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Monday, November 4, 2013

Good Company Trumps Slow Play

I don't know about your golf rounds but sometimes, for me, getting through the round is more about survival than about winning.

I once played a round in Palm Springs in July when it was so incredibly hot that the drink cart carried iced towels in a huge cooler and dispensed them without charge several time during the round.  We all survived that round although I'll not again play golf in a Palm Springs August.  Another time I finished a round in rain so heavy that my ball was making 6" rooster tails on every putt.  I survived that one too, and the one I played the day the dreaded 8th hole pond at Star Fort was frozen and my ball resembled a hockey puck as it bounced on the ice and careened up the fairway toward the green.

And then there are the rounds that involve emotional survival.  That's he way it was for Jason and me at Wild Dunes Sunday afternoon.

I was squeezing in a practice round so I'll be better prepared to take Wes to the cleaners at Thanksgiving.  I had some business in Charleston Monday and Tuesday, so it just made sense to drive down to the Low Country a day early and renew my relationship with the Harbor Course at Wild Dunes.  When it comes to these competitions with Wes, I need every advantage I can pull out of my bag.  My handicap just isn't enough.

I'll save for a later post an exploration of the psychosocial forces that drive this ongoing mother-son competition.

I had a late afternoon tee time at the end of a 4 hour drive, and I knew I'd be one of the last people off the 1st tee.  I also knew I'd be racing the sun.  Sunday was the first day of "fall back" and that meant sunset would come about 5:30.  But I figured that playing alone I'd have no difficulty racing the sun.  At least, that was the theory.

So I unloaded my clubs at the bag drop, parked my car, checked in, grabbed a sandwich and an apple at the snack bar, rolled a few putts on the practice green, and gave my ticket to the starter, knowing I'd just have to warm up my driver on the first couple of holes.

The fairway in front of me was wide open.  Miraculously, my first shot off the tee was straight as an arrow.  Good start.  I followed it with a straight 2nd shot, but a little short.  That's ok.  The 1st hole on the Harbor Course is a par 5.  I could make it up, and I did.  I walked off the green with a bogey, which is just fine for me, and moved on.

The 2nd fairway was open too, and so was the 3rd, although I could see people on the green.  And there was another single following me.  But the pace of play was steady and I played on, the sun still high, the wind light.  It was simply a glorious day for a round of golf.  What's not to enjoy?

By the 4th hole I'd caught up with the group in front, a foursome of junior golfers.  They were all stuck in a greenside bunker and they were taking turns flailing away at the sand without making any progress.  I stood on the tee box and watched, wondering if there would be any sand left in the bunker when they finally finished the hole.  And then I felt the rhythm of my round begin to drain from my body.

Finally the boys left the green, without raking the bunker, and it was finally my turn.  The sadly predictable happened.  I hit a tee shot that should have been an easy, straight 120 yards to the front of the green off the toe of my club and sent it into the pluff mud about 50 yards off to the right of the tee.

What is pluff mud?  Read for yourself.

One shot became 3 off the tee and, my concentration, rhythm, and confidence shaken, 2 putts became 3 as well, and I carded a triple bogey on a hole I've always parred every time I've played the Harbor Course.  Dagnabbit!

I found myself waiting again on the next tee, and the single playing behind me, who hadn't been undone by the delay on the previous hole, pulled up to the white tees behind me, and started waiting too.  Now, on top of feeling annoyed at the junior boys who were fooling around and frustrated with myself for allowing the boys to annoy me, I felt rushed by the guy lurking around on the white tees, waiting his turn.

I couldn't do anything about the boys, but I could do something about the lurker.  I walked back and invited him to join me.  My long-range plan, when he turned me down, was to invite him to play through, thereby putting him between me and the boys.

Sure, he responded to my invitation.  Why not?  No enthusiasm.

Out of the frying pan? I wondered.

We were a twosome.  His name is Jason.  He's local, about Wes's age.

We played 2 holes in silence.  Then I helped Jason find a ball.  Then Jason pulled the flag on the next green.  Then we complimented each other on good shots.  A golf friendship was forming.

I provided the Reader's Digest version of my life while we waited on the 10th tee for the boys to get on down the fairway.  Jason reciprocated when we waited on the 11th tee.

Golf friendships are based on golf.  Not much else is important or required.

With 6 holes remaining I asked Jason if he thought we'd finish before sunset.  He was confident we would.  Then we waited some more for the boys, who were getting slower as the day got longer.  The sun was low.  By the 14th hole I could feel the evening chill seeping up from the harbor that runs alongside most of the fairways.  I pulled a vest from my bag.

We finished the 18th hole in deep twilight with the traditional handshake.  By then I'd forgotten the irritation of the junior golfers, and learned, yet again, that good company trumps slow play.

I gave Jason my card and invited him to call over Thanksgiving week so we could play another round, this time with Wes.