I know I'm not the best golfer in this group of 64. Nor am I the youngest or most fit. But there's one advantage I had over my fellow hikers (besides freakishly long, skinny legs): EXPERIENCE. As a savvy soph-o-more, I figured I could school these newcomers. Caddying for the Flossmoor event only reaffirmed this notion, as I witnessed guys limping up the 16th hole in various stages of disrepair; to a man, all saying the experience was much more difficult (but more rewarding) than they had anticipated.
Experience definitely mattered. I burned around at a feverish pitch last year, but I knew there were ways to shave some time off those 1:35ish rounds. Practice swings? Who needs them. Putting? Hit and run. Golf bags? Audi 5000. I just brought 6-8 clubs and split them between the two caddies I had at any one time (swapped in and out throughout the day, but a combination of Nick, Tori, Shelby, Andrew, Ryan, Matt G, Duncan, Conrad, Mason, Chad and one player to be named later -- thanks to all of them).
The big revelation came while watching my buddy Jefe try to grind out pars and bogeys at Flossmoor. He's just wired that way and the speed golf to him is like oil and water. My thought was to take quality out of the equation and just play for bogey. Keep it in play, get it somewhere around the green in regulation, putt if possible (and even if less than possible, putt anyways), then just try to three-putt from wherever you are, on or off the green (a nice plus to hiking at Ballyneal). Swag a lag putt without thinking 2-8 feet from the hole, if the next one goes in, great. If not, just tap in and move on. Bad golf, played quickly. (I didn't realize it at the time, my Ballyneal compadre Rob Rigg took the concept to a greater extreme, aiming for double bogey on every hole and putting one handed to avoid bending down to put his Gatorade down. He started on the back nine and I never saw him all day. He ended up with 144 holes.)
|2nd tee shot in the fog, 4:44 AM|
True to form, my first round was as fast as it was mediocre. I teed off with 6-iron in a zero-visibility fog at 4:39 AM. We stumbled on the ball in the fairway, bumped it up where we thought the green might be, then made the first of 70 bogies. We couldn't see the ball in the air until the 5th hole (two balls were lost in the abyss or stolen by jackrabbits), but the morning round was an enjoyable walk in the proverbial dewy fescue park. By 18, it was blue skies and sunshine.
I completed the first three rounds in 1:24, 1:25 and 1:27 with a 87/85/86 that under any other circumstances would have me considering a trial separation with the game. Rather, I had completed 54 holes, usually an all-day affair, by 9:00 AM (okay, 9:01), probably before you finished your Monday morning Starbucks.
There was a dual motivation for finding that extra gear. Besides wanting to raise as much money and exposure as possible for Craig Hospital, my goal was to bang out as many holes before it got oppressively and dangerously hot. Leading up to the event, the various weather outlets had the temperatures ranging from 106 to 111, about 20-25 degrees higher than normal and 25-30 degrees higher than the "10 out of 10" conditions I walked under last year. 111? I had no idea what that felt like.
Not wanting to have somebody drop dead in one of our first events (a bad way to start any charity, I'm sure), we contemplated postponing our hike. The club gave us the option to individually find alternative dates. Our friends at Kingsley Club, with their hike-friendly 69-degree high, graciously opened their doors for any displaced hikers. For various reasons, ranging from "I'm in" to "I'm at the airport, I'm in for better or worse", all but one Ballyneal hiker decided to stick to the plan and just make the most of it.
It turned out to be the right move. Sunday didn't turn out quite as bad as expected, I think 103 tops with a pleasant breeze from the north. We played 36 holes and had some enjoyable matches (just because it's my blog, I'm going to take this opportunity to tell everybody that I came back from four down with four to play to halve the morning match with hiker Matt "Calc" Schulte, then had three birdies and an EEEAGLE in the afternoon round to win 3&2)
Monday morning was humid but manageable. I was well ahead of the pace from last year. Rounds 4 & 5 were a bit slower than the first three (1:41 and 1:42), with rounds of 87 and 82. Still, I had finished 90 holes exactly eight hours after I had teed off. With right about eight hours left to go, I couldn't help but think, "Is 180 doable?"
I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about Tyler Witman walking 158 holes at The Concession last week and becoming the new "Sheriff of Hikesville" I figured somebody would break the 155 barrier, and I was happy for Tyler when he did it. But it did provide a little motivation for raising the bar even higher. 180 seemed like a nice, round number to shoot for. Something that, ahem, @reillyrick might even bother to take notice of. A respectable sixth round of 84 and at 1:45 kept me on reasonable pace to still get there.
But then something happened. God must've been craving chicken nuggets, because He turned on the convection oven. Starting about 2:30, the temperature climbed up to and beyond 100 degrees and a the winds gradually increased until they were a steady 25 miles per hour with gusts up to 35-40. Not only did it make the golf and the walk difficult, it was one of those hot winds that made things feel worse.
Mentally, I started to check out as well. On the 109th hole, I found myself in the collection area short and left of the first green, and failed to question the logic of trying to hit flop shot over the hazard commonly known as the "bunker of death". Not surprisingly, I skulled it into the face of the bunker and, yada, yada, yada...I had to expand the column width of my scorecard spreadsheet.
The 10 on the first hole kinda snapped me back to reality. I bounced back, made a couple birdies (my first since the first round) and shot a 90 after missing a 18-inch putt on the 18th hole.
I'd be remiss if I didn't give props to my nutritional guru, Matt "Balco" Schulte, who had me pumped up with so many supplements that I've already been black balled by the BBWAA. I literally did not eat anything other than gels, goo and an occasional nutrition bar that tasted like sawdust.
Schulte also proactively took on responsibility for heat management. He found this thing called a Froggy Togg, a blue chamois with magical cooling powers when wet. It looked like something you'd dry your car with, but worked wonders for battling the heat. Schulte suggested we cut a neck hole in the middle of it and wear it like a bib under the golf shirt, covering the top half of both sides of the torso (side benefit: the cut-out circle being perfect for under the top of ones hat). Though it made me look like I was 20 pounds heavier in pictures, the chamois was a miracle worker. Every time I found a cooler, I'd Douse a towel in the melted ice and pour it down my shirt or over my head.
Even the chamois was no match for the heat and winds of round 8. I teed off at 4:55 PM and started with a near-birdie on 1 and a tap-in bogey on 2. 180 holes was out the window, but 162 holes (9 rounds) seemed doable with time for a few more holes to spare. My plan was to keep banging them out, sticking to that "Two Days" theory like Wee Bay from The Wire.
Unfortunately, the 129th hole broke me like those 14 years for Dennis "Cutty" Wise. The beautiful, but relatively simple par 3, 140-yard hole with the juicy "HHHole-in-One Club" friendly pin locale broke me. I chunked a 50-degree wedge into the yucca wasteland short of the green, advanced a chip shot about five yards from there, then hit my next shot that hit a tuft of grass that propelled the ball backwards and to the right. In my mind, I could see the long grass waving its index finger at me like Dikembe Mutombo. Or maybe I was just hallucinating from heat exhaustion.
The next six holes were an embarrassing blur of shanks, duffs and foozles, with an occasional stroke of brilliance mixed between. While I had successfully avoided the grind against score, the grind against time is what got to me. While trudging up the fairways, all I could think about is how much time I had left and how many holes I had to play. As I was laboring up the hill and into the stiff breeze on the 9th hole, my 135th of the day, I had hit the breaking point. I wasn't sure I could go on. I told my caddies that I was going to take an extended break. I'd take a shower and see if I could muster up enough strength to go on. Honestly, at that point in time, I was 90% sure I would have to pack it in.
I made the short walk to the Ringneck lodge, literally crawled up the stairs to my room and stumbled into the bathroom to turn on the shower. Other than for obvious reasons, I wish we would've had a time lapse camera pointed at the shower. It was truly a comical display of trying to find some comfortable way to take a cold soak. Standing was too painful. Kneeling down to the shower floor took 60 agonizing seconds. The shower was just small enough that I couldn't sit in one corner and extend my legs fully to the other, yet bending my legs at all caused my thighs to seize. Moving from side-to-side caused a cramp near my ribs. Sitting criss-cross, apple sauce didn't work either.
Eventually I found some formation that worked, then realized that the liquid soap was still up on the ledge. So I had to go through the reverse process of getting back up to get it. I broke the soap pump as I tried to reach for it and it crashed to the ground. I couldn't help but laugh at that the ridiculousness of it all.
That moment was actually the turning point. I was able to again think with some relative degree of clarity. I thought about my family at home, especially my son Luke who was celebrating his 5th birthday. I thought about the Cox family and the faith and strength that they've put on public display. I thought about the growth of this event in such a short period of time; about the hikers and sponsors who saw the big picture potential and were so enthusiastically behind it. I thought about what Jonathan Decker graciously did at Flossmoor, intentionally stopping at 155 when he likely could've gone on further, purely out of respect to me and this event's grassroots origins. All along, I had been missing the cues. I had been chasing 180 and then 162, when 155 should've been the number. 155 was my number.
It was about 6:15 PM when I had the moment of enlightenment. I did the quick math and figured I could head back out at 6:30 and have about two hours of daylight to get in 20 holes. I said a prayer, thought about Philippians 4:13 (I can do all this through him who gives me strength), and suddenly felt like a new man. A new man with a plan. A plan that involved my good friend, head pro and general manager Matt Payne.
One thing that I realized was missing relative to last year was the camaraderie during the rounds, especially in the late stages. Last year, I hit the wall during Round 7 and the shots, especially the short ones, starting going awry. My friend and fellow member John, who caddied the last 2 1/2 rounds that day, quickly picked up on this and went out of his way to keep my mind on other things. We talked mostly about NBA hoops, a passion we both shared. It made those last 47 holes a breeze.
With that mind, I walked over to the pro shop (half expecting that by 6:30, it would've started cooling down. It actually felt hotter), Matt came out of his office and greeted me with his common opening question, "So...?" (probably because he never has any idea what kind of crazy idea or request I'm going to come up with next).
Jim: I got 20 more holes in me. I need you to bring me home.
Matt: You sure you don't want the young guys? They are waiting for you downstairs. (Translation: are you freaking kidding me?)
Jim: I need the conversation, otherwise I'm going to go crazy.
Matt: Okay, no problem. Let me change.
While Matt got ready, the four remaining caddies drew straws and Chad was the unlucky soul. He gathered the clubs and we were on the way. I grabbed my buddy Wyatt's hybrid as I thought that might be an easier club to keep in play. I promptly duck hooked it into the giant bunker on 10, leading to a snowman. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all.
The golf was downright awful on that back nine, but Matt in tow at least we could laugh it off. I shot 54 with four double bogeys, the aforementioned quad, and a 9 on the par 4 14th (death on grass into that wind). For the round, a 102 (dangit, another column-width adjustment).
By the 15th hole, the temperature finally started to break. The sun started to come down and the Ballyneal started to glow, reminding me why it's one of my favorite places to be on Earth. I knew I could do this.
After witnessing the last 9 holes, Matt quickly deduced that five of the eight clubs that he and Chad were carrying around were completely useless. On the first tee of the 9th round, he decided to take control of the situation.
Matt: Hit 4-iron here.
Jim: Okay. Chad, do you have my four iron?
Chad: No, you told me to get rid of it for this hybrid.
Matt: Hit 6-iron here.
Basically, 6-iron, 50-degree wedge and putter were my only options. Long par 4 2nd hole? 6-iron. Par 5 4th hole? 6-iron. It went against every 'grip and rip' chromosome in my body. But after I made par on the 2nd hole with 6-iron/6-iron/gap wedge/1-putt, I was beginning to believe. I often call Matt "Sensei" as he sometimes likes to drop pearls of wisdom inspired by his youth spent watching old Kung-Fu movie. So most of the time, he'd club me and I'd say, "Yes Sensei". When I questioned his selection and he turned out to be right, I'd admit, "You were right, Sensei". On the 7th hole, I was desperate to take one last rip on the drivable par 4. My drive found the yucca. I had learned not to question the master.
We got to the 11th hole, the same uphill par 3 where I finished in the near dark last year. I hit the same club to the same spot right of the green. Putted up to about five feet, just like last year. Unfortunately I missed the par putt this time. And although there was still enough daylight to get in 2-3 more holes, I was perfectly happy and content to stop at 155. It was great having my friend Matt as the second 'Five' in the picture.
|With Sensei Matt, 1-5-5|
JP from the club picked us up from the 12th tee box and drove us back to the clubhouse. I was greeted by my good friend Wyatt, who was smiling ear-to-ear, having pushed through his breaking point himself to eke out 9 more holes to go from 108 to 117. I borrowed a phone to call home, just to tell my wife that I was, in fact, still alive.
Dinner late that night made the whole event worth it. The camaraderie between the hikers and the staff will be the lasting memory for me. Being able to trade war stories, compare injuries and recall good shots and bad ones (mostly bad ones) was something completely different than last year. We laughed even though it was painful to do so.
At various points of the evening, each hiker talked about how special the day was, how every fiber in their body ached that good ache. And each person talked about participating next year, and commented on what they learned and what they'd do differently next time. I discovered a little bit about myself as well. I realized that I'm going to walk 155 holes every year until I'm no longer physically able to do so. See, experience does matter.
There's still plenty of time to pledge. Please consider supporting my 155-hole hike for Craig Hospital Foundation via the 'Pledge to this Golfer' button below, or use the 'Find a Golfer' search tool.
8th times 9:
By the Numbers:
MILES WALKED: ~50
SCORING AVG: 87.99
VS. PAR: +146
BEST BALL: 69
WORST BALL: 117
FAIRWAYS: 68/120 56.67%
GIR: 50/155 32.26%
LOST BALL: 12
PAR-3 AVG: 3.54
PAR-4 AVG: 5.12
PAR-5 AVG: 5.85
|7th Hole, Round 1|
|Nick and Tori, caddies for Rounds 1 & 2|
|The ol' backwards 6-iron yucca shot|
|Playing through Mitch and Brian on 17. I'm guessing this went left.|
|Don't *mess* with the Yucca|
|One of the caddies really liked yucca plants, because I have a half-dozen pics of them on my camera|
|More chipping out of the native, wearing my fat suit|
|Drove the 7th green; promptly three putted|