The first time…

When you hit personal milestones in golf, the sense of reward is second to none. There is no monopoly on what level golfer feels the most reward. The beginner gets the same feeling of accomplishment that a near scratch golfer does. When I began playing golf I didn’t keep score. I was just out there having fun with my friends and cousins. Mind you, I was around eight years old. It wasn’t until I was in my teens, when I tried to pick up the game again, that I began keeping score.

I began playing in the 90’s. I shot 100 plus a few times, but I started averaging in the 90’s. When I broke 90 the first time, it wasn’t an 89, or 88. I shot an 83. I thought, like all golfers, “I got this game now!” Alas, that wasn’t the case. Life took over and I put the clubs away again for a few years. It wasn’t until I turned 25 that I picked the game up for good. I was where I had been where I left off, mid to high 90’s. I began to study the swing, watch a lot of pros swings, and made great strides. I was shooting in the 80’s in about a month.

That first year of returning to the game I didn’t shoot in the 70’s. I never really threaten the 70’s late in the round. A couple doubles would always creep in somewhere. Hey, they still do! It wasn’t until the end of the following season, that I finally broke 80! This was monumental. It was only a 78, but I saw pros on TV shoot 78s! I shot the same score I saw a pro shoot. Again, as we all do, I thought I had the game figured out. Well, the game of golf is a funny one.

Shooting consistently in the 70’s was hard ask. It wasn’t until a few years down the road, I’d say into my early 30’s, that I began to shoot in the 70’s with more frequency than a couple times per year. Then, the golf gods thought I had enough fun. My swing went to hell. I tried everything you can imagine to fix it, except take formal lessons. Nothing worked and I struggled for a few years with getting terribly stuck. My distance was gone, and my scores were averaging in the high 80’s and 90’s. It was heartbreaking. My putting and short game have always been what saved me, but my swing was so bad, they couldn’t give me low scores.

Eventually, I got the kinks in my swing worked out. I began to shoot in the 70’s with more frequency and my handicap kept dropping. I was sniffing par often. There would always be a hole or two towards the end of the round where nerves would hit and I’d blow it. One day, I finally did it! I shot par. It was on a par 71 course. I made an awesome up and down to save the round. It was an amazing feeling. Sure, I wasn’t playing the same courses pros were playing, but I shot a 71.

I had been able to shoot par countless times after that. I was never able to break par. The closest I got was being one under with two to play and nerves overtook me on the 17th hold and completely fatted a 60 yard approach. Ended up with a bogie. I missed a birdied from 30ft on the last to settle for another 71. That was two years ago.

This year has been a little bit of a struggle shooting consistent low scores. My handicap has hovered around 4.5-5.5. I can still shoot even, but I’ve only done it a couple times this year. This past weekend, something happened. It was Saturday morning and my warm-up session felt the same as it always does. It was a team competition and I was playing in the scratch matches. First hole, missed a 4ft birdie putt. Second hole, missed a 5ft birdie putt. Third hole, I fanned it so far right it went into the water of another hole. I hit an amazing recovery shot, an great putt, and I saved par.

On the next hole my partner said, “We need to start making birdies.” The prior two holes were won by the other team with birdies and it seemed like that was the only way to take a hole. On the 4th hole, the hardest ranked on the course, my approach came to rest under a foot away. Birdie #1. On the next hole, a long par 3, my tee shot finished 7ft below the hole. Birdie #2. The next hole, a par 5, I was able to chip it 2ft for birdie #3. Hey, I did what my partner asked!

I was feeling great. The golf gods have to throw a little monkey wrench into your day and  I pushed my tee shot right into the trees on the next hole. I hit a great recovery shot and had a chip and a putt to save par. The next hole was a par 3 and my tee shot finished 8ft from the cup, but it left an impossible 90 breaking fast putt. I lipped it out. Finished with a par on the front nine to make the turn at 3-under. This was the lowest I’ve been at the turn by two strokes.

On the 10th hole, my tee shot ended up in the fairway bunker. I ended up stiffing it from 189 yards out. I had about 5ft for birdie and I lipped it out. The next hole I had 18ft for birdied. I drained it! Now, the thoughts of breaking par started setting in, as well as breaking the course record! I missed a 1oft birded on the next hole. Then came a nemesis hole for me.

There is an ominous pond on the left of 14. You think, then right is your miss. Well, right is lined with trees and makes the approach to a shallow green, fronted by a pond, a large undertaking. I was determined to not go left like I did six of the prior eight tee shots. I went right and ended up with a horrible lie. Laid up and lipped out the 6ft putt for par. I kept telling myself, you’re still three under and there are still birdies out there. I missed a 7ft birded on the next hole followed by missing a 10ft birded the following hole.

Arriving at the par 3 17th, I was still 3-under and knew it was going to finally happen. I was finally going to break par. I was a little nervous, like I had been all day, but I hit the green. It’s a massive green, into a 240 yard par 3, and I was about 60ft away. I burned the edge but left a tester for par. I missed the comeback. I was now two under. The finishing hole I knew I had it in the bag. Even if I bogied it I was still going to shoot under par. It’s a par five and reached it in two. I had 40ft for eagle. My eagle putt finished on the lip. Finally! I finally broke par. I reached two goals in the same round. I broke par for the first time and also broke 70. I’m still stunned. I still get butterflies thinking about it.

I remember each shot from this past Saturday vividly. While I was a bit nervous all day, it was the easiest round of golf I played. I didn’t do anything differently. I didn’t act, interact, differently. I just fell into a zone. Every swing felt effortless. Every putt felt like it was going in. The few mistakes I made I knew I would be ok. I wish I can point to one single thing that put me there. If I knew, I’d bottle it up and call on it every round.

The scorecard from that round was in a frame and on my wall by the time sun went down. Very rarely do we leave the course feeling great. There are far more round we leave where we feel frustrated than elated. Saturday was one of those days. I’m still feeling the same way I felt after the final putt. I saved the ball and it sits next to my first birdie, my first bunker hole out, my first five eagle putts, I have a think for the number 5, my first 36 and my first 71. It’s a well rounded golf ball display case. I guess the next logical goal, score wise, will be sub-60? Fifty-nine, here I come!

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