Fourteen years removed from playing my last golf shot that really mattered, I stepped on the 10th tee at Arbor Links in Nebraska City, Neb., on Thursday in an attempt to qualify for the U.S. Senior Open. For selfish reasons I was trying to do so under the radar, which would have been possible 14 years ago, but not so much anymore.
In my past life, I was fortunate enough to qualify for at least one of each of the USGA Championships for which I've been eligible, and the Senior Open would have completed my own personal USGA 'slam.'
The Senior Open qualifying is one round at various sites around the country. We had 111 players competing for three spots in the upcoming championship at Omaha Country Club, so the odds were not good. But like so many others, I was hoping to turn back the clock and catch lightning in a bottle. I somehow came pretty close.
With steady winds at about 30 mph, it was going to be a grind. My first hole was a downwind par-5 that I managed to birdie. That was followed by another birdie on the short par-3 11th. Two consecutive pars later and I was on the 14th tee at 2 under and liking my chances. Then we turned back into the wind, and the turning back of the clock was officially over. After five consecutive bogeys I realized why I walked away from competitive golf years ago.
On my second nine, I started to avoid the knee-deep hay more often and played decently. When I made a 6-footer for par on my final hole to shoot 76, I thought I still had a chance. The wind was brutally tough, and I knew it wasn't going to get any easier as the day continued.
In the end, I'm glad I tried. It was quite enjoyable to experience all the emotions that I haven't felt in oh-so-long – the same ones I witness on a weekly basis (nervousness, fear, panic, anger, despair and occasionally relief and joy) – the very emotions that made the game an addiction for me 40 years ago. The same emotions that everyone who loves the game feels on a regular basis when they tee it up in pursuit of discovering that ever-elusive magic in what I believe to be the most spiritual and soul-revealing sport in the world.
Walking 18 holes is something I haven't done in over 10 years, and when I finished, I promised myself to change that. Golf is so much different on foot, so much more enjoyable, and seemingly so much more meaningful. The time between shots gives you a chance to enjoy your surroundings. It affords the opportunity to really get to know those with whom you're playing and enjoy their company. It made me appreciate just how fortunate I am to be able to spend one more day simply playing golf.
This personal quest also became an odyssey of sorts, albeit unexpectedly. On the six-hour drive to Arkansas to cover this week's LPGA WalMart NW Arkansas Championship, I began to walk down memory lane. I remembered the countless days of getting dropped off at Las Vegas muni when I was a kid and playing as many holes as daylight would allow. I reflected on all those places this game has taken me and all the wonderful people I've met along the way that I now call friends. I recalled with great clarity so many of the defining moments of my life that somehow all come back to this great game. And ultimately, I was so powerfully reminded how much I truly love to simply play golf.
(Note: Mark Elliott and Steve Gotsche shared medalist honors by shooting 73 and Darron Hughes shot 74 to qualify. Jim White and David Evans grabbed the two alternate spots with 75.)