Golf is an odd game. It seems that, as soon as you have it figured out, it eludes your grasp. We’ve all been there. You tell yourself to do something a certain way that’s different than what you did before, and it works. The light bulb goes on. Then, the remainder of your practice and rounds are spent working on that one thing–to a fault. Eventually, you’ve so overemphasized that one little swing thought that you have to try to undo it and go back to what you were probably correctly doing before. While we all might benefit from a lesson with a pro who is familiar with our games at a point like that, nonetheless, expense or time seem always to get the best of us.

Still, the ride is fun while it lasts.

About a year and a half ago, I posted of such a time in POTW 23. The ballstriking was on, and, but for a few really bad greens, I probably would have been posting some amazing numbers.

But truly good golf is something different. It’s not just a streak. Truly good golf is finding ways to play your best when you don’t have the whole package. And, lately, that’s what it feels like for me. I can’t say what’s different. I know that I’ve changed my mental approach to where now I no longer need a perfect drive to set up an approach to the green, and, often, from bad lies I’m willing to miss the green in the right spot to get up and down for par. Maybe after 20 years of playing, I’ve finally figured out what to do.

Truth is, I think it’s a complex mix of mechanics, equipment changes, and mental attitude. Altogether, it’s working. Three weeks ago, I shot a -2 69 (34-35) on a local muni. I played it again a few days later and shot a very poor 76 (36-40) that was very much hindered by slow play of juniors and seniors around the course. I played 9 holes with a friend and shot 34 (E par) on another muni and then played the same course a few days later, shooting 37-37 (+4). Then, this morning, I played the first muni again and shot -1 70 (34-36).

All of this has been done in very different ways. Some days, it’s lots of GIR. Some days, it’s scrambling. Today, it was 25 putts and nailing them down from everywhere. Even with lost balls, shots in the woods, you name it–I’m finding ways to stay around the E line.

Now, I take this with a grain of salt. All of this golf has been on a couple of pretty easy muni courses. But I’m encouraged by the play. Either way, I know it won’t last forever–and it doesn’t have to. Enjoying this ride while I’m on it is what the game is all about. There may be a bad streak some time (The Doldrums), so it’s important to enjoy the good times while they’re around.

Thank God that, for once, my good rounds are coinciding with non-aerated greens!

Here are the scores for nostalgia:
scores

For golfers, I find, it’s a progression. You start the game and can barely get the ball airborne. You hit that first shot flush and straight and it’s like water to a thirsty man. You find yourself addicted, at some point, waiting for that next “my best score” round.

It starts with breaking 100, making your first par, your first birdie, maybe even your first eagle. Then breaking 90, 80, setting a new personal best, breaking par for 9 holes, having a streak of pars-or-better in a row, or going a certain number of a rounds without losing a ball. We remember these moments–well, some of them.

I barely recall breaking 100–I was at Sugar Creek Golf Course in Atlanta. I believe I shot 94. I think I also had my first birdie ever during that round. I don’t recall much else–I was probably younger than 13. I remember breaking 90, although only vaguely. It was the only time I’ve ever played the Alfred ‘Tup’ Holmes golf course in Atlanta. I had 15 bogeys, one double-bogey, and two pars to shoot 89. I broke 80 at a course that no longer exists called “Atlanta International.” Kind of a sad state of affairs the way that course went under–more on that at a later portion of the series. I was probably 16 or 17 when this happened.

My first “under par” round was at Bobby Jones Golf Course when I was in college at GA Tech. I went out on a muddy afternoon and walked with 3 young professionals who were all riding and drinking beer. I remember talking with one of the guys and saying “it’s been a pretty good round” at about the 14th or 15th hole. He said “have you made any birdies?” I responded “I’m three under right now.” Clearly, it was not being noticed. I shot -1 that day (2 bogeys coming down the stretch).

My two best rounds to date, however, both came about in 2010. Oddly enough, they both happened while I was searching for a new set of irons, and with both of them I got rid of the irons shortly thereafter.

Perhaps what I’d call my best round of golf ever occurred in April 2010. I decided to play with my wife’s uncle at Mystery Valley. In this round, I used a set of Mizuno MP-67 irons that I had just bought a few weeks earlier. Perhaps my best position relative to par was when I walked off of the 10th green, at -4. I don’t believe I’ve ever been further under par than that. I almost sunk the eagle putt too, from 35 or so feet, double-breaking almost 10 feet at the end. I had 5 birdies, and I still maintain I got screwed on the 17th hole, when my GPS told me I had 160 yards out and I ended up flying the green, the bunker behind the green, and going about 15 yards into the woods with an 8-iron.

Funny–I remember thinking the round started out badly, and thinking it might be a rough day when I had to save par on the 1st and 2d holes and was wide right on the third. When I chipped in on the third hole, though, my mindset changed–now, I thought, this might be a good day after all. 33 on the front side and an even par 36 on the back side had me breaking 70 for the first time in my life. Pretty awesome, all things considered.
MV rd

The only round that could rival my Mystery Valley performance was my performance later in the year at Lanier Golf Club. This round is STILL the only round for which I have not made a single bogey during the entire round. Only three birdies–and I was working with a -2 round for most of the day. The greens were terrible, and even though I hit a lot of quality golf shots, I did not do a lot of scoring. Still, I managed to work my way around the tightly tree-lined fairways and finish with an under-par round of -3, 69. This was with a set of MP-32s that–I convinced myself later–I hit “too far” and ended up selling to LG, who then sold to another person. They were, in fact, pretty tremendous irons.
L rd

What’s interesting about both of the rounds: great ballstriking was a premium. Although we often think of great putting and chipping as the key to the game, in this case, ballstriking was necessary. Hitting 12 and 14 greens per round, respectively, certainly gave a HUGE advantage.

Regardless, you remember these moments for what they were. These moments on the course were ones I can tell my kids some day, ones I can brag about when I need a story, ones I can say “when I shot 69 here, the pin was there.” Not everyone has the opportunity to say that with respect to breaking 70, but everyone has that moment in their golfing careers. For me, it took 18 years to shoot an 18-hole round without a bogey–and in the two years since, I still haven’t done it again. But the game is a series of milestones, some easier to remember than others, some bigger deals than others, but each one another piece of the legacy of your time on the course. And those achievements are what we chase every time we play this great game. So go out there and find your next one. It might be closer than you think.

Many golfers have stories of the odd things they’ve seen. From drives that bounced off carts and back into the fairway to balls that skipped over lakes, the “rub of the green” just happens sometimes.

People often ask me what the craziest thing I’ve seen in golf is. I’ve seen a total of eight holes-in-one, five of them my own. There will be time to talk about those later. Two of the three others were hit at Mystery Valley Golf Course, my original stomping grounds for the game of golf. The first one I saw was by a 75-year-old man who hit a 9-wood 145 directly at the pin on the 16th. When I said “that might’ve gone in” he shrugged it off. In fact, it had gone in. The second was clear as day, and we all watched the ball roll into the hole on the 2nd green.

Aside from aces, I’ve seen a lot of weird and crazy stuff. I was once threatened by an angry Jamaican wielding a golf club. I flipped a golf cart going about 40mph and somehow lived through it. I worked at a course with a fellow who grew marijuana at the back of the range. I even played golf with one of my best friends who had, not one, but two golf club heads snap off at the hosel during a round. I’ve had people dive out of the way of golf balls 100 feet over their heads. (all of these will be covered at some point)

But perhaps the craziest of crazy golf was the third ace I witnessed. I tell the story often because, frankly, if it weren’t real, it wouldn’t be believable.

During college I worked for a company outside of Boston, Massachusetts. It was a recurring internship wherein I went to school one semester, went to work the next, went to school the next, and went to work the following until graduation. My second semester at work was in the Fall of 2004. Although I wasn’t a tremendous golfer–maybe a single-digit handicap at the time–I still loved the game.

The local municipal golf course was Juniper Hill Golf Course. This is still one of my favorite municipal tracks, as it was always maintained at least playably well and was a fun layout of 36 holes. Neither of the courses were particularly long, but the land features were unique and challenging, as well as quite beautiful for the Massachusetts countryside-ish.

One afternoon, I decided to play the Lakeside course. This was probably my more preferred of the two courses. It is still one of the only courses I’ve played with a par 3 starting hole.

JH scorecard

This particular afternoon, I was paired up with Ed and Dave. Why I still remember these folks’ names, I have no clue. Nonetheless, Ed and Dave both were very friendly. They clearly knew each other. I learned during the round that they had done business together for years but this was the first time they had met in person.

Ed and Dave were both experienced golfers, but I was playing a little more seriously than them, stepping off yardages and paying attention to wind directions. Ed and Dave started asking for my help on some of their shots, which I gladly obliged. Why not tell them the yardage if I had already determined it?

The 14th hole at Juniper Hill’s Lakeside course is on the edge of the property, just before the lake. It plays entirely over a marsh, as seen in the view below:

It’s NOT the hole on the top where you see the sand trap in front of the green. It’s actually on the bottom, where the green is just in front of the trees and is partially shaded. You can see the cart path on the edge of the marsh leading from the tee box (about 180 yards) to the green. This cart path is the last part of the property before the lake.

This hole is the #1 handicap on the course because of the long carry over water. It’s 206 from the blue tees and 180-ish from the whites. On this day, the tees were playing up at the whites. I stepped off the yardage to roughly 175 yards.

Dave asked me “how far is it?” I replied “it’s about 175-180. I would put a 5-iron in your hand.” Dave grabbed his 5-iron, teed it up, and hit it a good inch thick. The ball waddled in the air, clearly without enough distance to get to the green. It sailed down into the marsh.

As I was about to move my gaze, I saw the ball bounce up out of the marsh. I told Dave to “hold on.” It landed on the green. It rolled toward the flag. “That might be in the hole!!” I said to Dave. He shrugged me off–“no way,” he said. “I don’t know. That looked close, and I don’t see the ball,” I replied.” “It probably just rolled over the back” I said. I walked up to the green as Ed dropped and hit his second ball (he had already hit in the marsh). I looked around behind the green. No ball. I looked in front of the green. No ball. I wanted to respect Dave that, if he did hit an ace, he be the first person to see it. When he got to the green, he started looking around for the ball as well.

“Why don’t you look in the hole?” I asked. Dave did, and, shocked, found his golf ball. Cheers went up. He was ecstatic. I was the only person with a camera phone (this was 2004), and I took a photo on it of Dave pulling his golf ball out of the hole. A GREAT memory.

“What happened?” I thought. I walked down to the marsh, and roughly 5-10 yards short of the green in the marsh was a piece of granite laying flat. It was no bigger and no more curved than a dinner plate. Other than that, nothing could have deflected Dave’s ball. I called him over and pointed it out. Dave, Ed, and I all laughed, as we all knew his ball was about 10 yards short of the green from the tee box.

In other words, Dave hit a hole in one by chunking a shot off the tee, landing it on a dinner plate roughly 165 yards away, and having it bounce up and into the hole.

And THAT, my friends, is what’s crazy about golf.

Sometimes, sobering moments occur that change your life, your outlook on life, or just the way you think of the things you have. I’ve recently lost two uncles in tragic fashion–both likely heart disease, both well before their times. Although only one of them was a golfer, they both impacted my life positively, and I’m thankful for the experiences I had along the way with them. Of course, it wouldn’t be appropriate–or good for our readership–if I posted my entire life experience on a golf blog, but I felt a little background as to why this series was being presented was important.

What got me thinking about writing this series was my uncle who was a golfer. I visited him in Pennsylvania when I was no more than 14 years old…I actually don’t remember the specifics, just that I was a golf nut and he volunteered to take me to the prestigious Indiana Country Club (in Indiana, PA). During that round, on Indiana CC’s signature par 3 over water, my uncle hit the ball to 6 inches from the hole. I was astounded. One comment he made astounded me even more. As he walked up to tap in his birdie, he stated off-hand “I’ve been playing the game for decades, hit probably hundreds of shots just like this, and never had a hole in one. Oh well. That’s golf.”

As I look back on it now, I wish I had had the chance to talk with him more. I wish we’d had the opportunity to shoot the shit about all things golf and life. No doubt he had a great many stories of life and golf intersecting that I could’ve learned from. But, more so, just learning about the highlights of his life and rounds of golf would’ve been enough. In any career of more than a few years, there are literally hundreds of shots to remember, to ponder, to tell stories about. His are gone forever, and only a few people scattered across the globe will know them. Part of the beauty of modern technology is our ability to capture a slice of ourselves in time and hold it in place in the memory of a computer or the internet. The PF blog helps LG and I communicate with all of you, but it also helps us convey stories to each other and to preserve some of the great memories we’ve had playing this beautiful game.

With that, I think it’s incredibly important to preserve the memories of my aces. You see, at the moment my uncle said those fateful words about never having hit a hole in one, I had already logged my first, and it was its own remarkable story.

Time to go foggy nostalgia on you all for a minute.

Flash back to the summer of 1997. Think about what you were doing, what was in, what was important. The dotcom bubble was blowing to a beautiful inflated awesomeness that we may never see again. Bill Clinton was practicing his indiscretions with White House interns. Me? I was a 13 year old kid going to see his best friend in Arkansas for the first time in years. My very first trip on a plane, and I flew to Little Rock, Arkansas, to then drive several hours to El Dorado. When you’re a kid, you don’t really care where you go, as long as it’s with someone you want to be around. My best friend, BW, was a little older than me. We thought we were so cool. Even though there’s basically nothing to do in the “city” of El Dorado, Arkansas, we found ourselves playing tennis (neither of us knew anything of the game), caring for his Basset Hounds, and–amazingly–playing golf.

I say it was amazing that we were playing golf for a lot of reasons. The obvious was that neither of us were wealthy. I had always learned golf from my Dad, who didn’t really have a great deal of grasp on the finer points of the game, but he loved it always. BW had never really had that kind of leadership. His Dad kind of played, but wasn’t really into the game. So the first hurdle was that BW didn’t really have an interest in the game.

But, more importantly, we didn’t have equipment! BW’s only set was a bunch of Ben Hogan blades and a couple of wooden fairway woods and driver (even in 1997, wooden head fairway woods were pretty obsolete). However, BW didn’t even have a golf bag to put the clubs in, or any number of golf balls. How in the world were we going to play golf?

Well, I did get an engineering degree eventually, and my early engineer shone through that day. BW and I put a 3, 5, 7, and 9 iron, driver, and 3 wood in a black garbage bag to take to the course. We didn’t have golf shoes, so we just wore tennis shoes. We had cargo pants, and we put as many golf balls into the pockets as we could find. Each of us had maybe 8 golf balls total. BW made a point to bring his special “birdie ball,” the ball he had used to make his first birdie. I still remember that it was a Maxfli with an “El Dorado CC” logo on the side. Crazy times.

BW and I marched our way up to the Lion Club Municipal Golf Course–the goat track of all goat tracks. To this day, I have still not stepped foot on a worse course. All of the grass on the entire course had been infested with a fungus so that enormous patches were mere dust. The greens…what greens? They just stuck a pin in the middle of a flat part and called it a green, maybe threw down some grass seed that wasn’t growing in the middle of the summer in Arkansas. This. Was. A. Hole. But we didn’t see it like that. BW and I were just being the kids that we were, going out to have a good time, and if that meant golfing, so be it. We each paid our $5 greens fee and walked to the first tee.

Now, neither of us were great golfers at the time, but I could hold my own. I shot under 100 sometimes, but usually under 110, which isn’t bad for a 13 year old. But this day, I was not having it. I topped shots, I sliced shots, I shanked shots…it was the worst round of golf I’d played in awhile. by the 5th hole, I had posted two 9s, an 8, and a 7. Worse, in anger I had thrown the last ball in my pocket into the trees after carding a 7 on the prior hole. I looked at BW for a ball. It was his last one too–the birdie ball. He warned me to be careful with it–in fact, it was his first birdie ball. I assured him that I would.

The par 3 fifth hole was only about 150 yards. On a calm day in Arkansas, that’s really not a tough distance to hit. Nonetheless, as I walked up to the tee, I remembered something I had read in a golf digest magazine. It was a piece about hitting consistent shots, which stated that you should be able to swing and hit the ball 75% of your usual distance to get your tempo set up, and then gradually work back up to the full distance over time. I decided my consistency was off, and I would try to hit this shot 75% or less. I pulled out the 5-iron (usually a 7-iron shot for me) teed up the birdie ball, and swung. The first pure shot I hit all day. It flew up in the air like a baloon, floated high but true, straight at the pin.

BW stated “nice shot……..VERY nice shot.”

the ball landed directly on line with the pin. I thought to myself “It was a very nice shot inde……..WAIT! DID THE PIN JUST MOVE?!?!?!”

I said to BW “I THINK IT’S IN THE HOLE!”

Not even worrying about BW’s shot, I started walking toward the hole, my heart beating fast as I imagined what might be. I slowly approached the green, tiptoed up to the hole, closed my eyes, crossed my fingers, turned my head to look down, and opened my eyes. The ball was in the hole!!!!

Pandemonium erupted. BW and I went crazy. It was unlike anything else I’d ever seen on a golf course. Finally, I had done something special.

But our elation was met with a bit of tempering–the ball was, in fact, the last ball we had. Neither BW nor I wanted to lose that ball. So, we walked past the next two holes, walked into the shack of a pro shop, and called BW’s mom to pick us up and take us home. We had been out for barely more than an hour when we should’ve been out for 4 or 5, but we were not going to lose that ball. I came back to Atlanta. My story was written up in the local paper, with picture from the local junior event. Maxfli sent me a hat. Ben Hogan Company sent me a letter congratulating me on my hole in one. For a little bit, it was pretty special.

Times change, and BW and I have spent less and less time together as the years have gone by, although we’re still great friends and talk every several months or so. He’s endured what many people cannot imagine in his life, and I pray for him often. But I guarantee that the times he thinks of this story, he remembers the joy of being a kid again and that once-in-a-lifetime type moment that we shared together.

I still have the birdie ball here on my shelf. I pick it up from time to time and reminisce about that day. What would’ve happened if we had a few more golf balls? No one will ever know. I still don’t know what the last 13 holes of the Lion Club play like, and I probably never will. Still, I remember that day like it just happened.

All of that said, my uncle’s tragic death helped me realize that I have forgotten as much as I remember about my life and these experiences. I wished his memories were somewhere that I could read them. Hopefully, someday when I’m gone, these memories will be around for my children to read and think about the good times that I remembered.

Anyway, that’s the story of my first ace. Stay tuned…I’ve got 4 more to talk about, and a few other interesting moments too.