At the invitation of a fellow writer and friend, Bill Davis, a man both Ruthian in size and humor, I played my first full round of golf in at least three years recently at the Muni.
Despite this rather long layoff, i's not like I came into the round completely unprepared. Ive been watching quite a bit of golf on TV.
On this big day, my first round actually keeping score, I hit a few 50-yard pitches on the range and headed to the first tee with no practice chips or putts. Solid, solid prep work, Mr. Hogan.
As you might expect, I nearly pulled my drive on No. 1 O.B. and had to chip out. And then did the same thing on No. 3. But at least both balls were airborne.
And after that, I hit the ball about as well as one could expect for a guy playing mostly from a memory of nearly 30 years ago.
And now, for the reality of the round. I shot an 82. A horrific 82.
OK, OK, 82 isnt technically horrible. To most weekend golfers, its pretty good. But, in my golf psyche, Im 17, Im nearly a scratch golfer and the Muni is a baked-out hardpan of a golf course where even I could hit it 220.
Clearly, my golf psyche needs 50 CCs of reality. I am now 45. It would appear that I am, at best, a low double-digit handicapper. (The 82 could easily have been an 87.)
The Muni these days has distance-robbing grass fairways, water in the irrigation ponds and, get this, sand in its hazards. It may have the same address, but its not the same course where I shot 1-over for 54 holes. And, Im definitely not the same kid from all those years ago.
Its not like I can blame penalties for my 82. This was a genuine 82 with no lost balls, no gimmes and no birdies. Five greens hit, 8 of 14 fairways, 30 putts.
My golf psyche insists that 82 is horrible. Eighty-two is an embarrassment. Eighty-two is to quality golf what my post-college white boy stand-up comedy was to Dave Chappelle. Eighty-two is bland, pedestrian and not even worthy of note except that I had a rather good time.
In a five-hole stretch, my pal Bill had four pars, a bogey and a cheese-eating grin. I couldnt have been happier for him. Seriously, Bill being plus-1 for five holes is the statistical equivalent of my being 6 under for five holes while getting a hamstring massage from Heidi Klum. It's Power Ball unlikely.
Unfortunately, in the other 13 holes, Bill had a sextuple-bogey, one quint, one quad, three triples, three doubles and four bogeys. For those unfamiliar with advanced calculus, that's 36 over for a 108. As I told Bill after he hit yet another frozen rope 260 yards into the water on 13 (we were playing 15 at the time): 'You may as well enjoy them. With that swing, you're gonna hit a lot of great shots O.B.'
And we did enjoy them all. High-fives after all his pars and high-fives after each and every magnificent drive Bill bee-lined O.B. My hand is still sore from the plethora of high-fives.
Dead serious, in that five-hole span, some of Bills shots were so fantastic that I cannot imagine ever hitting them. Bill hit a 5-wood from 240 off a bare lie to an elevated green of a par-5 pin to 12 feet. So what if he lost two balls before that 5-wood and scored a triple-bogey for the hole? That shot was worthy of being hit by Tiger on a Sunday at Augusta.
But, enough about my friend. The real reason I was on the course was to get a baseline score so I could see just how much I needed to improve to get my game back to what it was when I won the Al Esposito Junior tournament those many years ago.
Mostly, I played short that day even though I was trying to hit it long, which while frustrating to me, was infuriating to Captain Moody, Bills acquaintance and our playing partner for the round.
It seems that Captain Moodys attitude toward the game was poisoned by one very good round of 76 at the very same Muni several years ago. OK, it was a great round for him, but this is the Muni were talking about, not Oakmont ' a point totally lost on Captain Moody.
Bill summed up the problem while he and I were collecting poison ivy specimens while searching for Bills three balls that he launched deep into the woods on 8.
If he would only accept that he shoots in the mid-80s, Bill said of our third wheel, hed enjoy the game. But, there were no high-fives during Captain Moodys 87 that day. There were, however, thrown clubs, a near-endless string of invectives and baseless accusations of cheating that would embarrass even a divorce court lawyer. Fortunately, Ive been happily divorced for many, many years, so I knew how to handle Captain Moodys accusatory words.
Let me set the scene...
As we strolled into the clubhouse taking great pleasure in Bills back nine of 50, and my brave backside of 39 after a fat 43 on the front, Captain Moody stopped dead in his tracks, while looking at the scorecard and said to me, 'Thirty-nine? Didn't you hit it OB left on No. 13?'
'No, I said, I was in by 15 yards in casual water just off the fairway.' He seemed skeptical, but Bill backed me up. (In truth, I took a bad drop into a bad lie in more casual water and hit it anyway...and poorly.)
So, not only did I have to accept that I was, at best 10 strokes off my form from the summer of The Al, I got grilled over it like I was claiming to have beaten Al Geiberger when he shot 59 at Memphis 30 years ago.
And, oh yeah, not that I am defensive about 82, which sucks, but the reason Captain Moody didn't know if my ball was in or out was because on that same hole, he pumped his drive O.B. on the right and wasn't within 75 yards of my ball. Don't get me wrong, I gather Captain Moody is a great guy off the course -- just like Saddam Hussein would have been a pleasure if you bumped into him at a bakery...and you weren't a Kurd.
So, 82 is what I and Dr. Joe Parent, a golf/sports psychologist, will call my 'personal par' from here on in. Average golfers shouldn't judge themselves by a par of 72. Figure out what you normally shoot and that's your personal par.
I thoroughly enjoyed my round with Bill, whose 108 was easily 45 shots his personal par. And at no point did I think about money, taxes, child custody, Orphans or editing the miles of raw film that sit on my desk.
In my year long quest to rediscover the kid who shot 71-71-75 at The Al, Im just out of the blocks. But, thanks to the negative example of Captain Moody, from here out, if I shoot 80, I won't be miserable because I once shot 71. Eighty is 2 under my personal par and I want to stay 180 degrees happier than Captain Moody.
Tom Werner contributed to this column.
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