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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Real Life Trumps Family Golf

I'd planned to write a post tonight that reported the outcome of the first in our planned 3-match Thanksgiving series.  Travel plans were made.  Golf clubs were packed.  Smack talk had started.  Then things fell apart on the West Coast, and there was much reconfiguring and changing and adjusting.

We all agreed.  The needs of children in crisis trump the Thanksgiving Match Play series.

So I am at Wild Dunes on Isle of Palms, South Carolina and Wes, my favorite golf competitor, is in California, and there will be no annual Thanksgiving Match Play series this year.

Still, I woke up this morning and knew that the golf course was waiting.  So with the wind blowing near gale-force out of the northwest and the temperature dropping by the hour, I teed off today alone.  I couldn't stay away from the course but I had absolutely no desire to join anyone else who was hardy enough to hit the links.

I wanted to play a round in solitude, to savor the memories of past rounds of family golf, to reflect on the circumstances that fueled this abrupt change in plans, to allow myself some time to reach out spiritually to grandchildren not here this year.   The golf course gave me the time and space to do this work.

Reilly and Me and a Bit of Winter Beach Play
I played a good game today, shot 92, which is a very respectable score for me, particularly on the Harbor Course.  Actually, I surprised myself, all bundled up against the wind and the chill.  My septuagenarian body and my twenty-something soul labored as one.  My balls flew straight.  My putts rolled true, even on those tricky greens Tom Fazio designed to befuddle and frustrate.

I struggled a bit through the front 9, ended up shooting 50, with 2 triple bogeys.  That's not the worst number I've ever put on my card, but it's not the best either.   Nothing wrong with my putting.  I was swinging too fast off the tee and on the fairway, and had to have a little talk with myself about slowing down my swing.  Then I made the turn and got my rhythm.

I let my memory drift back to last year's round on the Harbor Course, and to a moment on the 14th hole when we encountered the snoozing alligator.  Like this year, it was chilly, but the sun was shining brightly and 15-foot 'gator was taking a nap along the left side of the fairway.  Wes hit his tee shot a little left and it came to rest perilously close to the napper.  Reilly, my granddaughter who does not play golf but who was keeping me company, was drawn to the 'gator and decided to accompany her uncle to the left side of the fairway so she could get a closer look.  I resisted ordering everybody into the carts and watched, as uncle and niece, son and granddaughter, had their small adventure.  It was over in a matter of minutes and we were safely on our way down the fairway and onto the green.  Today I took a minute on the 14th fairway to call up that moment, and replay it, and cherish it.

I'm allowed to miss these people I love who aren't with me this year.

The par-3 16th hole on the Harbor Course is a bit of a challenge.  Well, quite honestly, all of the par-3s are a bit of a challenge.  The 16th is a big challenge.  It's 125 yards from tee to green, which is not a great distance, even for short shooters like me.  I just use a bit more club than the youngsters.  The challenge is that the shot is all carry.  There's nothing between the tee box and the green except a canal that flows from northwest to southeast, and then on into the Gulf Stream; and today the wind was screaming down the canal at about 25 mph, creating a scary cross-wind.

I stood on the tee box and reflected, decided to use my 5-wood -- a bit much club, but I wanted to ensure that my ball got across the water.  I hit my tee shot as perfectly as I've ever hit a tee shot and watched as it soared up over the canal.  I'd aimed a little bit left to account for the wind, and that worked.  My ball came down right about in the center of the green, then rolled -- uphill, away from the water -- to the back edge, maybe 6" into the 2nd cut.  That's just about the best tee shot I've ever had on the 16th hole.

I hopped in my cart, skittered across the bridge, got parked under a big live oak, and pulled out my putter and my pitching wedge.  The cup was on the front today.  I had a long downhill chip on a wet green, but I was still playing with the same ball, and that's always cause for rejoicing on a water hole.  So I lined it up, gave the club a couple of practice swings, decided I needed to land the ball about half-way to the cup in order to get enough roll, and fired.  It was perfect, a chip-in for birdie!

I finished my round without any disasters and could hardly wait to get back to the house and email Wes.  His response? He's now threatening to take away my match play shots and make me play for even strokes.  It doesn't pay to brag!

Will I golf again tomorrow? Probably.  The weather isn't promising, but I am so grateful to be able to play a round of golf.  I know there will come a time when I won't be physically able to play 18 holes.  That time isn't here yet.  I'll have another round, with or without company, but I have a large family who is playing alongside me this year, even in their absence.