July 25, 2006 - Played 18 holes at Prairie Landing after work tonight. Let's just say it was a memorable round. Check out the blow-by-blow below.
3:56 PM: At work in Chicago on a conference call that seems like it's going to go well past its scheduled 4:00 PM completion. I have to leave in the next 2 minutes to have any chance of catching the 4:11 train and any chance of getting in 18 before dark.
4:04 PM: Conference call ends mercifully. Looks like it's the 5:04 train and nine holes for me.
4:05 PM: I hate playing nine holers. They prove nothing. Maybe I can make that train after all. Bolt for the elevators, head outside and grab a cab. Thankfully, I got the rastafarian Mario Andretti and we're off like a bolt of lightning. He weaves in and out of lanes, blasts through really, really stale yellow lights and somehow manages to cover six blocks in less than two minutes.
4:09 PM: In front of the Oglivie Transportation Center. I dash out of the cab and up the escalators. I make the train with a minute to spare. Thanks, Mario.
4:35 PM: Reading about 17 year old LPGA pro Morgan Pressel in ESPN Magazine. I recollect about the time two years ago when I was hitting at the range right next to her at Pinehurst, right before she was about to wax somebody to win the North and South Amateur. Can't help but think that I was hitting the ball better than she was, but man I wouldn't want any piece of her. She'd tear you limb from limb and have fun doing it. What a bulldog. She played in the US Womens Open at age 12. Here I am standing next to a 16-year old girl and I'm about to wet my pants. And one year after Pinehurst she nearly goes out and wins the Womens Open. Good article. Good feelings thinking about Pinehurst. It's all good.
5:20 PM: Arrive at Prairie Landing. Put my bag down by the first tee and head up to the pro shop to check-in. There's a couple teeing off, but it looks pretty open out there.
5:25 PM: Check in and head back to the first tee. Couple is on the first green but a different twosome is on the tee and a single walker puts his bag down by mine right before I get there. The twosome is pretty scary looking, two guys who somehow time-warped from the 1980's and ended up teeing off in front of me. Golfer #1: Blond mullett with red t-shirt. Golfer #2: Brown mullett with light blue tank top. Brown mullett has one of those swings where the front leg swings wide open and around on the downswing. Doesn't look good. Not to mention that I have this other single to deal with. I know he's aiming to pair up, but that would kill my chances at 18.
5:30 PM: Kill time chipping on the adjacent putting green. Once the coast is clear, I walk towards the single and pull an all-time Jedi Mind Trick.
Obi-Wan: You playing 18 or 9? (*waves hand* You will say 9)
Stormtrooper: 9. Are you playing 18?
Obi: I'm going to try to. Do you mind if I go ahead? If we pair up, we'll never get past these guys and we'll never finish. It's pretty wide open ahead of them.
Storm: You can go ahead.
The funny thing is I quickly tee off, start heading down the fairway and look over and the guy was heading for the parking lot! Although I would've been out of the way in 5 minutes, he was so flustered (and perhaps had only a vague recollection of what just transpired), that he just headed home. These aren't the droids you're looking for.
DIARY OF A GOLFER, PART TWO
AKA DIARY OF A CHOKE ARTIST
[Props to Clooney and my Dad who were the only ones who caught the Verbal reference. He's Kevin Spacey's character from the Usual Suspects. Way to go, Big Dogg! Not bad for a guy who just turned sixty last week.]
Well, let’s just say that the chances of Disney picking up the movie rights to this story are pretty slim. Even if I was an impoverished ex-caddie from the hood who makes good, the ending leaves a little to be desired. If only I had also overcome improbable odds or racial discrimination (preferably both), then maybe we'd be on to something. (Come to think of it...I am an impoverished ex-caddie from the hood. Somebody call Bruckheimer! East siii-ide 4 life, fool!)
|11th Hole - Par 4, 366 Yards|
Number 11 is a lay-up hole off the tee, swamp all the way down the right and through the fairway, but just get it out to the fairway and you’ve got a decent birdie opportunity. I opt for three iron and play it safe down the left side. It clips the top of this big tree on the left but it only takes a little off it. Ends up in the fairway but further back than I’d like to be. 150 to the middle, pin back left and into a right-to-left cross wind.
I’ve never been in this position before so I’m definitely feeling the heat. One thing I quickly learn about pressure is it affects key decision making. I’m stuck between eight iron and nine iron and I opt for the eight. I didn’t want to overswing on the nine and hook it…anything headed right bounds towards the water.
The second think I quickly learned about pressure is the role of adrenaline. I hit a solid shot down the left edge of the green. I’m yelling at the ball to get on the green because it’s teetering close to the left-hand bunker, only I didn’t realize until it came down that it completely airmailed the green. It wasn’t even close. My ball ended up on this mound above the hole, a downhill chip with the green running away with no green to work with. In other words, dead on arrival. I try my best to fluff one off the fringe but it still takes off down the slope and a good 40 feet past the hole. I try to hard to make the par putt and leave myself with a downhill three and half footer that I lip out. The dream is over. DOUBLE BOGEY. TWO UNDER. Total time in my life spent at four under par: 9 minutes, 6 seconds
|12th Hole - Par 3, 218 Yards|
The good news is I’ve just doubled a relatively benign hole and now I’ve got the toughest hole on the course up next. This hole is my personal nemesis. 218 yards all carry over water. Usually into the wind, as it is today. Last year I went through a month long stretch where I just couldn’t keep my ball dry. I would’ve been better off skipping the hole and writing down a ‘5’, at least it would’ve saved me a pro V. This year has been a little better, although I did have an ‘incident’ with this hole during a recent round with Jefe. I was cruising along pretty well until this hole and the topic of ‘little people’ (that’s not the term we used) came up while we were waiting for the green to clear. Apparently I must’ve said something to offend the karma gods because I promptly bounced a ball off the rocks and into the water to make triple. I ended up shooting three-over that day. Let’s just say I learned my lesson.
The other thing of note from that round was that was the first time I had hit my new four iron. As you may recalled, I retired my old one that got me my ace, played the first half of the summer without one (until I realized the hard way that yeah, bonehead, it’s kind of important to carry a four iron. Especially at Prairie Landing where a lot of the par 3’s play to that distance). So I finally got one, but instead of the identical Mizuno MP-30 that I had, I got a new Mizuno MP-60 (with the hopes of demoing the new line for a potential future upgrade). Beautiful club but little did I know that it would have a slightly different feel to it. Plus the lie angle was about 2 degrees off from the old one. Not major issues, but needless to say you don’t want to be pulling that thing out for the first time on a 218-yard shot over water.
So I faced pretty much the same situation again. I had to trust my swing and trust this new four iron. It worked out okay this time and I cleared the rocks, the water and the karma gods to the middle of the green. The pin was back left so I still had my work cut out for me but managed the two putt. PAR, TWO UNDER.
|13th Hole – Par 5, 570 yards|
A true three shot par five playing into the wind. Another hole where it just doesn’t suit my eye off the tee. There’s a lot of room left but trees line the whole left side of the hole. Nearly everbody, myself included, bails out to the right. Maybe the tee boxes are aimed that way or something. But I will myself to start it down the left side and it does just that. A little too far left for comfort but it flies the bunkers and ends up safe. The bad news is you have to bomb it about 340 just to have any business even thinking about going for it in two (I’ve only done it once), as there’s a creek that bisects the hole about 100 yards short of the green. I play a boring seven iron approach shot to the end of the fairway and have a good angle to the back, back left hole location. The pin is almost never back there and it’s a tricky one with the wind. The green is narrow back there and left is dead and right is Hasselhoff if you try to carry it that far. Somehow I put a good swing on a pitching wedge and it flies right over the flag about seven feet past the hole. The putt is pretty routine and I roll it in. Fourth BIRDIE of the day to go to THREE UNDER. He is now back!
Wow, three under par with five holes to play. Just four days ago I entered the Golf Digest Beat Your Best Score Challenge which tracks your progress and offers tips to beat your career score. Mine is a 71 that I shot on my honeymoon. My goal for the year upfront was to hopefully put it all together and shoot at least one 71. Not a ridiculous objective. And as of right now, it’s looking like a very good possibility, and perhaps a little conservative. I’m guessing Golf Digest would run with a story of a dude who entered in his objective, took note of all of the timely and helpful tips and blew by his personal best in just four days.
14th Hole – Par 3, 176 yards (aka Jimbo Tang’s hole-in-one hole)|
I reach the 14th tee only to find a foursome on the green. Not exactly what I need right now with my mojo going full bore. These guys were on the 13th tee as I was hitting my shot from the 10th fairway. So they played exactly one hole in the time that I played three and a half, and I was taking my sweet time trying to keep my heart from leaping directly out of my chest.
No. 14 is the only short par three on the course and another one that used to drive me batty last year. The pin is about five paces from the front and in my opinion it’s the hardest hole location. It’s only playing about 155, but the green is only about 7-8 yards wide at the front. I have to start the ball over the swamp on the left in order to hit the green. It’s easy to bail out right, which is probably why they have five treacherous bunkers there. I hit a solid eight iron but it hooks into the front right bunker.
Now, I’m the first to admit that I’m not the strongest bunker player in the world, but I have worked on it and things have improved dramatically. I have six sand saves on the year and if I had any last year it was because of some fluke. Still, I want no part of trying to get too cute with this one, since there’s so little room to work with. I bail out a little bit right and hit a very good bunker shot that gives me a 15-footer for par. The putt looks good and is on line, but slides by on the high side. BOGEY. TWO UNDER PAR
|15th Hole – Par 4, 374 yards|
One thing that I have failed to mention is that it is getting dark. I hit the tenth tee at about 7:05 PM, so it’s probably about 7:45 PM right now. The streetlamps lining the entrance to the club are on, and that’s definitely not a good sign. The dude’s in front are feeling the pressure to get done before dark, so they’re reluctant to let me play through. Again no response using the international sign, so I had to take it to Defcon 2 again. I’ve never had this much problem playing through before.
Right now I'm feeling like a pitcher who's got a no-hitter going into the seventh. Minimal human contact is the best approach to take. I rather avoid these guys altogether but thankfully they finally relent. Normally I'm the king of bombing one when I'm playing through a group, but my swing tempo finds a new all-time high and I yank my drive right of right. Wow was this thing right. There's some mounds of fescue interspersed with open areas right of the hole and thankfully I'm in one of the open areas. But I have about 175 to the flag and a blind shot. I walk up to figure out where the hole is, pick my spot to aim, hit seven iron and hope. Pretty solid shot, looks good, did I pick the right line? it felt like it might be long. I hurry up towards the green, see a ball on the green...is it mine or one of the guys in the group I'm playing through?
Confirmation...it is my ball! I'm about 20 feet from the hole pin-high to the left. What a break. I hurriedly pull the pin and read the green. Have a go at it and it looks good but finishes inches away on the low side. I'll take PAR. TWO UNDER PAR.
|16th Hole – Par 4, 440 yards|
Sixteen is another brutally tough hole that generally always plays into the wind. They have the tees up because they're doing some work on the back tee box. Normally, I would consider this a good thing, but I don't adjust for it off the tee and hit my normal shot. Unfortunately because of the extra yardage it completely airmails the fairway and ends up in the tall stuff right of the hole. Wow, I've never even seen this part of the course before. Usually a good drive gets up to about 150 going in, but now I've got a nasty lie less than 100 yards to the hole. Tough break. It takes everything I got just to advance the ball another 30 yards. Then I hit a nice lob wedge to give me a decent 10-footer for par. My putt looks good but agonizingly lips out on the high side. Oh the horror! BOGEY. ONE UNDER PAR.
|17th Hole – Par 3, 224 yards (aka Jim's hole in one hole)|
Obviously, number 17 is my favorite hole on the course because this is where I made my ace. I consider this hole to be one of my closest friends, but apparently the feeling is not mutual. Like an ex-girlfriend that dumped you but you keep calling, pleading for her to take you back, ever since the ace she keeps hanging up on me. No. 17, I feel like I don't know you anymore! I'm haunted by the kiss you should've never given me. Well, now it's personal. My swing gets even faster than the one on #15 and I duck hook a 5-iron to about 40 yards short of the green. Think Calc on the 17th at the Ryder Cup at Kiawah. Or Shark at the 16th at the 1996 Masters. So this is what choking feels like? Until now, I never knew what bile tasted like. In the Golf Digest tips, I never saw anything about 'what to do when you're throwing up all over yourself'. BOGEY. EVEN PAR.
|18th Hole – Par 5, 570 yards|
The dream is over. Or is it? All hope is not lost. I knew if I could just get it to #18 I would have a decent shot of posting a number. I've eagle #18 three times and probably birdie it about 40% of the time, although it's not nearly as easy as No. 4 because double is always a possibility here. You still have to carry your second shot about 200 yards over water. I realized a while ago that the hole is about 60 yards shorter if you actually carry it down the ninth fairway (probably something that is frowned upon, but there was no one on the front. Hey, I didn't design the hole, I just play it). It's actually pretty clear from the aerial picture. But you still have to hit a great tee shot...aiming it far, far left off the tee over some trees and get it to fade (much easier said than done). So I take a deep breath, try to remember my swing thoughts from my new swing and fire away. Lo and behold, it's on the right line, high, and it's fading. The perfect tee shot for this hole. Yes!
When you're going left, you never quite know for sure if it's far enough left to get over to the ninth fairway. I traipse up and down the mound separating the two holes and spot a ball in the fairway. Sweet! I hit the ball about 330 and it looks like it's nothing more than a short iron to the pin. But herein lies the second problem with this strategy. Try finding a decent yardage when you're on the wrong hole. Well that's not a problem if you're taking a cart because of the GPS, but that's not doing me a whole lot of good right now. I think about calling the group in front of me over when they finish to give me a read, but I'm not 100% sure if that's even allowable. I actually made my own yardage book for Prairie Landing primarily to help with this hole, but right now it's sitting on my desk at home. So I'm trying to remember the yardage from when I was in the bunker and hit three iron from 225 yards to make eagle. I'm at least another 50 yards past that. What I wouldn't give for one of those laser yardage thingies right now.
So I opt for a nine iron, hit and hope. Now if this were a Shakespearean tragedy, my ball would probably hit one of the planks surrounding the pond, bounce in the water, followed by me slamming the club into the ground, having the shaft break and fly up in stab me in the jugular (this has actually happened on the course, so watch those temper tantrums). Nine iron is clearly not the right club, but it manages to clear the water right of the hole and end up on the front fringe. If I had hit it straight, the Shakepeare would've been a real possibility.
I'm on the front fringe facing sixty uphill feet to possible Red Glory. I scope out the line (yes, it's uphill), take a couple spastic waggles and have a go of it. Looks good but the slope kills it and it ends up six feet short.
Six freakin' feet to shoot 71. Just the mere thought of putting myself into this position sends chills down my spine. It's too dark to read the green but I try anyways. Looks like it might go a little left at the end so i aim right edge. Think to myself, 'here goes nothing' and let it fly. Well the good news is that I hit a good putt on the intended line. The bad news is the putt was dead straight. Dead straight uphill six footer and I play it right edge. The putt still has a chance but violently spins out ninety degrees to the left. The vision of this lipout will haunt me to end of my days. PAR. EVEN PAR 72. IN in 38.
I am the first to admit that I'm a full-fledged choke artist. The first words out of my mouth when calling Jefe are not 'Hey, I shot just shot a 72!', but 'Man, I totally blew it!' On some small level, now I know what Phil feels like. And that is the great thing about golf. It's all relative. If you're a pro trying to make par to win the open, a 3 'capper trying to keep it together, or a hacker trying to break 100 for the first time, you're still fighting that feeling of having your insides migrate up to your throat. We've all been there.
However, I'm optimistic that I learned from the experience. So next time it happens it won't be the first time. One thing I realized is that you can't get two hung up on how well you're doing. 'Oh my gosh, I'm four under par!' is never a good thought to have. You can't ignore it, you just have to play through it. Also, you have to keep yourself from moving too far ahead. On no. 5, I was thinking to myself, 'If I make this putt, I can get to two under, then if i par 6, par 7, etc...I can shoot 69.' My advice to you is...don't do that. Something I read in some magazine or forum was, 'when you get to one under, only think about what you need to do to get to two under. When you get to two under, only think about you need to do to get to three under', etc. In other words, just keep pouring it on (until you need to make par on the final hole, then play it safe). This is probably the exact thing that kept Sergio from beating Tiger last week (other than the fact that Tiger would've probably shot whatever he needed to shoot in order to win.)
If anything, I'm thinking my goal of shooting 71 this summer may be a little short-sided. There's really no reason why I can't go lower. Will it happen? Who knows. I could just as likely follow up my 72 with a 82 (which by the way, is exactly what happened. Ugh.) But that's the crazy thing about golf. And that's the reason we play this maddening sport.