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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Ace!

I'd predict that everybody who's ever had one knows immediately what this photo is depicting!  Am I right?

I remember everything about this shot!  I remember that I was playing with Pat and Teenie that day, and that I'd played the first 3 holes on the front 9 rather miserably.  I remember how helpless I felt when we drove away from the 3rd green and I had yet another double bogey on my score card.  And then, I experienced a golf miracle!


I remember confronting the par-3 4th hole at Star Fort with a sense of deep despair.  It's a devilish little hole.  The forward tee box is on the left side of a fairway that has an interesting slope to the right.  The green is protected by bunkers on both sides.  Those people foolish enough to shoot straight toward the neck of open access to the green between the two bunkers will watch in dismay as their ball either hits the green, races UPHILL and drops off the back of the green into the rough, where they'll be faced with a terrifying downhill chip just to get back into position, or hits in front of the green, makes a 60 degree turn to the right, and nestles into the right hand bunker, which has practically no lip in front and a huge cliff-like overhang along the green-side of the bunker.  On my best days, I take a deep breath and quietly petition the golf gods for mercy before I take on this hole.

I pulled my 11-wood out.  It's old and battered, and it's primary responsibility is to advance my ball from fairway bunkers.  But it also reliably hits 125 yards with good loft, and hit straight it would take my ball to the edge of the green, land it softly and, with luck, not much roll.  I gave it a couple of swings, dug around in my pocket for a purple Zero-Friction tee (purple is my lucky tee color), teed up and took my shot.

Then, without looking, because why would I look when I always send my ball too far left on this hole and end up using my trusty flop shot to get over the left side bunker and onto the green, I started walking back to the cart to stow my 11-wood and get my wedge and putter.

It went in the cup!  Your ball went in the cup," Teenie shouted.

How could my ball go in the cup? I asked her.  I can't even hit it straight today.

It's in the cup, Pat assured me.  I watched it go in!

Pat and Teenie are honorable women and wouldn't lie, but I didn't believe them until we walked onto the green together, all three of us, and together looked down into the cup.  There it sat!  I ran back to the cart, got my phone, snapped the photo, and texted it to Wes before I retrieved the ball and put it in my pocket.

After the round there was much fluttering among the Star Fort Ladies Golf Association because an Ace is a very big deal.  There were forms to complete and submit, certificates to be issued, drinks to be bought.  The aftermath is a bit of a blur, but the feeling of defeat replaced in the span of 5 heartbeats by astonishment and amazement and sheer delight is still very vivid in my memory.  I loved that transformation!

I think it must happen for everybody more or less the same way.  I watched Anna Nordqvist Ace the 17th hole at the 2013 Solheim, and I watched Caroline Hedwall's astonishment match Nordquist's in the same way that Pet and Teenie's matched mine.

I can't believe you just did that! Hedwall told Nordqvist with a grin as broad as the Mississippi River at the Delta.  And Nordqvist grinned right back.

Last month, while she was playing her way out of a demoralizing slump, Barb aced the 16th hole at Star Fort.  I watched it hit the green and roll right into the cup without even a tiny little wiggle on a green that generally lures golf balls into rolls that resemble drunken staggers.  The same astonishment, delightfully pleased disbelief followed the drop.  Holes-in-one are little golf miracles that restore to everyone who witnesses them our deep faith in the magic underlying the Game of Golf.

Jan Richardson's multiple Aces are just further proof, for me, that golf is in part an exercise in trust, in part unpredictable magic, and in part just plain good luck.  Jan's husband, Mike, had tied tragically and prematurely.  They were (and are) a golfing family, and so when Mike was cremated some of his cremains were put in 4 small containers and stored in Jan's golf bag and those of their 3 grown sons.  Mike got sprinkled every time one of them birdied a hole.  The sons live elsewhere, but plays regularly with the Star Fort Ladies Golf Association and so most of us were aware of the sprinkling plan, and some of us were co-conspirators.  The sprinkling went on for months.

When Libby expressed some concern that if he was scattered all over South Carolina, Texas, and Michigan, Mike might miss out on the Rapture, Jan didn't even pause to reflect.  She explained to Libby, The way I see it, God make Mike and God can put him back together again when the time comes.  

The sprinkling continued.

At first there were very few birdies.  Jan was so grief-stricken she could barely swing a club.  But over time her swing got stronger, and then there was a birdie here and there.  I've often reflected on how Jan passed through the stages of grief on the golf course, and I'm honored to have shared that process with her.

Toward the end of that painful year, as Jan approached the anniversary of Mike's death, she started making a lot of birdies.  There was more sprinkling, but she'd been frugal and some of began to privately speculate on how long this commemoration might go on.  Then Jan aced the 7th hole, and within a week she'd piled up 2 more aces.  It seemed like ever time she played a round of golf she had a hole-in-one.

Then the moment came when I knew Jan was ready to move on with her life.  She had yet another hole in one, walked back to her cart, fetched Mike from his special place in her golf bag, came back to the cup, and dumped the remaining cremains into the cup.  As had become our custom, we all stood quietly during this ritual.  As she finished, Jan looked down into the cup and said,  That's it, Mike.

Yet another little golf miracle.