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Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Bethel Wars, Summer 2014 Edition

These dollar bills just keep getting passed back
and forth, properly dated & tagged!
It's taken him two years to do it, but Wes has finally made a clean sweep of our most recent two-round series in the Bethel Wars!  He thoroughly enjoyed out-playing me and I had a terrific time getting out-played.  What more could be said about two rounds of golf with one's elder son in the sweltering heat and humidity of mid-summer in the Carolinas while Arthur was gathering strength just 200 miles to the east.

We played our first match at The Links at Stoney Point, the local club that hosted the Symetra Women's Health Classic in May and our second match at the Etowah Valley Golf Club in North Carolina.  I've been wanting to explore some of the nearby mountain golf options and Wes is always good for a road trip.

Let's go! he said with a grin on his face when I told him my favorite golf pro, Tommy Pendley, had recommended Etowah.

Stoney Point was one of those matches that went back and forth for 16 holes, with Wes up by one, then all square, then me up by one, then all square again.

We teed off into the early-morning misty fog that is part of what I love about living in the Carolinas, where morning begins slowly and gently.  I couldn't get ahead -- he was a tough competitor -- but he couldn't either, and we were having a lovely time.  The course was in wonderful condition and a pleasure to play.  Wes dumped a ball into the water hazard that guards the number 2 green and I felt guilty that I'd forgotten to warn him about the modifications to that hazard since he'd last play the course.  I apologized.

Then I hit into the lateral water hazard on number 4 and in a magnanimous filial moment he gave me a mulligan.  (We've always reserved the right to gift each other with mulligans from time-to-time -- it's part of our competitive tradition.)  For the purists among you, Wes took that hole.

We were all square when we left the 16th green and headed for 17, and this was going through my head:  I need to win 17 because 18 is a long par 5 and the best I can do is bogey it.  Wes, by far the longer 2nd shot hitter, is likely to get to the green in regulation.  We are both putting adequately but not making many up and downs, so I can't count on a miracle putt for me or a 3-putt from him.

Then we played the hole.  Wes hit a very sloppy tee shot on 17 and ended up in the right rough, just clear of the trees, with a long uphill shot to a very funky green.  I hit a nice crisp tee shot that made the edge of the green and stuck.  I was left with a fairly easy two-putt and could smell my par and his bogey.  But the putt needs to drop before you put the hole in your column.

Wes executed a beautiful, television-quality shot out of the rough, up the hill, and onto the green that he couldn't see, his ball sitting like a well-trained retriever with a duck in its mouth, about six inches from the cup.  I had a 20-foot uphill putt that was going to break hard to the left.  I didn't hit it.  I don't know what happened.  It went dribbled along for about ten feet and died.  Wes got the par. I got the bogey.  I was down by one going into the par-5 18th hole.

That hole didn't go as planned either, which is more or less the way the game of golf seems to unfold.  Wes hooked his tee shot and it ended up in the rough just above the lateral water hazard on the right. I hit a beautiful shot off the tee and my second shot was much better than average, so I was within easy reach of the green with my third shot.  There were no obstructions.  Wes fought his way out of the rough but didn't quite make the fairway and ended up facing a third shot from more rough.  I had him.  I could still end the round all square (we don't have sudden death playoffs in the Bethel Wars -- ties are allowed).  But the putt needs to drop before you put the hole in your column.

I sliced into the bunker.  Wes hit another television-quality approach shot. He got the par and I got the bogey and he claimed his first victory in more than two years.

Wes, Etowah Valley Golf Club Big Winner!
Then it was off to Etowah Valley, which is a very pleasant and very busy place, well worth the two hour drive.  There's always the flavor of adventure in taking on a new golf course, and we talked about the holes as we played them.  That's part of the pleasure of family golf matches.  Some of the conventions surrounding competition get suspended and collaboration often overlays and softens everybody's killer instinct.

During my physical therapy after my shoulder surgery, one of my goals was to regain enough strength to play two rounds of golf in two days, the minimum for a Bethel Wars session.  I'd given myself a test run in May at my club's two-day member-member tournament and was still very weak on the second day.  I redoubled my physical therapy efforts.  Wes was already on my calendar.

As we drove through the mountains yesterday morning I quietly fretted, hoped I'd improved enough to play a respectable round at Etowah Valley; and I had.  I didn't play a winning round, but I hit every fairway and kept pace with him.

Still, there are days when the best you have to give isn't enough to win, when the water hazards on South Course 4th and 5th holes loom much larger than they really are, when the hole keeps sliding fractionally to the left of your putting line, when your 3-wood begins to feel like an oversized sledge hammer and you have to club down in order to get a solid ball strike.  My round at Etowah Valley was such a day, but there was a consolation prize that surpassed any pleasure I might have extracted from a win.  I enjoyed a leisurely lunch with Wes after the round, who picked up the tab and issued the challenge for the next edition of the Bethel Wars: Phoenix at Thanksgiving.

I'll be ready!