Coming Home To The Masters

I look forward to all of the majors, but I do more than look forward to The Masters. Watching The Masters is an annual ritual, an emotional experience for me. I’ll miss a day or more of other tournaments to play golf, take care of projects, or whatever. But I block time out to watch The Masters and don’t let anything intrude. (Luckily, my wife understands and is fine with this.)

300px-AugustaNationalMastersLogoFlowersI’ve thought a lot about why I feel this way. It’s just a golf tournament on TV. If I have something else to do, I’ll walk away from most shows on TV without a second thought. I always prefer doing to watching. But for me, The Masters is more like doing than watching. It engages me in a way no other tournament does.

I’ve come to the conclusion that The Masters is like coming home. Not just coming home after a day or two, but coming home after a long time away. The Masters is played on the same course year after year, and I think that has a lot to do with my feelings.

I come back to the same immaculate course every year at a time that nature is waking up and the season is full of promise. I come home to scenes that recall images of the beauty of past years and memories of former heroics and spectacular collapses. It doesn’t matter that I’ve never really been there but go only in my TV-fed fantasy. It’s still like I’m coming home.

My history may have something to do with how I feel about The Masters and coming home. My wife and I have lived in our current house for 10 years, and that’s longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere. By my best count I’ve had 23 addresses, not counting dorms and apartments as an undergraduate and the several years I travelled with no fixed address. I looked at Google Street View a while back and the house I was born in has been torn down and replaced with a much larger, upscale place. If I really wanted to go back home, I don’t know where I’d go.

So Augusta, Georgia in the spring is as good a place as any for me. It’s stunningly beautiful and full of tradition. It welcomes with open arms returning heroes and those looking for another chance. I can only imagine what it must feel like to drive down Magnolia Lane when you really belong.

I’ll be happy returning to my memories. That’s all any of us can really come home to.

(Image by pocketwiley, via Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0 license.)

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Some Advice on Texas Hill Country Golf

Rory McIlroy stepping on a prickly pear cactus. Charl Schwartzel disturbing a fire ant bed. Billy Horschel dislodging a rock with his punch shot from the trees. It delights my little Hill Country soul to watch the best and brightest bang their way through the Valero Texas Open and my daily golf world.

I don’t play at the TPC San Antonio – it’s a bit too rich for my blood – but I get to play with the rocks, cactus, and ants.

Don't hit it anywhere that looks like this. Trust me. I know.

Don’t hit it anywhere that looks like this. Trust me. I know.

Here’s a little tip from someone with local knowledge, guys. Stay in the fairway. There aren’t nearly as many rocks and cactus in the short grass. There may still be a few fire ants, but not nearly as many. And you get a free drop from the ants.

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Saving the Round

“Manage the screw-up quotient. That’s what life is. Deft management of the screw-up quotient.” (From Edisto Revisited by Padgett Powell)

Lately I haven’t been managing the screw-ups very well. I keep turning mid to upper 70’s rounds into low to mid 80’s rounds by having just enough bad holes to wreck my score. I can look back at each round and say, “Here, here, and here are exactly where I messed up.”

My home course is pretty intolerant of screw-ups. It’s possible to (and I have) hit it out of bounds off of every tee. Most of the fairways are relatively narrow and this is the windy time of the year. The lies are tight due to the long drought we’ve experienced and it’s easy to find yourself dealing with tree trouble even if you haven’t hit it far off line. But you can manage your way around the course if you pay attention and don’t compound your errors.

When I’m scoring well I avoid doubles by giving some thought to my tee shots and playing recovery shots for what they are – a chance to manage the screw-up quotient. When I’m not scoring well I just bang away off the tee and then whack away at improbable miracle recovery shots. After a few of these management errors I flail harder to try to make up for it and there goes the round.

I know things are slowly getting better because I can spot the individual shots that wrecked my score. When I’m playing poorly I just have a generalized sense of bad golf, not specific recollections of bad shots. If I could just manage the screw-up quotient a little better I’d have a chance to erase most of those doubles.

It also wouldn’t hurt if it would rain a little (at night, of course) and the wind would lie down.

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Anchored Putting in Old Scotland

Tired of listening to today’s debate about anchoring, I had Sherman set the wayback machine to the mid 1400’s, just before James II banned “golfe.” If anyone could shed light on the true spirit of the game and the anchored putting issue, I hoped that person might be found in the gorse and heather of old Scotland. Soon a figure came out of the fog, and I ran to meet him. (In the interest of decency and comprehension, I’m editing his comments to modern English. Insert your profanities of choice at the “***”.)
“Sir! A moment of your time, please?”
“Eh, laddie? I’m late to my match, but if you’ll walk *** fast and talk *** faster, maybe.”
“Many thanks, Mr.?” I paused and looked quizzically at him.
“Seamus is the name. You’re wasting daylight.”
“We’ve been having this argument about anchored putting, and…”
“Anchored? How can you hit the *** ball if you’re club is nailed to the ground?!”
“Anchored to you, not the ground, sir.”
“You mean I’d tie the *** club to my *** hand? What the *** for?”
“No. You brace it on your stomach or chest. So you don’t twitch as much.”
“Oh, like old Shaughnessey, you mean. We let him lean against *** sheep if he’s feeling a bit woozy. Still twitches like a (totally unprintable), though.”
“OK. And you think that’s consistent with the spirit of the game?”
“You mean scotch? Scotch is the *** spirit of my *** game, and I can’t see what leaning on sheep has to do with it.”
About this time I heard a faint chorus of Loch Lomond and Seamus pulled a smartphone out of his bag. “Speak of the *** devil,” he muttered as he looked at the screen. “Aye, Shaughnessey? The sheep are on 3, you say? Why, you *** hunk of ***! We mowed 3 last week! Get those *** sheep over to 6, where they belong! They’ll *** be there when we play through, you know!” He put the phone away and shook his head. “Just can’t get good *** help these days.”
“You have a smartphone?”
“If you’re here in 1449 wearing those *** saddle shoes, I can have one of these. Say, do you happen to have one of those *** hotshot balls you guys go on and on about? I could use one of them.”
“I’ll give you one if you’ll just answer me this one question. Do you think it’s OK to brace a putter against your body? Is it a golf stroke if you hold it that way?”
“Does it help?”
“Some folks say it helps them. There’s no evidence it’s better overall, though.”
“So why do it?”
“It’s been going on for quite a long time now. Some people like to do it that way, and some people can putt that way when they can’t putt any other way.”
“Like Shaughnessey’s *** sheep.”
“I guess.”
“Shaughnessey couldn’t play without his *** sheep, and we kinda like to play with him. We get to take his *** money.”
“So you think it’s OK?”
“I told you we let him use the sheep.”
“I mean anchoring.”
“You say I get the *** ball if I answer? Now there’s something that makes the game easier. You ever try to hit one of these *** wooden things?”
He gave me a battered boxwood sphere that looked it had toured the links more than a few times. “You can have the ball if you’ll answer my question,” I assured him.
“Why do you guys have to *** argue about *** everything? Must be a *** pile of money involved? And *** barristers, I bet.”
“Could be.”
“It’s a *** game. Let ‘em play. And I’m *** late.”
Seamus stuck out his hand and waited as I dropped a new ball into his eager palm. He gave me an exaggerated wink. “Now we’ll see who buys the *** spirit of the game at the end of our match, won’t we?” As he wandered off into the gathering fog, I could swear I heard him mutter, “That *** square *** grooves guy a few years ago gave me two *** balls, you know.”

(Apologies and many thanks to Jay Ward Productions and The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show for hours of entertainment and for Mr. Peabody, Sherman, and the wayback machine.)

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A Quick Round in Delhi

If the powers that be really want to speed up play, they should talk with the marshals at the fictional Golden Greens Golf Course. According to The Case of the Missing Servant, by Tarquin Hall, the club is on the eastern outskirts of Delhi.

The Case of the Missing Servant doesn’t center on golf. It’s a mystery, includes a lot of detail about Indian culture, and contains an entertaining array of characters. If you like books similar to Agatha Christie’s Poirot series, you’ll probably like The Case of the Missing Servant. The lead character, Vish Puri, even likes to show off and wrap things up in front of a crowd, a la Poirot.

But back to speed of play. Near the end of book, one of the characters heads out to the course for an after-work round. He’s a golf nut, not a golf pro. His round is described as beginning at 8:30. It includes an eagle on 5 and a birdie on 8. He shoots 7 under par. He has a post-round Diet Coke and leaves the course “shortly after ten o’clock.” Total time for a 7 under par round and drinks: Just over 90 minutes.

As you might expect, this description of golf was a bit disconcerting to me. Maybe the reason I’ve never shot 7 under is that I don’t play in less than 90 minutes. The number of holes played isn’t specified in the book so I suppose you could argue it was a quick 9, but if that’s the case I’d like a little more detail about going 7 under in 9. Doing it in 18 is amazing enough for an after-work round by a tech company employee. I’m also curious as to why one eagle and one birdie were singled out. I’d think those other 4 strokes under par were at least as noteworthy.

The book got good reviews. To be fair, it isn’t a golf book and the round of golf played no significant part in the plot. I thought the book was a fine representative of its species, with the added benefits of a little humor and insight into today’s India. But I can’t help wondering about how that round was presented.

On the other hand, if there’s someone out there who knows how to shoot 7 under in 90 minutes, there’s a grateful world and a lot of fame and fortune waiting for them.

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How many golfers can swing one club?

Schreiner 16th green

For the last several years I’ve played almost all of my golf at my home course. I enjoy playing different courses, but that isn’t how things have worked out recently. But last week I got a call from a guy I knew with a great offer of a round at a nice course and I jumped at the chance. I’d never played the course or played with the guys that would be there, and a change sounded like fun.

I had vowed not to look like an idiot, so I started out carefully. I hit a decent opening drive on the par 5 first hole, laid up carefully into no-man’s land, misjudged my half wedge, and made bogey. The second hole was a sharp dogleg from an elevated tee. Uncertain if I would hit through the dogleg, I held back a little and hit a little push slice. After a cautious second shot to just short of the green I pitched short (worried about running it off the back of a fast green), putted short (ditto), and made double. On the par 3 third I listened to a variety of opinions about what to hit, tried to hit my 6 hybrid too hard, pulled it, and bogeyed.

About this time I decided to just hit the ball like I knew what I was doing even if I didn’t know what was over the next rise. I enjoyed myself a lot more and ended up with a 7 over 79 after going 4 over in the first 3 holes. I hit it into a few stupid spots, but I just kept trying to play each shot aggressively and with commitment.

When I get in trouble on the course or don’t have a good time, it’s usually because I can’t settle into the shot and the game. I don’t decide on the shot and play it with confidence. I don’t clear my mind and just concentrate on hitting the ball. Instead I question my decisions, let my mind wander, and only half of me plays golf. The other half of me watches me try to play golf.

I have to learn this lesson over and over, but I think I’m beginning to get a handle on my multiple personality disorder and just hit the ball. That other half can watch all he wants as long as he keeps his opinions to himself, at least until after the round. I get tired of him asking, “Are you sure?” at the top of my backswing.

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In The Mood For Golf?

I’m always surprised by how much my mood affects my golf game. I’ve been in one of my extended funks for the last few months as I dealt with a flurry of life’s normal irritations, and I’ve been playing mediocre (or worse) golf.  Last Friday I shot 90 or 91 in our weekly skins game. I’m not sure which score it was because I quit paying attention.

Yesterday I gave myself one of those “Come on, Charlie, it’s not that bad,” talks as I drove to the course. When I got there I found the Cotton Baron in the parking lot, back from a trip to Vegas that lasted a lot longer than planned and involved a marriage. He entertained me with his tale of woe, so I was distracted from my own irrational thoughts. The Baron, The Cowboys, and Ronfucius and I arranged our usual wolf game, and we were off. I birdied the first hole, got through the front nine in a one-under 35, and ended up with a 76, my best round in quite a while.

It could have been better if not for two missed short putts and a bladed sand shot on 18 that nearly took the Baron’s head off as it flew over the back of the green, hit the edge of the cart path, and then rocketed back across and off the front of the green, but I’ll take a 76 any day.

I often wonder how one person can have a 15 stroke difference from day to day, but I guess I shouldn’t be. The pros can play like crap one week and run away from the field the next. Tiger can miss the cut one week and then win. Phil can limp around Torrey Pines and then lip out a putt for 59 in Phoenix. It’s the nature of the game.

I’m just glad how I react to life’s minor irritations only affects a meaningless skins or wolf game, and not my livelihood and reputation. If my life depended on my game, I bet my score might affect my mood at least as much as my mood affects my score. That could make for volatile life on and off the course.

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