Play like a girl

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There are those who say that my position as Ambassador of Fun for Greenway Golf is just some made-up title that I use to impress the ladies. While there may be an element of truth in all this, the reality is that it is as pressure-packed as a Mission Controller for NASA.
 
Throughout my working day, I must ask myself questions like Am I having enough fun? Or, Am I coming up with enough ways for our members and guests to have more fun? And, Am I going to Hell for cashing a paycheck for this job when real men are tarring roofs and building skyscrapers?
 
The thing is, when a roof tarrer finishes one job, he moves on to the next roof and does the same thing over again. Ive got to constantly top my own ideas just to keep my job. Youve heard of St. Bernards that deliver whiskey to stranded hikers in the Alps? Well, at Greenway Golf, were training Labradors to bring cold cans of beer to hot and thirsty golfers.
 
We hide golf balls deep in the woods that say things like U Win!! Return to bar. These can be redeemed for a free beer and a free golf lesson at the clubhouse because, lets face it, if your ball lands 50 yards off the fairway, youll want that beer and you need that lesson.
 
At given times, well have Pay What You Think Its Worth Day where that days golfers pay whatever they feel the experience was worth with no questions asked and no judgment passed. Perhaps our greatest success has been when the course is modified to be as difficult as possible. Imagine teeing off from within a pot bunker, or from behind a sprawling oak tree. Then, imagine knee-high rough, and youve got either a typical golf outing in Scotland or, The Impossible Open.
 
Unfortunately, this constant thinking about the game hasnt translated into playing more rounds. With time ticking away in my quest to regain the form that allowed me to win the 1980 Al Esposito Junior Invitational at the Charleston Municipal Golf Course, I knew that I would have to log some serious course time if I was ever to relive the days of 71, 71, 75.
 
Seeing that I have been working to regain my old form, I thought it totally appropriate that I reconnect with some of the players and teaching pros from my teenage days.
 
My first call went to Phil Pendergrass, who used to give me rides home from my first job as a cart boy at Wildwood Country Club in my hometown of Columbia, S.C. I must have been 14 then, and Phil was a 21-year-old college student and assistant pro at the club.
 
Phil is now the head of the Director of Player Development at Coastal Carolina University, near Myrtle Beach, where he trains young men and women in the art of assistant promanship. How else could one learn to hand out bags of tees and schedule tee times?
 
I kid, I kid. The Coastal program teaches everything from agronomy to accounting. It has young people working from Bandon Dunes in Oregon to Harbour Town in South Carolina. Heck, they could probably even teach me enough to get a real job and give up this Ambassador of Fun lark.
 
Phils students get hands-on experience running Quail Creek Golf Course, just outside Myrtle Beach, where I met Phil and Rachel, Phils 19-year-old daughter. Rachel plays for the College of Charleston, as did I in the years following my win at The Al.
 
I was running late that day and walked straight from the car to the first tee. Phil shook my hand and said Im playing back there, pointing to the very last set of tees in back. Rachel is up there, pointing to some tees some 40 yards ahead. You play wherever you want.
 
With those words, Phil had just thrown the Scylla of playing from the blacks -- it adds an extra 400 yards, as well as navigating around trees, hazards and rough that his students hadnt cut in weeks ' and the Charybdis of playing from the ladies tees and having my ass kicked by a college girl smack into the path I was taking as I work to regain my golfing manhood. Decisions, decisions.
 
Rachel proved to be a wonderful companion as we both teed it up from the reds that day. One thing I learned from my recent duties as GolfChannel.coms self-appointed investigative reporter at the LPGA's Ginn Tribute is that female golfers often make up for a lack of driving distance by being wickedly accurate once off the tees. Rachel was no exception as she nailed her first approach from 140 to within 8 feet of the cup.
 
Rachel played beautifully and with great tempo. Somehow, her ability to play within herself, as well as her happy nature washed over me and I struck the ball reasonably well. I was even playing the ball down, unlike most of my junior days.
 
OK, it wasnt a complete transformation. My irons were crisp, but my putting was atrocious. I didnt have a birdie and figured that I finished the day in the low 80s. Not bad if I was playing Bethpage Black, but not good considering I was playing from the reds at Quail Hollow.
 
So, I was a bit surprised when Phil told me that I shot 77 for the day. While I hadnt been keeping score, Phil had his mental clicker going each time I swung the club. Phil has run plenty of real tournaments for the South Carolina Golf Association and if he says I shot 77, I lean toward believing him.
 
Oh, how did Phil play? Ummm, like the pro he is. Even though he now only plays once every couple of weeks, Phil birdied the first two holes, and on No. 18 he hit a 4 iron from a pulled lie in the sand 200 yards out to within 12 feet of the cup. It was a shot that not possible for me even in my dreams. And Ill always remember it. (The lucky talented bastard.)
 
Why should Phil have golf talent, a great job and a beautiful, golfing daughter so happy that I nicknamed her Happy. Well, actually why shouldnt he? Phil Pendergrass was a great friend when I was 14 and nothing has changed between us in over 30 years except I putted poorly that day and never did when I was 14.
 
And because we live in a world of scorekeepers, a world in which people seem to want a winner and a loser, you may be wondering about Rachels score. Well...a man never reveals a ladies score.
 
OK, actually I did not look at her scorecard but Im guessing it was fairly similar to mine.
 
And as much as I hate to admit it, at the end of the day on the two hour drive home, I couldnt help but think, If I can already keep up with a kid playing college golf, shoot 77 without so much as a practice shot and without a birdie and putt as if I have never held a putter before...maybe, just maybe, I can get back down to a one or two handicap from the white tees at The Charleston Municipal Golf Course.
 
Thats a lot of ifs, ands and maybes, but such is the mirage of golf. And such are a middle-aged mans thoughts as he tries to recapture the glory of his youth. We will see where my game goes from here. But this is definitely a step forward.
 
One things for sure, Ill certainly try to play the game with more girls. Perhaps the local womens prison has a golf program... Ill check on it.
 
Email your thoughts to Michael Fecheter
 
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.
 
Related Links:
  • The Gratitude Project
  • Greenway Golf