No matter who you are playing golf with, be it friends, family, colleagues or strangers, 9 times out of 10 one of your playing partners will have some wise word on the best way to play a certain shot. Whether it is the latest bunker technique they saw on the TV the night before or a putting drill from their latest golf magazine, they will no doubt be sharing it with the rest of the group and we will, without consciously thinking about, try it before the end of the round, that nagging suspicion in the back of your mind questioning if it will actually work or if they have relayed it properly to you.
I’ve never been for an official golf lesson, but one of the many perks of working at a Country Club or in a golf shop is working with a bunch of very talented Golf Professionals, so when on the range or out on the course, when you are given some pointers, you know you can trust them. And so with these bits of guidance and assistance and some natural hand eye co-ordination, I have managed to slowly improve my game.
I say slowly, cause my golfing career probably started when I was in my early teens with a 9-iron on the field at the end of the street and playing once a year in the winter holidays at the local course, where on one memorable occasion the head of my 4-iron broke from the shaft on impact with the ball and ended up at least 50 metres further down the fairway than where the ball had trickled to. The next big step in my golf development came when I worked my first season in the USA, working on the Beverage Cart on the golf course, I was given, after persistent nagging, the privilege to play the courses on my days off. The nagging had taken four months, so in the last two, I had to make up for the lost time and played as often as I could, using the old rental clubs which were in the back of the cart barn and the golf balls I had found while doing my rounds on the beverage cart. These two months didn’t do much for my game in terms of my skill level, but they went a long way as far as my love for the game and the addiction that will more than likely plague me for the rest of my life.
Back in South Africa, I purchased my first set of clubs, a used set of ‘No Name Brand’ irons, two fairway woods, a bag and a Dunlop putter. The whole deal coming to about R500, and I was on my way. An even more important purchase that year was an International Student Card, allowing me to get discounted rates on the local courses and cheaper balls at the driving range.
Over the next couple of seasons back in the USA and the time back at home, my game had improved to a certain level and then come to a sort of plateau where I could consistently shoot in the low 90’s and I rated myself as an average 18 handicapper golfer. It was only when I; returned to Florida again at the end of 2005; bought a set of Titleist Irons; a Taylormade Driver; and started working more on the range, that my game started to improve again. In the next six months I would bring my handicap down by at least 4 or 5 shots, would shoot my first sub 40 9-holes, get my first eagle and learn a lot about course management and the game.
What this also meant though, was that golf had gone from being a mostly enjoyable game, on a beautiful course with friends, to a game of missed opportunities and frustration, to counting strokes and reliving duffed shots and missed putts. BUT, all it takes is one great shot, a pure long iron from the fairway or the sound of a middled drive off the tee……and it’s all okay again, you’ll be back again tomorrow!
Since that time, I hit a plateau again, travelling the World and Tour Guiding, not really allowing me the time to go to the range and to only play once or twice a month, whenever I am at home or somewhere with my golf clubs and the time to play. Fortunately I have been able to maintain a similar level of play and still manage to score between 84 and 88 on most occasions, with my best score of 82 not allowing me to pass. The problem being, that every sub 40 9-holes is coupled with an unimpressive 44 or 45 on the other nine, bringing me back to my average score in the mid 80’s.
One of my favourite courses in Cape Town is Milnerton Golf Club, (pictured in this blog) which is a links style course right on the beach overlooking Robben Island and across Table Bay to the City and Table Mountain. Visually it is one of the most impressive settings you could ever hope for from a golf course, the downside being the wind that whips across the Cape Flats and out to sea, comes directly through Milnerton and makes many a golfer weep. The course plays directly out for the Front 9, normally with the predominant south-easter wind blowing at your back, but then you come straight back into it on the Back 9, a fact normally well reflected on your scorecard. The best remedy, I have found, for trying to beat this wind, is to play early, getting off the course before the wind picks up and makes your life hell. On two occasions this year already I started well with the wind, shooting 38’s on the way out, but then fighting back in with 45’s to maintain my average. I didn’t know how I was going to break that barrier, but this was all to change on one fateful day in March, March 16th to be exact, the day after starting this very blog.
As always I had an early tee time, but for a change was starting on the 10th tee, which meant driving the length of the course to the halfway house to meet my playing partner, Dennis, and begin the round.
Starting with two pars, on the Par 5, 10th and Par 3, 11th holes, I was off to a good start. Managing to par another 4 holes and pickup only 3 bogeys on the way in, I turned with a 39. Now it must be said, although the wind was blowing, it wasn’t as strong as it had been on many other rounds played here. That aside, I knew that I had played the more difficult nine holes into the wind and still managed to come out sub 40, giving myself a very real possibility of breaking that 80 mark. The second nine didn’t start as well however, dropping 4 shots on the first four holes, holes 5,6 & 7 would bring me 3 threes though, (par, birdie, par) and I was back on track.
Walking across to the 8th tee box I knew that if I bogeyed the next two holes, I would still be able to make it in with 39 or at worst 40 and by so doing, break that 80. The 8th is a relatively short Par 5, the Stroke 9 hole, and reachable in two good shots. Standing over the ball on the tee, my heart was pounding so hard, all I wanted to do was hit it straight. I pushed the driver a little to the right, but it was safe and in the fairway, leaving me just over 200 metres to the green, with a carry of about 160 metres over water. I decided to go for the green, attempting to fly the water, rather than laying up next to it in the fairway. My lie was pretty decent and I knew if I struck my 3-iron well I could get it up near the green. What followed were three of my worst shots in the round, a duck hook across into the rough on the left, narrowly missing the ‘Out of Bounds’ area, a fat wedge shot making it only half way to the green and a chip shot leaving me more than half the green to cover with the putter. Fortunately my putter had being working pretty well in the round and I was able to get in with 2 putts and scrape through with my bogey, I was still on track.
The 9th Hole, Stroke 1, 367 metres. Water all down the right side of the fairway and again in front of the green if approaching from the centre and left of the fairway. The heart rate hadn’t slowed down at all and the adrenalin was pumping. My drive was smoked down the middle and I only had about 110m left for my second shot, I took an extra club to avoid the water in front and to compensate for the slightly elevated green. Striking it cleanly, I hit a good shot onto the back of the green, leaving a lengthy downhill breaking putt, but I was on the green. After giving myself a pep talk and a whole bunch of “You can do this!” chants in my head, I stood over the putt, all I needed was to three putt and I would do it. I didn’t strike it cleanly and was disappointed as the ball left the face of my putter, but as it rolled and turned down the hill it gained momentum, until……….it dropped! A Birdie!! What a way to end it, Dennis was just as excited for me, not knowing at the time the internal battle I had just won and the personal goal I had just achieved, the birdie was enough for him, ending another great morning of golf. I felt like one of the Pro’s coming off the 18th green on a Sunday in the PGA tour, checking and signing the scorecard, 39/38, I had done it, a 77. I had crushed 80 and at the same time my personal best by 5 shots. Time for a Coke and for reflection.
“What did I do differently?” The eternal question all us amateur golfers ask ourselves when one shot hooks left into the water and the next flies straight down the fairway…”What did I do differently?”.
The only thing, in this case, I can think of that I did differently, was being the proud new owner of my very own Golf Blog! And so the next time I stand on the tee and my group is haphazardly handing out their latest quick fix or swing tips, I’ll be sure to tell them, “Golf, it’s all in the Blog!”.