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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Perfect Shots, Not Perfect Rounds

I have a primal, near visceral response to a well-made golf shot.  I'm really not a very skilled golfer -- my handicap hovers in the mid-to-high 20s -- so I don't execute perfect shots very often.  Yesterday, during my regular Tuesday round with the Star Fort Ladies Golf Association, I had three perfect shots.  Breathtaking!

My first moment of pure golf joy came on an uncomplicated par-4 on the front 9, which I made far more difficult than it should have been with a miserable tee-shot.  The ball started well enough off the tee but veered off into the right rough (not following through again -- my recurring sin) where the ball nestled behind a small sapling, just daring me to try one of my trick shots to get back in the short grass.   So I grabbed my faithful get-out-of-jail-free hybrid and tried to angle around the sapling and get into the beloved short grass.  The shot was too strong.  Going in the intended direction (angling at about 45 degrees toward the green), my ball skimmed over the short grass and came to rest in the left rough, about 30 yards short of the green but with a straight path to the pin, bunkers safely right and left.  My faithful flop shot veered right (whoops -- not following through, again), heading for the bunker that had been well out of my path to the target when I stood behind the ball and envisioned the shot.  Fortunately, I mis-hit the ball and it came to rest on the putting fringe, just beside that threatening bunker.  Resigned to another bogie, hoping to get close enough for a tap-in, I lined up my putt (uphill, slight break to the left).  I like to envision my putter as a small paint brush, drawing a delicate stroke from my ball to the cup (thereby correcting my chronic follow-through issue); and so I set up the putt with my paint brush image, stroked the ball, and watched it begin its roll: over the bump from the fringe onto the green, across a small hill that would probably tilt it a bit left, up the hill and, to my complete astonishment, make a perfect left turn at exactly the right point on its track, and drop into the cup.   A breathtaking experience!

There was a long dry spell then of routine-to-slightly disappointing golf, until I teed off on the par-3 12th hole.  My shot went right (and we all know what's causing this issue) and came to rest on a steep hill, about 30 yards from the green, about 20 yards above the green, which was protected by a bunker that curls from front to back and just loves to snag my balls.  Time for the faithful flop shot.  Ball above my feet.  Adjust slightly to the left.  Execute the shot.  FOLLOW THROUGH!!!  Seemingly in slow motion, my beautiful, faithful, obedient ball soared upward, came to its apex, and dropped straight as an arrow toward the pin.    No roll.  How did I manage that?  Stick. Tap-in for par.  I was breathless!

Then, on the 18th hole, I had another moment of perfection.  My tee shot went right (no surprise there) and I faced another trick shot with my trusty hybrid, which send the ball down the hill, over a water drainage ditch hazard, underneath a thicket of low-handing branches dripping with leaves, and onto the short grass about 135 yards from an uphill green.  I am old. It was the end of the round. I was tired.  And so I decided to club up from my hybrid to my 5-wood.   Fairway sloping to the right.  Make a slight alignment adjustment to accommodate. Take away. Contact.  Follow through! My ball took off like a rocket, directly toward the pin, no drift to the right, hit the ground in front of the green, as planned, began its roll uphill, too much steam, passed the pin, climbed uphill crossing the green, and came to rest in the 2nd cut on the fringe.  I three-putted and ended the hole and the round with a double bogie, which did not tarnish the bright pleasure of that third shot.

I balanced out my round with a couple of breakdown holes -- triple and quadruple bogies -- and a fairly sickening 4-putt when I completely lost my focus, so my scorecard didn't reflect my triumphant perfect shots.  But if I'm going to enjoy my round I need to store and savor bright, clear moments such as these and let all those other flawed and failed efforts float off into the dark recesses of forgottenness.

"That's just golf," Pat McCutcheon reminds me.  "It's a humbling game."