My first shot of the day was solid, but the slightest tug that ended up in the right rough on the opening par5. From a good lie in the first cut, I hit a nice 8iron to within 115 yards of the back hole location, dead center of the fairway. My lie in the fairway was good, and the few tufts of grass that I flung up into the wind confirmed that the wind was against me. On a normal day with calm, warm conditions the shot would normally be a stock gap wedge. But with a stiff breeze hurting and the early morning temps hovering slightly above the freezing mark, I knew that the gapper would never get there. I reached into the bag and pulled my pitching wedge, went through my routine, and hit a really nice shot that looked like it was all over the banner. Unfortunately it landed about a foot too far and ran through the back of the green, about a foot beyond the putting surface. In my mind should I have not left the ball with a good look at birdie, just through the green was the 2nd best place to be. So no complaints.
I was technically in the rough, but the ball was sitting on a subtle downward slope and the rough wasn’t much thicker than the fringe that was only a foot away. My initial impression as I approached the green was putting my 4th shot, but I brought a wedge with me just in case. I was only about 15 feet from the hole with the green gently sloping away from me, and I knew that even a so-so attempt with my putter would likely leave me much closer to the hole for my par putt than a good chip. I decided to putt the ball, and it was better than so-so. It almost went in for birdie. I tapped in the remaining 4 inches left for my par and thought to myself, “okay, today might be a little easier than I thought.”
Famous last words…
Getting everything squared away for our upcoming move to London has severely impacted my ability to practice and play like I normally would heading into the start of a golf season. Normally I’ve already got a handful of good practice sessions logged and 10 rounds or so posted toward my handicap by this time of the season. I know, I’m not getting any sympathy from most of you. I’m not really asking for any, for what it’s worth. I’m just stating the fact that I’ve got a high-maintenance golf swing that requires a lot more attention than what I’ve been able to offer it thus far this season. Of which, mind you, is why I’ve kinda lowered my expectations this year. But despite knowing that my scores are going to increase because of these things, it still makes it no easier to accept sometimes.
I hit a bad drive on the 2nd hole but somehow avoided the deep fairway bunkers on the left. From only 124 yards with a good lie in the rough, I hit a low skanky looking shot that ended up well short and right of the green. From about 45 feet, I hit a very nice pitch shot that ended up only 4 feet from the hole, and drained the short left-to-righter to save my par. I walk to the cart thinking that I’ve dodged a bullet, and still find myself clinging to the hopes of having a solid round.
From that point onward, it would be an hour before I’d get my next par. That par came as a result of a nice approach that ended up to within 10 feet of the flag on the par4 6th, as I missed the birdie. I made a routine par on the par5 8th, and then hit a beautiful green-side bunker shot on the par3 9th to within 5 feet, but missed and ended up going out in 6-over 42. It was very much a struggle the first couple of hours, but I knew that there were some opportunities on the back to make up a few shots with better play. The state of my game might not be good enough to rebound for a great round, but a respectable round was still very much in the picture.
I was able to put together some better swings on the back-nine coming in. I peppered the flag with my approach on the par4 11th, but missed the 8 footer for birdie to stay at +6. I ended up leaving my approach well away from the hole on the par5 12th, but did manage a decent 2-putt from long range to at least not give a shot away. I scrambled for another nice par on the par3 13th from just off the green, and hit only my 5th green of the day on the par4 14th, 2-putting again for another par. I narrowly missed the fairway bunkers on the uphill par4 15th, but hit my approach a little deep. From 40 feet I put an excellent stroke on the ball and watched it roll around the right side of the cup to just avoid birdie. I’m still at +6 on the round as I head to the par5 16th.
A decent tee shot, followed by a nice 3hybrid left me about 60 yards to the back hole location. I played a little bump-n-run shot (a shot that I’m trying to use more often to prepare for the occasions it’ll be needed in Europe) and I played it surprisingly well. I had about 10 feet for birdie, and after watching my playing partner stiff his approach to within 2 feet from 150 yards, I was desperately wanting to join him on the birdie train. Let it be known that in nearly 3 hours and 30 minutes after I teed off earlier, I finally made a birdie. Finally! That got me back to +5 on the round.
A bad swing would follow, however. From 145 yards and playing into a good 2-club wind, I never came close to finding the green of the par3 17th. It was essentially the same shot that I hit with my approach on the 2nd hole – ugly, short and right. I hit a great pitch shot from about 25 yards to within 2 feet, saving par. And then at the last, I hit a wicked slice that somehow managed to stay in play, albeit with the ball about 8 inches above my feet. The hole location was generous, and the yardage was perfect for a simple low-driller into the wind. I started the ball about 10 yards left of the green and watched it bend back right at the flag, probably the best shot I hit all day. I got to the green and I’ve got about 15 feet for birdie, a putt that I’ve made dozens of times here over the years. But then again – very few of those times when I made that putt were the greens slow and bumpy from aeration a few weeks earlier. Putting today was marginally better than it has been there for the past couple of weeks, but the ball still bounces hither and yon. Yet I still had a good feeling standing over that birdie putt at the last.
I was 1-under on the back, and I had a very legit chance of going out in 2-under 34. A round of 76 sounds so much better than a round of 77, at least to someone who is technically still a 3-handicapper for the time being anyway. But a round of 5-over 77 would end up being the number. My birdie putt bounced about a foot from the hole and just veered off to the right, on a putt that typically breaks to the left no less.
Going back to what I said earlier about it being difficult to accept…. I’ve found that accepting a tough round is probably the hardest part in playing the game. But I also understand the importance of being able to do that. In an experienced player’s mind – he expects to play well every round, regardless of how he played the last round out, or despite that it might’ve been 2 weeks since he last played. I’ve played the game long enough to realize that the past doesn’t equal the future, and the future doesn’t promise us anything. It’s all about what you do today.
And what I did on Sunday wasn’t really worth sharing, other than to say that at least I hung in there and kept it somewhat respectable. But most importantly – I shared the day with 2 great friends who’ve become much more to me than just weekend playing partners. We all had lunch afterward in the clubhouse and as I walked to the car with them to leave 45 minutes later, the thought occurred to me that my days with them are numbered. As much as I want to play good golf, and I really do, the feeling that one has after a good round is only as memorable as those that he shares it with.
It was a tough day, but a good day, for all the right reasons.