As I stood on the tee of the par-3 12th hole at Holly Hills Country Club in Ijamsville, Md., for the fourth time on Tuesday, I had to make a choice.
With my feet blistering, soles burning like I had been walking on hot coals, there was little chance I could survive another 33 holes to reach 100 for the day. I faced a decision: give up or find a way to persevere.
I chose the latter. I took off my shoes and socks, picked myself off the ground and decided to find a way to finish what I had started at 6:30 a.m.
The Hundred Hole Hike is a concept started a year ago by Jim Colton, a Colorado man looking to play a marathon day of golf to raise money to help a caddie at his club paralyzed in a skiing accident. He shattered the namesake goal of the day, playing 155 holes. That's the final stage of Q-School plus another two-and-a-half rounds.
My goal was the baseline 100 holes. That's still a lot, I've never played more than 36 holes in a day. Tack on nearly a full PGA Tour event and that was the aim.
I arrived at Holly Hills at 6 a.m., ready to parade around an 18-hole track I had never seen until I reached the century mark. By the end of the day, I figured to have as much local knowledge as most members.
Almost 11 hours from my start time, I had no clue how I was going to finish.
A late entry into the event, I selected the American Lung Association as my charity of choice. The mission to play well and do so quickly reminded me of my godfather, John Jones.
The plain-named man who was at my father's side for my baptism almost 30 years ago is no longer with us. He died in August 2007 after a fairly brief battle against lung cancer.
They say the scorecard never lies. It is a cold truth of numbers, circles and squares which evaluate your performance. There is no room to draw pictures of provide supplemental text. That's where the game gets it wrong, though. Keeping score is exact. Golf and life, however, are not exact, which is the greatest wisdom the game has imparted on me.
On life's scorecard, John’s score would balloon around the turn. He smoked cigarettes, knowing full well the implication. He was doomed to falter against par as time passed. The pencil has no eraser for mulligans.
John, though, lived a simple, beautiful life. He was a quiet, kind man who took care of his family. He never married, but embraced the people he loved like they were his blood. A joker, John had a great dry wit and a healthy skepticism about the world, but was never jaded. He donated his money and time to help children learn sports, particularly baseball and golf.
John wasn't a great golfer but was a great influence on my game. He was encouraging and accommodating. He would meet my dad and me at the range to hit balls, even in the dead of winter. Dad watched and, frankly, so did John.
On occasion, we would tee it up. He could find his way into the 80s, but, regardless of score, always played fast. Golf is fun, but not meant to waste time. There were other things to do, people to help, life to live.
His mechanics weren't spectacular. Sean Foley would likely have scoffed, but Uncle John always reminded me of Jack Nicklaus. He adopted the Golden Bear's hitch of tilting his head away from the ball before taking back the club.
Now that John's gone, every time I see Jack swing and his face move away from the ball ever so slightly, I think of John. Golf's greatest champion makes me sad.
I'm sad Uncle John is gone. I'm sad when I think of him in his last days at home, hooked to a respirator, barely able to speak. I'm sad when I think of the muted pride he showed when he heard about the good things happening in my life, even as his was ending. I'm sad when I think of his funeral service, the only time I've ever seen my dad cry uncontrollably.
I thought about all that as I hit my first tee shot as the sun tried to rise and shine through the overcast sky. It was a perfect tee shot – a long iron hit so pure it would surely land in the blind fairway. I couldn’t find it. What a horrible omen, I thought.
Looking lost on the first hole, a man walked up to me waving, wearing a Hundred Hole Hike shirt. Kris Anderson, along with club member Ken Clyne, would be my company for the day. They got up even earlier than I did, starting at 5:15 a.m. to get in their first nine holes.
The morning went by quickly. I played the first round with 14 clubs, all of them in a bag strapped to my back. Holly Hills lives up to its namesake. Despite shooting 7-over 79 in about two hours on the 6,430-yard course, my lower back was throbbing.
I lightened the load considerably for the second round. I played an entire 18 with just a 4-iron. It was some of the most fun I’ve ever had. The club choice was monotonous, but the imagination required for each shot was stimulating. I don’t know how I did it, but I shot 92. That left 62 holes to go.
Kris was locked in a permanent four-club challenge. Ken continued to use a full bag with a pull cart – probably as exacting as carrying the clubs up and down the hills.
A small transient gallery cheered us on through the day. Staffers came out to see our progress, particularly if my partners would get past 54 holes – the baseline bet for the club members.
We took a break for food, a quick sit and a little rest. I had a cheeseburger, partially scoffed it down as we started again. This time, I added a 52-degree wedge because hitting flop shots with a long iron is impossible. I shot 83 that time. I was more than halfway at that point – 56 down, 44 to go. At that point, doubt crept in.
I was exhausted. It was hot. I knew I was hydrated enough, so that wasn’t an issue. It was my feet. They were scorching, warmer than the sun beating down on us. I could replenish energy, but walking is fundamental to this task. If I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t finish.
I had to go down swinging, literally. Armed with a chicken salad sandwich, my driver, the wedge and, now, a 5-iron, I gave it a try. After 11 holes I could barely take a step without feeling the pain, the blisters forming.
We got to the par-3 12th, my 68th hole of the day. That’s when I made the choice. I couldn’t finish – not the traditional way, at least. I should’ve brought more pairs of socks and shoes, like a marathon runner would do.
This was the shortest, flattest hole I would see the rest of the way, however. If I could play the 150-yard hole another 33 times, I would reach 100. So the decision was made. I went barefoot, bid farewell to Kris and Ken and teed up my ball.
I swung a 9-iron the first few times, quickly realizing my back and feet would not let me generate much power. I clubbed up to 8-iron, which helped. It turned out to be the right stick.
Down and back, down and back, I went. Each lap was 300 yards, give or take, depending on how far off-line my tee shot was. Flares to the right were the worst, creating the longest walk. The bunkers were nice and cool for my feet. The green felt best, naturally.
The course had been largely empty through the day, most staying out of the heat. At this point in the day, however, some groups played into the looming dusk. Groups would arrive on the tee, me usually on the green. They looked confused at the bald, barefoot man hobbling back toward them. Some thought I had been mugged, others likely thought I was just insane. I probably was the latter.
Back and forth, back and forth. I counted each lap to myself. Sometimes, I would sit on the tee and think if I could finish. I thought of Uncle John. I got a text from my dad encouraging me to finish, another from my mom begging me not to hurt myself and one from my wife suggesting our dog was looking forward to my successful return.
Before I knew it, I was on my 22nd lap. I nearly made an ace then, skipping just past the pin. I would have cited the kids jumping on a trampoline at an adjacent house as witnesses. I made birdie that time as well as on the next lap. I thought maybe I could make 10 more to finish in triumph. Alas, no.
I kept going, making pars, bogeys and double bogeys. It would have been a messy scorecard, but I was getting closer.
Then it came, the final hole. I stood on the tee, looked up and around me. I smiled and laughed. Hopefully, just three more shots. One last time, I pegged my ball and gripped my 8-iron. I turned my face away from the ball and swung with whatever I had left. Let’s just say, it hit the green.
I couldn’t stop smiling as I walked with my putter to the green. Victory was mine. I would survive. I wish Uncle John had.
As I got to the ball, I looked back. Kris and Ken were there, waving. How fitting. They came back just in time to see me finish, themselves still needing six holes to reach 100.
They shook their heads, wondering how I managed to do this. I laughed, then teared up for a second, wondering the same, but knowing why. I made my par. Victory.
I hobbled with them to the next tee, seeing them hit their tee shots before a cart would come out to pick me up to go to the clubhouse. As Kris and Ken walked off, we had clearly made up our minds about doing this again.
Kris asked, “Next year?”