I’m overwhelmed by numbers. The more I look at them, the more my sense of dread and disappointment and even fear grows.

That’s right, it’s time for a long overdue update on my golf game.

Quick summary: not good.

Now, for the people into that kind of thing, far too many details. Feel free to skip the rest, although you’ll miss the accounting of the greatest moment of my golfing life.

Because of a combination of factors, I’ve played my last five rounds on a new (to me) course.[1] It is not very long and, by course rating and slope, should not be super tough. But it is very narrow. Which means it may not be the best place for me to play. But I can always get a tee time and it is cheap, so it has been my spot for the past two months.

And it has been kicking my ass.

Five rounds on this new course. All five rounds over 100. Well, kind of. But we’ll get to that in a moment.

As I said, the course is very narrow. There is absolute death one way or the other, and sometimes both, on nine holes. I’m talking thick woods, a river, and a busy street. If you miss into these, your ball is gone, no space for a hero shot to get back into the hole.

In most of my rounds there I have played like there is a bonus rather than a penalty for losing your ball. Multiple times I’ve lost multiple balls on a single hole. Multiple times I’ve lost balls on two-straight swings. Most of my misses have been big, majestic slices off the tee. It has not been pretty.

My most recent round, two weeks ago, I was actually keeping the driver in play for the most part. However, I was suddenly missing left with every other club in the bag. So I guess whatever anti-slice methods I was using were working?

All in all, this course has chewed me up and beaten me down a little. But I’ve gotten a little stubborn about it. I realize I need to learn to keep the ball in play if I want to improve, regardless of what course I play. More than that broader goal, I really want to play a halfway decent round on this course, just to prove that I can. If I can just eliminate OB that will go a long way toward that goal.

I mentioned that one day was a little different. That morning I was doing my usual “fuck up start of the round” thing. I went 8–8–7–5–8. Or something like that, because I stopped keeping score after the third hole. I decided just to play out the front nine and if I wasn’t hitting it better by the turn, I would pack it in and go home. Fortunately, I did start hitting it better and finished with two pars, so I proceeded to the tenth tee.

Number 10 is just a brutal hole. It is dead straight but there is a thickly wooded hill all along the left side. On the right, beginning about 150 yards down, is water. From there to the green is a 250 yard fairway that is maybe 40 yards wide and slopes toward the water. The first three times I played it I either found the woods or the water.[2] This time I kept it straight. I did pull my second shot but got a lucky bounce off a tree and onto the green. I still three-putted for bogie but that was my best score ever on the hole. I followed that with a bogie on 11.

Then I went on one of the best stretches I’ve ever played. I went par-bogie-par-EAGLE-par-par. On 18 I left a bogie putt about three inches short that kept me from shooting 39 on the back.

From shooting well over 50 and being ready to give up to almost breaking 40. Golf is weird.

That eagle was the first of my life. It came on a 465 yard par five. The tee is super elevated, so the hole plays way shorter than what the card says. Plus it is actually a hole that you can miss either way and still be in play. My tee shot was fairly straight but trickled into the rough on the left. I had about 155 in (again, elevated tee helps) and had to aim to the right of the green to avoid a tree. I hit a seven iron that drew perfectly, hit short of the green, and rolled out thanks to the burnt out fairway. My ball settled two inches off the green, pin-high. I had a 15-foot putt that was slightly uphill with a little break in the middle.

No one was behind me so I stalked it like Tiger, checking every angle and trying to glean every nuance out of the green. I played a little left-to-right break, made solid contact, and the speed seemed right. The ball started to move right, as I expected. But then it moved back left and looked like it would miss just. Dammit! At the last moment, there was either a hint of break, a puff of wind, or the golfing gods helped me out and the ball tumbled in. Elation, joy, celebration, tears in his eyes, all that shit. I pumped my fist and waved to the non-existent crowd. People driving by probably thought I was a lunatic. Not really sure how I managed to par the next two holes after that moment.

That was a lot of fun. Not so much fun was not breaking 100 in my last five rounds. Not that I though I was great or anything, but after breaking 90 a few times and generally hanging out in the low 90s, I kind of thought 100 was out of play, at least on generic muni courses in good conditions.

I can definitely blame some of those scores on the penal qualities of the new course. Still, that inability to keep the ball in play is an absolute killer, whether I can find the ball after a wayward tee shot or not. It is something I have to fix if I want to improve my scores.

Score is not always everything. The 86 I carded in June came on a very easy course that gives you plenty of opportunities to recover when you miss the fairway. You don’t really need a handicap if you’re not playing in tournaments or in regular money games where you need a common starting point for determining strokes. I still signed up for one this summer, just to make my return to golf seem more official.

Handicaps are always erratic until you get a full 20 rounds in, and I only have 12 in the system right now. I’m currently sitting at a 19.1. I was hoping to be more in the 15 range. But ball don’t lie and my last five rounds say I’m barely inside the 20-handicap threshold that I believe separates mediocre and shitty. The only positive is being at 19.1 leaves me plenty of room to get better.

  1. Golf boom means courses are busier, school days mean I can’t get those pre–8:00 tee times, later sunrise means courses open a little later, and I have a limited window in which I can start if I want to play 18 holes on a weekday.  ↩

  2. Or both.  ↩