I'm telling you, the game is fickle. If you play this game we call golf, you know just what I'm talking about. How else do you explain how one's performance can be great for one minute and totally awful the next? And yes, I am talking about minute by minute.
You can shoot a great score one week and not have a clue the next. It doesn't have to take a week either. Shoot 74 one day and its 88 the next. Not good enough for you? How about 35 on the front nine and 47 on the back?
Who am I kidding? Most of us have had holes where we hit one or two excellent shots only to follow it up with one little stinker that ruins the entire hole. Can you think of a better word than fickle?
Here's a case in point: In my Thursday Night Scratch League at Loudon Meadows, we are playing the front nine. We are down a hole to our opponents with three to play. One of our opponents hits his drive on No. 7 into the creek on the right. The other fellow duck hooks his tee shot into the trees on the left. My partner and I find the fairway and we are talking about taking advantage of the situation as we reach our golf balls.
The golfer who hit into the trees finds his ball. It rolled through the trees, ending up near the green on No. 8. He has a ridiculous downhill lie and has to basically stand on his head to play his shot. He hits an iron some 200 yards to the front of the green and the ball rolls onto the putting surface. He has some 20 feet for birdie. It is one of the best shots I have ever seen.
Just to add to the drama, my partner and I each miss the green from a much closer distance (not to mention being in the fairway). I chip the ball to tap-in distance, so our opponent has a chance to win the hole with a 20-foot birdie putt. Then fickle rears its ugly head. The poor guy just hit the shot of his life and now he three putts for a bogey. We win the hole and someone walks off the green muttering to himself.
This is what happens in the game of golf. It's why some guy made the following comment while sipping a cold one in the clubhouse following a round of golf. He said: "The only way I'm going to play golf when I retire is if I miss the frustration of work!" Yes, the game can cause one to utter words like that.
If my opponent was a little out of sorts following the seventh hole, it turns out that he was not the only one wondering how this game can be so cruel. That feeling happened to me a couple of holes later.
I was playing well, for me at least. An errant approach shot on No. 3 cost me a bogey, but I had a par on every other hole heading to the ninth. To fully appreciate what is about to happen, I need to describe the ninth hole at Loudon Meadows.
The ninth is a longish par 4 if you are an average hitter because a creek will keep you from hitting driver off the tee. Of course, if you are a knuckle-dragger like some of the guys in the league, you don't even concern yourself with the creek. Instead, you just blow a driver over it.
Unfortunately, I can't do that. Depending on where the tees are located, I have a decision to make off this tee. Driver is out of the question. I could clear the creek once out of 50 tries. It will stay in the bag. A three wood is used often, but I have rolled into the creek with it and the tees were up on this night.
That leaves me with having to choose my favorite club, certainly not the worst thing that can happen to a golfer. My favorite stick is my Nike 7-wood. I bought it a golf shop a half dozen years ago, primarily because it was on sale, everyone else seemed to have one and I didn't. It didn't take me long to fall in love with it.
I can hit it a maximum of some 200 yards and by choking up and taking a little off the swing, I can play it from 160 to 190 yards as well. On this hole, the club should put me around the 200-yard marker where I likely will hit it again for my second shot. At least that was my thinking when I took to the tee.
I was confident since I was playing well. That feeling left me shortly after I swung my favorite club. It would appear that I looked up a little as the ball left an eight- inch furrow right in front of my tee. The ball became airborne at least five feet before falling and rolling a whopping 80 yards or so. My playing partner thought I may have been distracted by the beverage cart girl who had driven up before stopping alongside the fairway. I don't think I was, but the shot was by far the worst of the night.
As I approached my ball it was good to know that it not only went beyond the ladies tees, it also reached the fairway - barely. So now it's time to have a little chat with my 7-wood. I informed the club that since it got me in this position, it would have to get me out of it. The ball was in a small depression, but my favorite club would take care of that despite what it had done on the previous shot.
Apparently I was wrong. The next shot went rolling towards the creek stopping one yard from the edge. How could this club do this to me? Using the same strategy as previously, I hit the club once again. The ball soared over the creek two feet in the air heading left behind a tree. My playing partner is starting to chuckle.
My next shot will require a shot that goes under a branch from one tree and then over a second tree. I decide to use my 7-wood - again! I pull off the first part of the equation, but the top of tree No. 2 decided to grab the ball and throw it at a right angle clear across the fairway to the rough. My partner is now laughing uncontrollably as I make my way to the ball. No reason to change clubs now as I am hitting my fifth shot. The favorite club punches the ball onto the green though I am some 25 feet above the hole with an impossible downhill putt with a break.
Between snickers my partner wants to know if I am going to putt with the 7-wood. I decide against it and hustle to my ball to get out of the way of the other three guys who have been enjoying this little bit of comic relief. I take a quick look at the putt, let go with the putter and, you guessed it, ran it right into the cup for a double bogey. Fickle, fickle, FICKLE!
I have not talked to my favorite club since that night. I am letting him sulk, though he is probably wondering why he is getting the blame for the botched hole. I'll get him out this week and use him again. Probably on No. 4 at Stone Ridge - second shot.
I expect he will perform admirably. If not we are going to have to have a long, long talk!
Al Stephenson is The A-T's golf columnist.
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