The KD's: My 2014 Hundred Hole Hike


I'm going to let you in on a little secret.

I turned 40 last fall and suddenly turned into a giant sap. It's like somebody flipped the switch to my waterworks "on" position, then the lever broke. I'm like Kevin Durant trying to give his MVP acceptance speech a couple months ago. Has anyone else experienced this?

With that in mind, it should be no surprise that as I walked down the 18th fairway of Ballyneal on Monday June 23rd, my 144th hole of the day, tears were rolling down my face. There was a lot that went into that moment, it is hard to really explain it adequately. But it was a moment for sure; the culmination of a lot of little things that led to a tidal wave to the tear ducts.

To keep this from being the single most depressing golf blog post ever, I'll keep it light by announcing the winners of the inaugural KD awards, awarded to the real MVP's of my 2014 Hundred Hole Hike.

The KD for Best Use of Neoprene goes Mueller ankle brace.

Truth be told, about a month ago I seriously considered backing out from my Hundred Hole Hike.

As fun and memorable last year's four hikes in 2 1/2 weeks were, I underestimated the toll that it would take on my body. What started as some mild pain in my left ankle during the first hike at Pinehurst gradually got worse by the end of the St Andrews hike 550 holes later. I figured I would just bounce back, but it just never got any better over the off-season. Combine that with an awful winter in Chicago and increased hours and stress at work, I lost the motivation and the time to stay in shape. It created a vicious cycle for my ankle. I climbed up stairs like I had a peg-leg. If I did anything remotely active like shoot around or play catch with my kids, I'd pay for it the next day. I'd been reasonably healthy, active and athletic for my entire life. Then I turned 40 and everything went to hell in a hand-basket. Emotionally and physically, I was collapsing faster than Tiger Woods's chase for Jack's 18 majors.

To make things worse, my golf game went along for the ride. The awful spring meant virtually no opportunities to get back into a groove. I played in a fourball event in mid-May as a part of a pre-HHH tune-up and was quite literally the worst golfer in the 32-man field.  I am fairly certain that our team would've scored more points if I had just caddied for my partner, because my only tangible contribution was reading his critical putts. I was playing dial-a-swing thought, trying to find something to hold on to. Every once in a while, it would work. Then the next swing with the same thought would go 80+ yards offline. Frankly, it was pretty embarrassing and, limping around, not a whole lot of fun. The prospect of stepping up to the tee box 150+ times and having no earthly idea where the ball was going to go did not seem very inviting. And even if I could hit the ball like Martin Kaymer, there was uncertainty whether I could physically walk that many holes in a day.

The only hope I had of making it 100+ holes in a day was with this black Mueller ankle brace that I bought prior to the Pinehurst hike last year. It was with me for all 550 holes last year and was a constant companion on my night stand during the offseason. I even consider sleeping with it on but never went quite that far. By now, it's a bit stretched out and loose, so it's hard to tell what good it does beyond a placebo effect and creating weird, uneven tan lines between legs. But without that added support, there's no way I would've even attempted 100. For helping me get to 144, Mueller Ankle brace...

KD for Most Valuable First Time Hiker...Matt Payne

My good friend Matt Payne left his post as head pro/GM of Ballyneal last winter for a similar post at True North in Harbor Springs, Michigan (yes, I cried when he told me). Matt has helped me tremendously and has been instrumental in making HHH what it is today. First of all, he was supportive of letting me essentially have the course for the Ben Cox 155 and the first two hikes at Ballyneal in 2012 & 2013. There is a reason we call Ballyneal the home of the Hundred Hole Hike, and that's largely because of Matt's early support. Additionally, Matt caddied for 108 holes in the Ben Cox marathon and came to my rescue in 2012, caddying the final 20 holes when temperatures reached 108 degrees and I wasn't sure if I could make it. I was thrilled when Matt wanted to hike at True North for the Michael J Fox Foundation to honor a friend with Parkinson's.

As sad I was that Matt left Ballyneal, I was happy to have him relatively close in Northern Michigan. A couple of weeks prior to the hike, when I was really uncertain about my ankle and my ability to do 100 holes, I spotted a cheap fare to Traverse City and put together an improptu golf weekend. It was really going to be the test of my game and my legs.

Getting "Enghy" with Matt at True North was great fun, even if we did get "Stephen Ames'd" in a fourball match (our ground games did not translate well there). More importantly, we realized that we were both were entering our respective hikes with the same mindset we had back in 2011 -- with no real idea how many holes we could play and whether 100 holes was even possible. That uncertainty was in some ways refreshing. I left Michigan after three days with a renewed energy and optimism to simply do the best I could. For that, Matt...

The KD for Most Valuable Nine-Hole Hiker in a Cart...Ben Cox

I knew this summer's hike would be extra special for two reasons: my family would be there and Ben Cox would be back hiking again. Ben played 7 1/2 holes of the front nine back in 2012. This year, he was determined to finish all 9 holes of the back nine.

Ben hiked on Sunday morning, the day before our main event. At dinner the night before, he talked about his hike preparation, equipment changes and swing thoughts, just like any other golfer anxious before a big round. He asked about my ankle -- I tried to downplay it, but he sensed it was an issue. He offered up some encouragement, saying, "a chiropractor told me, 'pain is in the brain'". After spending time with Ben and being reminded of his passion for life, his faith, his wife Steph and the passion that still burns for golf, there was no way I was going to fall short of 100 on Monday. Ben had been through far worse than a little ankle pain and was still chugging along, in many ways better than ever. 

Of course, Ben killed it during his HHH on Sunday. I think he was determined to show off for his wife by draining some long-range putts. Here is a great pic of Ben ripping his first drive of the day.

For your encouragement and inspiration, Ben...

The KD for Most Valuable Hiker Dad...Kenneth Cox

I can't mention Ben without mentioning his Dad Ken. These two are like Frick and Frack.

The set-up process for each and every one of Ben's shots in his adaptive care is a lengthy one. Ken served as his caddie and swing guru, dutifully setting him up for each shot.

You really need to watch this video in its entirety to start to get an appreciation for what is involved in getting Ben set-up. Then multiply that by 50-60+ times to get a sense of what is involved for Ben to hike nine holes.

 I wrote about this at length back in 2011 in what is probably my favorite blog post (see here: I actually read it every Father's Day just to remind myself how far I have to go. There is patience that you and I deal with on a daily basis and there is next-level patience that only comes out of true love and a special bond between father and son.

 For showing us the difference time and time again...

(And for giving us the photo of the year...)

The KD for Most Valuable Non-Hiking Lefty...the previous owner of my Mizuno MP-54 Irons

Possibly the only silver lining about being a struggling golfer is that you can always blame the arrow and not the Indian. Why actually work on your game when you can just buy a new one?

I had reached that stage of desperation leading up the hike and was eyeing some new irons. It's tough being a lefty and finding/trying golf equipment. I usually only buy used clubs to avoid making an expensive mistake.

I was eyeing some used Titleist AP-2 irons that seemed almost too-good-to-be-true easy to hit. A Father's Day family outing to the golf store (yes, this is what we do on Father's Day and my birthday) led me back to the used club section. Lo and behold, the Titleist irons were still there AND all used clubs were 25% off.

I was all set to buy them when I spied another set of lefty clubs out of the corner of my eye. They were leaning against the rack instead of on it, so I flipped one over to see what kind of club it was. Mizuno MP-54! The one set of clubs I would buy if I going to buy new. My buddy Tom and I drooled over these things at the PGA show back in January. I can't even describe to you how random finding these clubs at that store at that moment was (there are only two sets of these on eBay right now). And better yet, they were $150 cheaper than the Titleist irons.

I'm happy to report that although many parts of my game were erratic during the hike (my scores were all over the map: 82-89-75-80-92-86-83-80, with 10 birdies), my iron game was consistently strong. My lower scores towards the end of the hike were a result of abandoning the driver for the most part and simply hitting four-iron where possible. Hmmm...something to be said for that.

So for giving these up for adoption, unknown left-handed west suburban golfer...

The KD for Most Valuable Caddies...Deyten, Olivia, Xander, Brad, Tito and Jesus

I discovered early on that one way to get this out-of-shape lug around the course a little quicker is by employing two caddies at the same time. One carries that irons, forecaddies and yells out yardages. The other carries the two wedges, putter and driver or club needed for the next tee.  With only 8 clubs split between two people, I don't bring a golf bag. It's an interesting sight having a caddie entourage follow you around for some mediocre golf. And though it's not essential, given how wild I am off the tee, having someone locate my drives before I get there is a big time saver. Kudos to each for going multiple rounds, especially Dayten for being there at 4:40 AM for the first shot. 

For keeping me pointed in the right direct and sane at the same time...

The KD for Most Valuable Pledgers...Ross, Matt B, Alan, Jaeger, Todd, Ben, Frank, Gary, Neil, Chris, Jeff, David, Bill M, Jake, James, Geoff, Norm, Jerry, Nick, Teddy, Matt S, Kevin, Shane, Scott, Rob, Howard, Bill S and George

Thank you for your support and partnership in this journey. I would've liked to have made it to 155 holes and would've really like to have made a few more birdies and a couple of eagles, but I did the best that I could. Together, we raised over $11,000 for the Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy and the Evans Scholars Foundation. That is going to have a real impact on giving kids opportunities that may never have had that chance. All through our shared passion for this great game, a lot of miles and a bunch of three-putts.

For anybody who wonders what it is like to play and walk 100 or more holes in a day, I've found it to be a Molotov cocktail of the power of adrenaline, perseverance, prayer, physical challenge and fear of failure with a lot of golf in between. The pledges are the fuel that keeps you going, knowing that every hole means money for a good cause.

For being that fuel, fellas...

[Note: this award is open-ended and has plenty of room to engrave more names. If you want to add your name to list, there is still time to pledge your support. Just follow the link below or click on the 'Pledge Thru Me' button on my HHH profile page:]

The KD for Best family

As I mentioned, this year's hike was extra special because my wife and kids were out there with me for the first time. Hundred Hole Hike has become a big part of our family life, often the focus of our dinner-time conversations and night-time prayers. I'm very much a work in progress as a husband and father, but I think discovering HHH as a vehicle to use my passion for the game as a way to help people has been a life-changing event.

Though they didn't really play an active role during the hike, the kids managed to show up at just the right moment to offer encouragement. "Dad!" I hear from a distance and see these kids bounding towards me to give me a big hug. They asked how many holes I had played or how many more I had to go. 

As I was on the back nine of my 6th round, I received a text from my wife Sue. "We are headed out on hole 1". I was excited because this meant that I'd probably run into them on the golf course, by my estimate the 3rd or 4th hole of the next round.

About 35 minutes later, I hit a 6-iron down the left side of the first fairway to start my seventh round. As I reached the fairway, I noticed a foursome of golfers in the far right side of the fairway -- it was Sue and the kids! In 35 minutes, they had played 1/2 a hole.

"Dad!" I can replay the sound of those voices over and over in my head. You fathers surely know what I'm talking about.

"You are literally the sixth group to play through us on this hole," Sue mentioned.

After a day of playing a golf hole literally every five minutes, I stopped to smell the roses for a bit. Instead of just playing through, I played the 109th hole of the day as a fivesome at a snail's pace. It was the highlight of the day, by far.

One thing that I haven't mentioned yet is the weather was absolutely perfect all day. Quite possibly the nicest day of golf I've ever experienced at Ballyneal. What a God send! It was 78 degrees, blue skies and very little wind. The perfect day for walking 40-50 miles. With the weather, a good early pace, no blisters (thanks Kentwool!) and an ankle that was holding up, I started pacing myself. I had 155 in my sights the entire time, but was really just trying to finish up by 8:30 PM. It allowed for the little siesta with the family on the first hole.

What I had taken for granted was just how quickly the weather can change in the Chop Hills. As I reached the back nine of round 8, the sky turned ominous and storm clouds were brewing just south of the golf course. A laser-light show was going on just past the 13th green as we got there.

I had a decision to make. I had played 155 holes in each of the first three marathons. It was looking like that wasn't going to happen this year. I feared mostly for my caddies. I contemplated dropping them after round 8 and finishing the last 11 by myself, with most of the front nine further north of where the storm clouds were. Finally after reaching the 16th green in the far southeast corner of the property, I realized the storm was too close for comfort. I called in to Sue and told the caddies that we'd be stopping at 144 holes.

One funny thing about the hike is that each hole becomes a bit of a story in and of itself. It's like a 8- round boxing match. There's an ebb and flow to each hole as you reach it, remembering what you had done up to that point, trying to repeat past successes and avoid past pitfalls. Case in point, during the course of the day I had hit six excellent shots on the par 3 15th hole. I even hit the flagstick during one of the early rounds. I had a 8-15 foot putt on similar lines just past the hole nearly every round, and every single time I misread the putt. Every time it defied the laws of physics and broke back right near the hole. Every time I chastised myself for not getting it right.

So finally on the 15th hole of Round 8, I knew it was my last shot and was determined to make a birdie. I put a great swing on the ball, reach the green and saw it was four feet behind the hole and rammed it in the cup. Vengeance!

Even sweeter, fellow hiker Bill Straub tweeted a special bonus pledge of $50 per birdie during the 8th round. I responded by playing some of my best golf of the day, birdieing the 2nd hole (a rare event) and narrowly missing one on the 3rd. I followed the birdie on the 15th with another on the 16th. Suddenly I was only 4-over par. I even hit two good shots on the brutal 17th hole but made a dumb bogey (after hitting the green in the first round and making a special pledge based on the 17th-hole greens-in-regulation, I didn't come within 120 yards of a GIR for the rest of the day until barely air-mailing the green in Round 8).

The 18th hole was one 8 round fight where Ballyneal was Mike Tyson and I was Glass Joe. I blocked my drive into the junk left in six of the first rounds, duck hooked into the junk right in the other one. Knowing this was my last hole of the day, I dusted off the driver one last time and gave myself a pep talk, "Cmon, just one good swing." And by some miracle, it actually worked. I gave out a primal scream as the ball soared down the left side of the fairway. Let's par this sucker, record a 76 and call it a day.

In the fading light, I could see people walking down towards the green in the distance. Sue, the kids, one of the other hiker's family and a couple hikers were there to greet me and the other hikers who were wrapping up right behind me.

"Yeah Dad!"

I was floored. That's when the wave of emotions hit me. Walking up the fairway, I thought about how this almost didn't happen. I thought about about the brain HAD conquered the pain. I thought about how this little grassroots golf marathon idea has raised $1.4 million in four years and has made a real impact on people in need. Most of all, I thought about the hug I was about to get from three rugrats and the kiss from one beautiful, supportive woman.

But first, I have to hit this shot on the green, two putt and get out of there. Or skull it into the face of the front bunker, chip over the green into the thick junk, advance the ball a foot, hit the next shot two feet swinging right-handed, chip up and make a snowman. Take a guess which happened. I found out the hard way, it's hard to hit a golf shot when you're crying.

But in the end, it didn't really matter. The reward was the same...

For pushing me to want to do better and be better every day...

I came away from this Hike with a real sense of accomplishment and a renewed sense of energy. I am firmly committed to blowing the doors off in 2015 and making it the best year in Hundred Hole Hike history. In some sense, I want to see how much more growth we can handle, find the "right" number of fellow hikers, turn over every stone in our collective golf and media network and try to reach as many people as possible. And I'm going to find out what's up with my ankle and get it right during the upcoming offseason.

There's no way I can manage this alone, so it will likely require finding an efficient way to split up some of the duties. I hope that you can find a way to help make next year's hike a smash success. 

[Please consider pledging your support to my Hundred Hole Hike for the Solich Caddie & Leadership and the Evans Scholars Foundation. Both are worthwhile causes that provide opportunities for young people through caddying. 100% of your pledges go to these organizations and you can choose to give to one or the other or split amongst the two.

You can pledge by clicking on the 'Pledge Thru Me' button on my Hundred Hole Hike profile page here:]


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