Scotland. They use a lottery of sorts and your tee times are awarded 48 hours in advance. Players provide a ballot, essentially applying for the privilege to play, containing home club and handicap information as well as those of your playing companions. While on the surface it seems manageable, I believe it will only work at destination locations, not your average muni or semi private tract trying to stay afloat during a prolonged downturn in overall play.

Could a flighted scheduling system impact the horrors seen on any given weekend? We’ve all waited at some point on a par 5 wishing, pleading, hell, cursing the moron sitting 250 yards out to just pull a 7 iron and layup so you can hit your tee shot. Only to watch him pull the 3 wood, stalking the fairway, waiting for the green to clear. The green clears, he takes his stance, taking the club 60 degrees passed parallel before uncoiling a vicious swing topping the ball a meager 52 yards down the fairway into the creek all the while begging for his fresh Pro V1 to stay up. Tempers usually flare when he unconsciously( because he lacks a soul) drops another from that very spot….cut to a scene from Tin Cup. He rears back with all his might hitting a 200 yard hook slice (similar to the albatross when it comes to scoring, it’s rare) that finds it’s home in the woods some 148 yards from the center of the green. The 200 yards is the distance traveled, not necessarily up the fairway, regardless he’s snookered behind a tree. Of course, he’ll try then to use his extended ball retriever to extract the Pro V1 from the creek to no avail, because it’s deep in it, never coming back….though he will pick up 4 other balls within arms reach. Just think, he has 3 playing partners, shots are multiplying like spring bunnies. Wrapped in the latest performance wicking materials you stew hacked off at the nerve of these guys. Theoretically, the system should work to keep you playing with similar skilled players. The guy that plays 3 times a year, wouldn’t be bogging your Saturday down. Practically, just doesn’t mesh with how the business of golf operates in America.

How could hole monitors (The Rangers) speed play? Waiting on the tee at the long par 3 (anything over 150 yards in most cases), you watch as member of the group in front of yours paces off his 75 yard approach shot, coincidentally he’s the same cat who attempted the 250 yard hero shot on the previous hole. More swearing amongst your group. Someone invariably points out “where are the Rangers? These guys are killing my mojo”. Another magical idea, maybe they should have a pace of play monitor on every hole, similar to what they do at DisneyWorld to accurately portray wait times for Space Mountain. That way, the guys running mission control in the clubhouse could do something with these clowns in front of us. Sounds great on paper, but unless you are pretty good or use to playing in competition, this idea may backfire. We’ve all fallen victim to the ranger sitting in his cart watching you tee off. Sometimes he’ll be a ways back from your tee box creeping to a stop as you address the ball, but we know he’s there. We can feel his stare critiquing the flaws in our game. Or maybe he’s poorly camouflaged on the cart path just out of harms reach deep down the fairway, but you know he’s watching your shot. He’s judging your golf ability solely on you hitting it deep out in the middle. It doesn’t matter you are playing smart and pulled a 3 wood, you’ve got to hit it deep. Wamo, Shanksville, mortified you pick up your tee like a dog that wet the carpet…..”He thinks I’m no good, but I’m a player, a 10 cap with x-stiff shafts, what the hell just happened? The bastard was watching me, the pressure got to me.” What the hell indeed, he missed the Beyonce (Bootylicious for your edification) you hit on the previous hole leaving you a little 8 iron into the green. How do the tour guys do it with everyone watching….it’s like being in a porn, I can’t do it with people watching…you know, people you don’t know! The idiots in your foursome don’t count. The inner dialogue quiets as you continue to stew. Here comes the ranger with his golf wave and the smug grin, the grin that says, “man you suck”, you smile and give a wave. At least the bastard didn’t say “hit ‘em straight”. Your round is ruined for the next 3 holes at least.

It’s all the same, you might get to play twice a month because of work and family. When you do, it’s 5 hours of getting pissed off and embarrassed, not too dissimilar from the high school experience. Why would you pay for this kind of “relaxation”? If you love the game, you put up with it, you have to….you can’t help yourself. You hit balls every chance you get. Putt on the carpets at home while watching the Golf Channel. When you haven’t had your fix in a while you pine to get out on the links, shoot that personal best you have worked so hard to accomplish. Punch drunk with your lust for fairways and greens, you convince yourself and your 3 buddies that this new course you heard about is different. A friend of a friend played there last month and turned a three and half hour round. Book the time, the weather is perfect. Promises are made to the wife that it can’t possibly take as long as last time. “Our tee time is at 10….I’m thinking, I should be home by 3, 3:30 the latest”. Here you are, waiting to tee off on the 17th. Another longish par 3, island green to boot, a real beauty of a diabolical signature hole. If only you were actually on the tee box waiting! No, the group in front of you is still waiting to tee off, you are in the cart texting your wife……it’s 3:25, ugh. Unfortunately, we’ve all been there and it stings thinking about those rounds going so well before the log jam. Who can possibly hit a good shot after waiting 17 minutes to tee off and watching 3 of the last 4 balls fall short of the green finding the deep pristine waters? We have to find the answer…it’s out there. I heard Scully and Mulder are getting the band back together again to figure it all out.

Again, I wish I had answers, solutions, a panacea for the cursed. The USGA has investigated the issue from top to bottom. They’ve come up with some possible solutions that seem to work when implemented correctly. Ideas like the USGA Pace Rating System and the TEE IT FORWARD campaign may help at some facilities, but implementation will never be universal. How can you tell a guy who just dropped $80 bucks to play, that he can’t play from the blue tees, he needs to tee them up from the white tees based on his skill level? I’ve played with guys that look at the score card and won’t play from anything less than 6000 yards, “I’m a man dammit”! They might break 100 6 times a year legitimately, but even that is dubious with some of the favorable rulings that take place out there on the back nine when no one is watching. “It’s too short, how can I play from up there?” So we tee it up from the blues in the attempt to mollify a potentially dented ego. My great grandfather was 95 years old when I took him out to play with my son several years ago (He’s 102 now). We get to the tee box, I ask him if he’s playing from the reds which so happen to be a combo ladies/seniors tee box. His response….deadpan, as if he’d morphed into Vito Corleone….”I ain’t no lady, I can play from back here”. How do you tell a guy who is that old what to do? It’s a struggle no matter how you cut it. We see the pros playing from a million miles on tour hitting these towering shots and we all want to believe that we can do it to….”at least like that one time at the range when I hit the back net repeatedly and it was like 320 full carry”. That’s the crack golfers continue to smoke.

So while I don’t have answers, here’s a couple of suggestions. If you are a seasoned golfer ,mid cap, maybe even a single digit, get out there with the people and grow the game. You know guys that play golf and you never ask them to play with you, we all do. Sure, they are fine chaps to drink a beer with or play cards, but they are terrible golfers that will just slow you down. You’ve heard them talk of that unbelievable 95 they shot at the neighborhood gathering and you cringe when you realize it was on a par 61 executive offering. These are the guys you need to take out and play with, teach them about pace of play and proper etiquette. I don’t mean instruction like you are a high and mighty pro, I mean by example. How to pick your club and walk on over to your ball getting ready to hit after your partner hits his shot. How many times have you seen the guy just sitting in the cart waiting to be driven to his ball? They want to learn, they honestly do, we all do. You remember when you weren’t very good, but loved to play? You remember being intimidated by the good player or the early tee times because only the “players” were out before 8am? What I’m saying is we’ve all been there, but some of us never leave that vortex and those people contribute to miserable Saturday rounds. Just imagine if you played with a tour caliber player? I bet you’d feel pretty puny with that 10 handicap, maybe a little nervous, scared to make a mistake. If you find yourself playing in a group with newbies or guys just not that skilled at the game, play a best ball match on the back 9. I’ve been involved in some very fun matches where guys that aren’t very good, have a lot more fun when they don’t have to write down an 8 on a par 3 because it’s a best ball affair. The game is so much quicker too. It’s a lot easier picking up a bad shot and playing from the best position out of two tee shots. You will be amazed at how often guys will put the ball in the fairway when you play using this format. Psychologically, it’s like having a mulligan with every shot, guys just play better. Also, it becomes a team sport which makes the game that much more enjoyable. Most important, keep the game about having fun. If you carry a 2, odds are you aren’t shooting a career best playing with these cats anyway. It’s not possible, you will never find your rhythm, because you can’t with 25+ players. So have a beer and play for fun, make it more about the joy of golf and less about shooting another 71. Moving on.

 

 

Beginnings

I love the game of golf. Plain and simple it has been an unrelenting obsession for the last 20 plus years of my life. Even when I had to reduce my playing time significantly with a young family, I still found the time to hit the occasional bucket at the local range. Although I was introduced to the game at an early age by my grandfather, I never made it to the course inexplicably. My golf experience was limited to chipping with a 9 iron in the living room to a coffee cup or putting down the plastic runner that ran the length of the room to the same cup. Competition was fierce in those days with my little brother and my grandfather. Though to be honest, we never had a chance against my grandfather. More on that later. I can blame a good friend for the introduction to this fascinating game. Literally, kicking and screaming he dragged me out to the course.

We were on a couples trip to Florida just out of college, his wife and mine are childhood friends. Visiting his parents in Ft. Myers, Florida in the summer of all times of the year. He was looking to move down there to start a business with his father, I was looking to drink a little beer. So as the story goes, they planned to go out to a local executive golf course and play a little golf as they did a couple of times a year. Neither of them were what you would call “players” but they enjoyed the game when they played and especially the bragging rights that came with the random good shot. Under the guise of “you guys enjoy the father/son time, I don’t want to intrude”, my plan was to hang out at the house and drink a little beer. Well, my buddy was having none of it. To paint the picture, he is 6′ 4”, thick, like you know Wisconsin thick. A massive person not easily dissuaded. I on the other hand am 5′ 8” legit, 5′ 9” when I want to impose my will. They found a fourth to join us who just so happened to have a spare set of clubs for me to use. Now, I’ve learned over the years a spare set of clubs is really a dubious distinction at best, a misnomer if you will. In this particular case, it was all of the above mixed with a sadistic zeal for the initiation of the damned. The bag, lime green and white…..leather, weighing approximately 42 pounds without clubs. The clubs were blades of a Spalding variety if I remember correctly. The year was 1994, these clubs had seen their better days in the 50’s I suspect. I didn’t bother with golf shoes, my Nikes would do just fine on this track, I did have the collared shirt as those were still required in those days.

So we make it to the course around noon. Players in Florida know the time to play is early in the morning during the Summer months. Like, work early, trying to beat the rising of the sun if you can. If you can beat the birds and the worms all the better. Needless to say, we had the place to ourselves. I don’t even remember seeing another living human being out on the course, besides our group of course. My guess is the forecast calling for temps in the high 90’s scared away the meek. Also, keep in mind, this is the pre-Tiger era when golf was generally played by older white dudes with money. So us young hacker types were still a minority. We get a few buckets and my buddy proceeds to give me some tips on grip, stance, and swing. Oh, and the solid foundation of any good golf swing, keep your head down, nothing to see here, just keep it down, understand? I’m sure the statute of limitations has expired on my ability to seek restitution for injuries sustained to my game, but if they haven’t, I still wouldn’t pursue it….I owe him a debt of gratitude. He showed me the overlap grip, the interlocking grip, and his personal choice, the double interlocking grip. When you have hands the size of medium pizzas, I get it (not really, that is still fundamentally flawed), but why would you share that with other people? It’s like introducing someone to crack when you just saw New Jack City. So I tee one up, I have a brand new Wilson glove I bought in the pro shop, a brand new tee in the ground, the ball is sitting high, probably 6 inches off the ground begging to be crushed. Of course, my buddy tells me I should start with the driver to get a feel for the game. The ancient persimmon woods lets off a crack, like the crack you hear when you stand up too fast in your 40’s as your spine races to catch up with your intention. The ball sails prodigiously, reaching an ungodly altitude, like Phil Mickelson flopping a 64 degree wedge to a tucked pin over a 6 story building. “Not bad, you didn’t miss it completely” he razzes me. I laugh, “thinking who could miss a golf ball, it ain’t even moving, I mean I can hit a baseball”, give him the whatever look. I prop another one up on the tee and I really set up to give it a lash, the kind of which the golf world should never see. I held the club, caveman style with a vise like grip draining all the blood and feeling from my extremities. I take the club back fast and return it even faster creating a centrifugal force equal to maybe 2 gs. Escaping a career ending injury, I miss the ball entirely, I miss the tee, I miss everything almost planting myself in the ground in the process. My buddy is roaring now, bent over laughing, his dad is laughing too, even the anonymous well meaning friend is laughing at me.

The range session continued with some additional ill advised instruction. I faired even worse with the irons, digging potholes a spade shovel would envy, yet I became more and more enamored as I began to actually make some contact. By contact, I mean blading several worm burners that even on this warm day stung my core as blades are meant to be hit on the sweet spot. With a couple of minutes left before we are going to play, I tee up my remaining balls to finish with the driver. Once again, I set up intent on putting a good swing on it….at least what I was told was a good swing. I reared back and smoothed one out there about 175 straight as an arrow. Somehow with all that was wrong, I had actually found the sweet spot and the ball reacted accordingly. I tee up another one, same awe inspiring the result. I felt the nothingness of a cleanly struck golf ball, even got a couple of “atta boys” from the my playing partners. I felt ready now to conquer the golf course. This was going to be easy, “figured it out you have”, channeling the wise Yoda. The mind is such a terrible thing. Already, my glove was done, ripped in two different places and I had opened a good size blister on my pointer finger to boot. I run in to the pro shop to get another glove and a band aide for my hand. The addiction was set. The needle embedded deep into the vein, powerless to this damning elixir.

No earthly idea what I shot that day. Those little boxes on the score card weren’t meant to hold double digits easily. Hit a few good shots, maybe 3 or 4 on the button all by accident. Pretty much, 3 putting was automatic which at the time made me proud. First time out, getting them down in 3 ain’t too shabby. My grandfather taught me some about putting and I absorbed a lot through watching him do it in the family room. I would later find out he was a scratch golfer at one time, often playing and hustling for money in Cleveland, Ohio making ends meet at the local munis. I did manage to hit the same house 3 times hitting it with various clubs from different holes. Not sure how that’s even possible, but those are the kind of memories that stick with you. All in all, it was a great day. Both of my hands were bloody with some scary looking festering blisters. The second glove was dead as well. My body was severally sunburned and I had a dull ache in my back from doing so much wrong that day. Regardless, from that point on, all I wanted was to play golf. To learn this whacky game, to get better, to play whenever I had the chance.

Within a week of my return home to Atlanta, I had secured a good set of second hand clubs that cost me $125. Found a pair of used golf shoes….weird I know, but my budget was so non existent those days….that cost me $9 and had real honest to goodness metal spikes. Sometimes I do miss that click clack of the metal spikes, but the game is better without them. Not to mention, walking like a normal person on a green has it’s merits. Ready to play golf, but first I would spend a few weeks absorbing as much as possible about the game. Read so many books on instruction, giving me a pretty good foundation about mechanics. Hours and hours at the local range. Most important, I convinced another buddy of mine to take up the game. Finding a player on equal footing helped me in the process of becoming a lifelong player of this silly game. After all, one of the tenets of this game is camaraderie. More on the journey to come. The process has been intriguing and continues to pull me deeper to learn and achieve. Golf is a game for life, embrace it.

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