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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Playing Favorites

I love challenges of all kinds, and for me the game of golf provides endless challenges, both physical and mental.  I've been trying to straighten out a short 130 yard shot with a new hybrid for 3 months.  It's gone left, it's gone right, it's gone straight but failed to fly, over and over and over.  I've adjusted my grip.  I've altered my stance.  I even had Zach, our pro, put a little luminescent orange dot on the club head to help me maintain a consistent point of contact.   Today I pull the pesky little hybrid out of my bag, closed my eyes, and let my imagination fly the ball toward the left forward corner of the green, where I knew it would bounce right and roll to the cup.  I  finally got it and birdied the #4 par-3 at Star Fort.  If you hadn't been playing with me regularly and enduring my anguish and suffering of the past three months, the shot would have appeared effortless.  I gave that club an extra little pat when I stuck it back in my bag and hoped we could both remember how it happened.

I have favorite favorite holes -- I suppose every golfer does -- and like my favorite clubs and golf courses, are the ones that present the greatest challenges.  There's always at least one on every course I've ever played.  Currently, The Links at Bodega Harbor is my favorite course and the #5 par-5 is my favorite hole.

Wes introduced me to Bodega the summer he dragged me back onto the golf course.  Carved from the Pacific Coast cliffs about an hours north of San Francisco, the views are simply magnificent in every direction.  The wind always blows, some times fiercely.  In the late afternoon the fog routinely rolls up up from Bodega Harbor onto the 15th fairway and 2nd shots tend to dissolve into a murky vapor on their way to the green.  I always take a wool sweater vest, even in August.  Every hole challenges a mediocre golfer like me.  I never tire of this course.  It's always on my Must Play list when I go to the Bay Area.

The first time I faced the fifth hole I contemplated it with terror: 422 yards from the forward tees to the green, a double dogleg par five that tees off from the top of hill and requires a shot of about 125 yards to a small plateau.  From that plateau the fairway doglegs right, leaps over a cliff, and descends rapidly for about 200 yards, with extreme rough on the right and an out-of-bounds cow pasture on the left.  A properly hit 2nd shot should put you in good position to hit the green in regulation, if it weren't for the still descending and undulating fairway, and three very deep, evil bunkers that have snatched my errant shots more times than I care to admit.  Oh, and the green is large, and it has many deceptive breaks and rolls, so the problems don't end when you start putting.  The flyover will give you a sense of the challenges.

I played this hole twice a year for 5 years and many, many times in my dreams before I was able to put a 5 on my scorecard.  First I had to master my fear of the right rough and figure out which club would take me from the tee box to that little plateau.  The mental part was more difficult than making that shot. Then I had to accept the fact that I wasn't going to be able to watch my ball once I hit it over the cliff on my 2nd shot, but I had to hit the thing anyway.  Another mental hurdle.  Hit and hope.  Then I had to become willing to really bear down on my third shot and do my best to fly the ball over those nasty bunkers.

"Mom, the ball won't break. Just hit it," Wes coached.

And finally, I had to decide to make my first putt with firm authority in order to minimize the undulations and breaks on the green.  I had to become the master of that hole mentally, one shot at a time, before I could master it physically.

I don't always par the 5th hole at Bodega, but now I know that I can, and that knowledge is very empowering.