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Friday, December 27, 2013

Wes & Me: In the Zone

Santa deposited all variety of golf paraphernalia at my house.  He probably had to outsource the golf stuff, if the rest of the world's golfers were gifted the way Wes and I were gifted.  I now have the coveted red leather shoes with royal blue soles that have preoccupied me for months, and a red and white glove to complement.  Wes owns a snazzy golf bag umbrella that's going to serve him well during California's rainy season, although getting it past the TSA security check will involve some challenges.  We both have lots of new balls from non-golfing friends and family, some of them with loving and creatively embossed inspirational messages. Thankfully, neither of us found a new ball marker in our stocking!

But my best gift of all was a 2-round continuation of our ongoing, endless match play competition with Wes.  I won't keep you in suspense.  I won the Christmas Eve match and while most Americans were shopping we halved the Day-After-Christmas match.  So, there's another dollar is on my refrigerator door!

However, that's not the whole of the story.  Winning or losing a round of golf is never the whole of the story.

Wes keeps a set of clubs at my house (as I do at his), but when he rolled into my driveway on the 23rd with his California clubs in a hard case I knew things had gotten serious.  The smack talk had been going strong for weeks, but there's always smack talk leading up to these events.

You don't stand a chance, Mom, he told me on Google Hangout one night during the first week in December.  I shot 85 today and fired off 3 birdies.

Oh?  And you're telling me you actually managed to make a putt? I smacked right back.  With 3 birdies I'd expect you to card a 78.  What happened?  Too many triples?

Then a few days later, a text from him.  Don't forget to run by the ATM machine while you're shopping.  You're going to need some cash when we finish our round.

And so it went, back and forth for a couple of weeks, using various IT venues to strike fear in each others' hearts.   Frankly, I'd be completely upended by this sort of exchange with any of my other regular golf partners, but with Wes it's so much a part of our routine that the only people affected are the bystanders.  My grandchildren, Wes's son Devin and Charlie's daughter Reilly, have some difficulty understanding how we can sustain these apparently vitriolic exchanges over time and space, laughing as we fire one-liners back and forth.  But neither of them is a golfer.  How could they possibly understand the blending of love and pure competition that has fueled our relationship for almost half a century?  How could they understand the pure bliss of being in the zone with your son?

I haven't beaten you for more than a year, he explained as he started unloading.  This is it.  I brought the bad boys!

The blades his grandfather gave him apparently didn't provide enough of an advantage.  The "Bad Boys" are his Ping driver and 3-wood he sometimes uses for putting when he has the yips.  I smirked.  Wes had the yips.  I had my new Taylor-Made Spider that's been putting beautifully.

You're a dead man, I whispered in his ear as I hugged him hello.

A round of golf on Christmas Eve with the son I taught to play, the son who lured me back to the game after a 30-year hiatus, was nothing short of exquisite.

After 2 days of torrential rain conditions were a bit soggy in the low-lying areas but overall the course was playable.   We decided to play lift, clean, and place to accommodate the patches of standing water, and I reminded Wes of the "Roots & Rocks" local rule at Star Fort, in place to avoid injuring bodies and equipment.  The rule review completed, we drew the curtain on the outside world of holiday hustle and bustle and teed off.

I struggled through the front 9 and Wes played very well.  I couldn't get my rhythm and he couldn't do anything wrong.  His drives were long and straight.  Mine dribbled off the tees and wobbled into the fairway, classic little old lady drives.  But for us the smack talk ends with the 1st tee shot.  Wes said nothing.

His putts were true.  Mine were off by just a fraction.  If I'm going to stay competitive I need to get up and down because Wes can easily out-drive me and out-shoot me from the fairway.  At the turn I was down 4.  Then, after a pit stop and a package of toasty peanut butter crackers, washed down with some hot green tea from the golf thermos, I kicked into gear, started making putts and winning back holes.  A birdie on 12 demoralized him into a 4-putt and by 13 we were all square.  I had him on the ropes and didn't let up.  The first match was mine!

To our dismay, although the sun was out and the course getting drier by the minute, it was closed and the 2nd match had to wait until the 26th.  Wes needed an early tee time because he had an 8-hour drive and a social commitment at the end of the day.  So, despite frigid temperatures -- just above freezing -- we had a 9 o'clock tee time.  He hadn't brought a base layer so I loaned him one of my long-sleeved wool undershirts, and I even pulled on my silk long-johns.  We fortified ourselves with big bowls of oatmeal with chopped fruit and another thermos of green tea and set off for the 2nd match, running late, with no time to warm up.

Let's take 2 off the 1st tee, I suggested as we stood swinging our drivers.  We both needed that 2nd opportunity.

It was a rough start.  We halved the first two holes, but then I kicked into gear.  Or more accurately, my putter started working better than his 3-wood.  This time it Wes who was down 4 at the turn, and he really had the yips.  Munching on another toasty peanut butter cracker, I just knew I was going to make it 2 in a row.

It didn't happen that way.  I sent 2 putts wide, sliding past the hole on 10 and 11 and Wes got back 2 holes.  Then he got back another hole on 14 and again on 16.  Standing on the 17th tee box, we were all square.  It's a short par-4, an easy par for me if I focus, but also an easy birdie, or even an eagle for Wes, whose drive is so much more powerful than mine.  I focused but so did he, and we halved it.

And then, looking at #18, I felt real despair.  This is a long, uphill part-4 with a bit of a dogleg around a cluster of trees and a pond.  I always count myself fortunate if I bogey the hole.  Wes has the capacity to drive beyond the trees and the pond and have a straight 2nd shot to the green.  I have to go left on my drive to avoid the trees and the pond, and then can't get to the green on my 2nd shot.  Wes hit a perfect drive that arced over the trees and landed in the center of the fairway, exactly as I'd anticipated.

I didn't line up properly and my drive ended up in the trees, on the side of the hill, with the pond to my right.  Then I got lucky.  If I was going to have a chance, I had to take a shot through the trees, keeping the ball low to get under some branches, but lofted enough to get it up the hill and close to the green.  My 3-wood behaved.  I took the shot, ball above my feet, and ended up sitting about 5 feet off a green that slopes to the back.

Wes's 2nd shot went off the back of the green and into the rough.  We were both lying 2 off the green.  Wes was closer to the pin but I have a better short game and he still had the yips.  I chipped up close to the pin.  He chipped past the pin.  Now we were both putting downhill.

I might as well give it to you, he sighed.  You haven't missed one from that distance yet.

But the putt was too far for a gimme and I did miss it, and we halved the hole and the match.

These round of golf we share are so very precious.  We did more than play golf.  We discussed family financial matters, shared our concerns about the intimate parts of our separate lives, caught up on family gossip.  I got some feedback about some property issues.  Wes got some feedback about professional decisions and dilemmas.  We talked about the challenges of parenting, the bonds of responsibility and obligation between parent and child.  We covered a great deal of ground during those 36 holes of golf.

I'll get that dollar back next time, Mom, Wes growled as he tossed my clubs into the back of the car.

You don't stand a chance, I growled back.  You can't putt.

And so it goes. . .