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Monday, May 20, 2013

This Isn't Science

Perhaps it's because in terms of gross yardage from the tee box to the green par 3s are short little events, I expect them to be quick and easy.  Surely anybody who steps onto a golf course should be able to hit the ball 80 or 90 yards, I tell myself over and over (generally when I walk off a par 3 green with a double or triple bogie).  Even the weakest little-old-lady tee shot will travel that distance, and more, when squarely struck.

You have probably already anticipated that par-3s are too often my undoing.  I hit right, I hit left, I'm in the sand, I'm in the woods.  I am not on the green.  I'm in the 2nd cut, at the top of a steeply sloped green and the cup is on the front, at the bottom of a what could easily be used as a beginner's ski slope in winter.

I frequently talk to my ball while I'm walking up to a par 3 tee box.  "Ok you rascal, get it right this time," I beg.  Then I threaten, "Get it right or you're going to a dark place." The bottom of my bag.

There's little room for error on the par 3s -- no broad fairway that will accommodate the accidental results of a slightly open club face and still give me the opportunity recover with a decent 2nd shot -- only a tee box, some protective bunkers, often a nasty rough where balls hide forever, and greens designed by sadists.  I have trouble approaching par 3s with confidence.

The exception is the par 3 #4 hole at Indian Valley, Wes's home club in Novato, California.  I play that course at least twice a year and so while I'm familiar with the hole, it's challenges are are a bit different from my usual par 3 problems.  Simply put, I love to play that hole, not because I play it well but because it has become a barometer of how I'm striking the ball with my irons.  And, oddly, because I"m thinking about my irons -- well, actually, I'm thinking about club selection --  as I approach the hole, I'm not worrying about direction.  I believe I already have that issue under control, if past performance predicts future performance.  The result seems to be that no matter how far my ball travels on the #4 par 3 at Indian Valley, it makes it's trip in a straight direction!

There are 96 yards from the forward tees to the center of the green, and there are no substantive obstructions.  It's a simple straight shot, off a small cliff.  (California golf courses seem to have many cliffs!  South Carolina  courses tend to have hills, not cliffs.)  Still, the #4 is billed as the easiest hole at Indian Valley.

For me the challenge -- since I'm not fretting about hitting the ball straight and avoiding the big trees on the left, the nasty rough that rolls down the hill below the cliff, to the right of the fairway, and the little bunker to the right of the green -- has always been club choice.  How much club do I need to fly the ball 96 yards, downhill?  Each time I play the hole, the answer to that question has changed.

The first time I played the hole I used my 6 iron to cover the distance, then the following year my ability to use my irons had improved and I used my 7, and then, after another year or two of practice and improvement, my 8 iron did the job.  If I play the course this summer, I'll let my 9 take a crack at it.

My game isn't static.  It evolves and changes -- not always for the better -- and I'm required to make adjustments, in club selection, in the way I stand to address the ball, in the way I grip my club.   I have favorite clubs, clubs I'm still working with and trying to figure out, and clubs that live more or less permanently in the trunk of my car.  A club that worked yesterday won't necessarily perform tomorrow. This, for me, a part of the allure of golf.  Club selection is a mystique, not a science; and my decision to use one club rather than another is grounded in a tricky equation that balances intuition, gut feeling, a realistic appraisal of what I'm fairly confident I can do with the next shot, and faith that a given club will perform at the moment of impact.

Once, shortly after I came back to the game, I was facing an uphill approach shot over a bunker onto a two-tiered green that today probably wouldn't cause the knee-knocking paralysis I experienced that day.  I was sharing a cart with Alma, who has played golf forever and who, enviably, gets her balls and clubs to perform properly most of the time.   Knowing I shouldn't, I asked her anyway what club I should use.

She regarded the distance I had to go to get to the green, and said, "Use the lofted one you can hit about 130 yards today."

That's about right.  Thank you, Alma.