I didn’t grow up playing golf. In fact, I think the first time I had an interest in the game, which can be said of many from my generation, was at age 16 when I saw a guy who didn’t seem much older than me who wore a captivating smile while winning the Masters by a record 12 strokes. Tiger made golf look fun.
I never took a lesson, and really never played until college. Golf is an investment, both with time and money. I never had enough of either of those to fully commit. Ignorance was blissful, driving a cart around, having a few beverages and hacking. I enjoyed golf as a way to be social, somewhat physical, and outside. While these are all still reasons I enjoy the game, looking back a basic knowledge of etiquette, rules, and lingo would have really come in handy.
One of my best friends from college was basically born with a club in his hand, and invited me to join him and another of our bros in San Francisco for the US Open in 2012. Over the course of the weekend at the Olympic Club, I rediscovered that feeling I had in 1997 watching Tiger. The electricity in the Pacific-infused air was palpable as we watched the best players in the world go to war with what seemed like an impossible course (thanks to the USGA). On top of that, the experience I got to share with two good friends is one that will be cemented in our memories, and brought us closer together. I came home thrilled, and at 31 immediately became the fanatic I am now. I decided to commit to what I never learned, to follow the PGA Tour closely, and to play a lifetime sport for the rest of my lifetime.
Since then, my 11-month-old son’s room is adorned almost exclusively in golf-related décor, my wife at times thinks I’m nuts but ultimately accepts my new passion, and my game has slowly but surely improved. New clubs, more time on the range, watching Golf Channel, and mentally absorbing tips from Hank Haney on YouTube have all contributed. There are certainly times I’ve been frustrated to the point of outrage, but it seems like in each round I’ve played, there’s a reason I decide to play again, a moment that makes the frustration worth it.
Well last week my brother-in-law (also recently obsessed with the game) and I played a 6:00 am round which, as we both have young sons and demanding jobs, is what we do. The ninth hole was playing about 141 yards, and a hill about 30 yards in front of us hid the green. Despite the lack of clear view of the pin, I confidently selected one of a few clubs I feel confident swinging, the trusty 9-iron. I made solid contact at impact but looked up and saw the ball going slightly right, and I immediately assumed the ball landed to the right of the green. A groundskeeper was watching us tee off and could see the pin from where she was standing, and after I expressed my disappointment, she said that my ball took a favorable bounce on to the green. The third in our threesome hit and the same groundskeeper looked right at me and said that one of the golf pros was standing on the green pointing in the hole, and that she thought my ball went in.
I took a deep breath and didn’t allow myself to get excited. Maybe it was one of the other guys. But I walked over the hill and approached the cup to find my ball in it. It turns out (from two eyewitnesses) that I hit the trunk of the tree that sits just off the green, pin high, and it bounced on and rolled in. The wave of emotions and thoughts that flooded my mind at once are hard to describe, but I’ll try.
1. Does this count, or was this too lucky to claim? Well, after reaffirming with those around me, including staff, luck is involved in nearly any amazing shot. Rory McIlroy just won the PGA with a tremendously lucky second shot to give him a look at eagle, and was the first to admit it. I guess overall I felt ok with what happened because at least I a)selected the right club and b)hit the ball the right distance. In addition, the “1” on my scorecard doesn’t have a picture or a video, it simply represents the quantity of strokes it took me to do what the objective of the game is: get the ball in the hole!
2. I am not good. Do I deserve this? After I thought this one through I also asked myself why any amateur plays, and it’s what I described earlier, that we are all at least capable of one great moment in a round, the one that makes you feel invigorated…alive in a unique to only golf way. This was mine. My first Eagle just happened to be an Ace.
3. How in the world do I focus on the back nine? What I quickly learned was that this was impossible, and it was a disaster. After Instagraming and tweeting my excitement, I should’ve just called it a day after nine and taken the heel-toe express over to the bar for an early refreshment.
Today, a week later, is the first time I played since then. I started great, and played pretty terribly for most of the round after about the 6th hole. I did my best to enjoy the perfect weather, the fact that I’m on vacation for a week, and the camaraderie of the two good buddies I played with, but I let my frustration nearly get the best of me toward the end of the round. I said to my best friend on 17 “Why is golf so fun and so frustrating at the same time?” He said “it’s what keeps you coming back.” On 18 I hit in the rough, then in a bunker, then hit to about 40 feet from the pin on the green. I read the putt, hoping to two putt for bogey and move on with my life. Downhill, double break. I stepped up, gave it an assertive tap, and the three of us admired its journey that eventually trickled, you know it, right in the hole. The third guy, not privy to our conversation earlier, but privy to my rough day, said “that’ll keep you coming back.” Truth.