It was a big weekend, as I had my much anticipated visit to a local country club for a round of golf with a friend. But before we get to that, I must share the round I played nine days earlier.

That day I was not sure of my goal. It was a cold, dreary day and I had a hard time getting motivated. But, looking at the forecast and my schedule for the next week, I realized this might be my last chance to play before the country club visit. So I bundled up and forced myself to go. When I got to the practice green, I saw one foursome of old guys teeing off, with a five-some of old guys behind them. That seemed to make for a long round. So I decided to just play nine holes and to walk, figuring that would keep me from pushing them and give me a chance to hit extra shots if they were moving slowly.

The front nine went pretty well. I was spraying the driver but always leaving myself an angle to the green, and my approaches were spot-on. I was two-putting everything but still playing solid. I caught and passed the first group in front of me on the fourth tee. The group in front of them was fast so I managed to finish the nine in under 90 minutes, shooting a 43. As I walked to the clubhouse I debated whether to play another nine. I was hitting it well, but might it be a good time to just stop and savor those nine holes? As I passed the 10th tee I saw it was open, so I popped into the starter’s room, got clearance to play the back nine, and continued.

That nine was very much like the front: I was playing steady golf and recovering when I got into trouble. I nearly eagled a long par four after destroying a drive and getting a great bounce with my approach. On another hole I sent my approach about thirty yards to the left of the green, landing in the 17th hole’s tee box. Luckily no one was standing there. My pitch hit the flagstick and I tapped in to save par.

I did not look at my score when I made it back to the 17th, but I knew I was playing well. My drive was long and just off the fairway. When I reached it I was blocked from advancing by a tree. No big deal. I pitched out to the fairway and left myself a very manageable approach. I took an easy swing – too easy it turned out – and came up short of the green. My pitch barely made the green and I had a 40 foot, uphill putt for bogey. I turned that into a four-putt and carded an 8. Not good.

I stepped to the 18th tee and told myself to relax, one bad hole can’t ruin your score but two can. I took a deep breath and pounded my drive nearly 300 yards and in the fairway. I stepped up to hit my approach, took an easy practice swing, reminded myself I had been hitting these well all day…and hit about two inches behind the ball, taking a huge divot that traveled farther than the ball.

“FUCK YOU, D!” I yelled at myself.

I dropped a ball to prove to myself that I could make the shot. I pulled this one badly into some thick grasses well to the left of the green. That was significant because it was the only ball I lost in the round. I walked up to my first shot and again sent the ball left, but this time just a few feet off the green. I chipped on, two-putted, and carded a 6 for the hole.

As I totaled up my score I saw I was sitting at 30 when I stepped to the 17th tee. The 14 on the final two holes really hurt. Sure, I had just shot 87 for 18 holes, but I knew I left three shots on those last two holes. 84 would have been pretty dope.

While I walked to my car I burned off that disappointment and realized – Holy Shit! – I just shot a legit 87! My goal this fall was to break 100 and I had just broken 90! And that was without doing anything exceptionally well all day. Just steady, boring golf where, the 17th excepted, I avoided any blowups. I felt ready to tackle a real course.

So, Sunday. We got pushed back a little because of frost. When we teed off the windchill had pushed out of the 20s into the low 30s, but it was still quite nippy. As I hit balls on the range, I was lacing everything and feeling good. Never a good sign. My goal for the day was to break 100. This was a much tougher course than any I’ve played,[1] I was playing with someone, and I was wearing layers to fight the cold.

I will tell you that I had a lot of fun. For most of the day it was just the two of us on the course. My host, E, is a med school buddy of S’s and plays around a 5 handicap but is not cocky about it and does not make you feel bad about not being that good. We walked the course, hit extra balls when we needed to, and had a great conversation.

But my game was shit. Strangely, and to the befuddlement of my host, my best shots of the day came from the rough. Every time I was in the thicker stuff, I would absolutely flush the ball and hit it straight at my target. I lost two balls by just destroying what were supposed to be easy shots and having them sail OB. When I was sitting in the fairway, I would push it, pull it, or chunk it. I bet I hit 10 great shots from the rough. Maybe four or five from the fairway.

E noted around the 12th or 13th that I wasn’t rotating completely on my follow through. I’m going to blame it on the cold and a tight back. As I focused on turning after contact, I began hitting it better. In fact, those next five holes were by far my best of the day, routinely out-driving E.

So, to the score. 55 on the front, 53 on the back.

For all the issues I’ve laid out above, the big issue was the putter. My putting was garbage. Some of that was speed. These were way faster greens than what I’ve played on this fall, even in the cold. I was leaving myself with 8-foot come-backers after missing six-footers. I also had a hard time with the slope of the greens. I’m used to one or two greens per nine having elevation, and then not much. There wasn’t a flat green to be found at E’s club. About the same time I got my swing together I finally figured out the speed and began turning three putts into two. But I had only one one-putt all day, often missing by several inches to one side or the other. That was simply not knowing the course and having a hard time finding the line.

We both played our fair share of leaf balls. The ground crews had blown all the leaves off the fairways into the rough between them. Frankly I’m amazed we found as many as we did, but we both lost at least three balls in the leaves that were piled up.

E also took time to work with me on my sand game, as I found green-side bunkers four times. The first time I shot my ball across the green into the opposite bunker. We spent five minutes working on how to get out. By my fourth trip to the sand, I finally hit a nice, soft shot that left me with a five-foot putt. That I naturally missed. Anyway, that’s the nice part of being on a course that only a few other people were on; if you fuck up you can take some time to figure out what you did wrong and try to correct it before you have to use that skill again.

E also taught me about equitable stroke control. For you non-golfers, that’s a fancy way of saying there is a cap on how bad a score you can post on a given hole, generally triple-bogey. I think the logic behind this, which goes into how handicaps are calculated, is a little dodgy. But I gladly shaved a stroke off my score because of it.

So, anyways, it was a pretty good day. I wish I had played better, but it was what it was. This was a longer, tougher, better course with a lot more elevation changes than where I had been shooting my 92s and 87. I would have been thrilled with a 99. 108 is not the end of the world and just highlighted the areas I need to improve upon.

I hope this wasn’t my last round of the year. But the forecast sure looks like we only had four weeks of fall and are officially in winter. If it was my final round of 2019, I think I’ve hit two of the three goals I set before I had my first lesson:

  • Break 100. Check, and I broke 90!
  • Get my game where I would not be embarrassed to play if someone good invited me to join them. Check. I didn’t play well Sunday but I did not embarrass myself. Well, maybe I did on one shot. But just that one.
  • Get my game to the point I could explore replacing my starter clubs with “real” clubs. I need to talk to my instructor about whether I’ve reached the point where I can go to a fitter, or if I need to get more consistent before I can do that.

So that’s that. Counting up my scorecards, I played five, 18-hole rounds; three, nine-hole rounds, and at least 11 rounds at the pitch and putt course. Not a bad way to get back into the game after over a decade away from it. Obviously, I’m really enjoying it.

Sadly, I learned yesterday that the city is going to close one of the two courses I’ve been playing and turn it into an adventure park. I liked having two reasonably priced, fairly open public courses within 20 minutes of our house. I’ll have to find another one to balance my “home” course in the spring.

  1. 500–800 yards longer than the two courses I’ve played this fall, and course ratings of 71.9/130 vs 68.4/110 and 66.3/106.  ↩