Is 90 Like Dying

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Editor's note: Michael Fechter, orphan worker and humorist, has the best job in golf: he's paid to be the Ambassador of Fun for golf courses across America. His 'job' is to make the courses he represents across America more interesting, unique and fun. Enjoy his humorous series on getting back into the game as he struggles to get his game into the shape it was nearly 30 years ago when he won his only personal junior 'major,' the Al Esposito, on America's easiest muni with rounds of 71-71-75.
 
As the Ambassador of Fun for the Malibu Country Club and other holdings of Greenway Golf, there are certain expectations when I play a round. My job is to make the game of golf more enjoyable and more accessible to the average golfer. Happy golfers play more rounds of golf. Happy golfers eat and drink at the 19th hole. Happy golfers spend more money and keep golf courses in business.
 
In theory.
 
So far, my game sucks. And I'm not much enjoying it. But I've got a path, a design, a grail...
 
In my quest to rediscover the golfer within who won the 1980 Al Esposito Junior Invitational, Ive been taking lessons to try to hit the ball longer and straighter, so I can get back to being that kid who was happy to be teeing it up six, sometimes seven days a week. And, so far its been an unmitigated disaster.
 
You see, there's a comfort we develop with our swings, and with life. We may be doing everything wrong, but for some reason, it feels right to us -- no matter how ridiculous and inadequate it appears to an outsider. I used to think my ex-wife did a thorough job of pointing out my shortcomings. She could learn a thing or two from my swing coach.
 
And now, thanks to my swing coach, I know what it is like to not break 90 from the white tees on the very same course where I once shot 1 over par in 54 holes to win my only Junior Golf tournament.
 
Or, I would know that feeling if I hadnt walked off after No. 13 to go enjoy a sugary and delicious Coca-Cola. I simply saw no reason to stay on the course when I was 13 over par, by myself, dealing with 35-mph wind gusts and just plain not having any fun. Golf is a game of confidence and my tank had run empty. Trudging the extra five holes for the sake of posting some 'number' would be counterproductive and miserable.
 
For all of you who dream of someday breaking 100, I bequeath you this round. Do with it what you will. I recommend wrapping walleye.
 
Life is too short to be in high winds, unhappy, alone and absorbed by the fact that I could neither motivate my mind, nor my body, to propel that little white sphere on a consistent, predictable ballistic trajectory.
 
So into the parking lot I moseyed from the furthest reaches of the course on No. 13, tipping the cart girl a dollar for my 75-cent Coke because there was no reason to take my lack of hand-eye coordination, strength and flexibility out on her.
 
To be honest, my 90 could have been higher. I was 1-putting most every other green. It's like the old golf joke 'How in the world did you make a 13 on No. 2?'... 'I made a downhill 9-footer '
 
My playing partners, David and 71-year-old John Davis, decided that they had enough blustery weather after nine and packed it in. I wanted to finish 18 so that I could post a score and track my progress in this quest to play like I was 17 again.
 
Yet, after shooting a combined 8 over on holes 10 to 13, and just not enjoying the day, I began my long walk of shame back to the clubhouse.
 
It would have been some sort of self-flagellation to have stayed on the course. It would have been as mindless as W continuing with his Iraq position. We are both too smart for that.
 
There are days where you just need to pack it in or you will simply develop too many bad habits and bad thoughts. Keep a shred of dignity and get back to work another day. ' these are the things I told myself as I walked toward my car.
 
Wandering past the pro shop, my pal, the assistant pro and my very reluctant swing coach, Brian Ferguson said, 'Have you been to see Chris Hunt?'
 
Chris was the 13-year-old golf prodigy who almost beat me out to win the Al Esposito Junior Invitational. While he never broke all of Nicklauss records, as he proclaimed he would when interviewed by the local newspaperman after the final hole, from what I hear, Chris, a former University of Georgia scholarship golfer could still nail it 300 yards straight down the fairway.
 
I had been meaning to call Chris, to let him know that I was gunning for him. Every superhero needs an arch-nemesis, no matter how contrived. In my mind, this year-long journey could only end with Chris and me replaying those 54 holes on a hot summer weekend here at the muni. And, may the better golfer win.
 
Consumed by the shame of packing the round in early, and perhaps a bit pissed at Brian for starting my swing on this terrible downward spiral, I offhandedly said 'No, what's up with Chris?'
 
Looking down just slightly, avoiding my eyes, Brian said, 'Chris had a massive stroke. He's been at the hospital in ICU the past few days. He's lost his ability to speak. Tubes everywhere.'
 
Brian went into more details, but I couldnt help feeling that something was wrong with his words. Because, in my mind, Chris is still in eighth grade. Hes that 13-year-old kid who was going to beat Nicklaus.
 
But now, in this twisted thing called reality, Chris is 41 and lying in a hospital bed. Hes got a 6-year-old daughter, fighting for his life.
 
My problems, like whether the Ambassador of Fun was truly a happy golfer as he struggled to break 90 at the muni, seemed rightfully unimportant and self-involved.
 
What I needed to do was clear, and it had absolutely nothing to do with keeping a wide stance, adjusting the plane of my swing, or eliminating what Brian refers to as my false finish. I needed to go see Chris.
 
Tom Werner contributed to this column.
 
Email your thoughts to Michael Fecheter
 
Related Links:
  • The Gratitude Project
  • Greenway Golf