A game with two faces
This dichotomy struck me like an errant drive earlier this week
Published on Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012 09:38AM EDT
As has been documented many times, from Aristotle’s unforgettable ``Thoughts While Pondering a Nine-foot Putt” to Sun Tzu’s classic ``The Art of Chipping,” golf is a game with two faces.
One is Papa Smurf, the other the Marquis de Sade.
This dichotomy struck me like an errant drive earlier this week as the game showed both faces in the space of 15 minutes – filling me with paralyzing doubt one moment and unbounded hope the next.
This series of events unfolded as I was searching for my ball in the woods somewhere in the vicinity of the 11th hole at Toronto’s Don Valley Golf Course. About to accept the possibility that an inner-city squirrel had run off with my ball for immoral purposes, I took time to contemplate the events that had led to this search.
After emerging from Don Valley’s tough opening seven holes only six over par, I had run off a streak of three straight double bogeys that featured two lost balls and was headed for a triple.
I had hit my drive all of 25 yards and followed that bit of three-wood artistry by shanking a five-iron directly into the trees. Even without the knowledge that I would need five more shots to escape this putatively simple 295-yard hole (that’s 42.1 yards per shot, if you’re scoring at home), serious doubts began to emerge.
They weren’t the usual doubts that plague me: concerns about financial security and worries that our cats are plotting against us. Instead, I was consumed by thoughts that this attempt to make myself a better golfer was the most ill-advised exercise I’d engaged in since the time I tried to iron my pants without taking them off.
Why had I spent countless hours on the putting green only to register a trio of three-putts on the front nine, with another two yet to come? Why had I developed golfer’s elbow working on my swing when I was still capable of making such awful shots?
A few shots later, not long after I contemplated committing suicide by slitting my throat with a divot tool, golf showed its other face and gave me my answer.
After taking my triple on the 11th and hitting two decent shots on the 470-yard, par-5 12th, I found myself standing 160 yards from a narrow, dangerously sloped kidney-shaped green that sat on the far side of a rather intimidating pond.
Precision was required here. Despite the knowledge that precision and I are as closely linked as Rob Ford and David Suzuki, I took out my five-iron. Yes, the same iron that I had hit sideways the last time I used it.
But this time the ball rose majestically into the air, soared over the water and landed softly 12 feet from the pin. The clouds parted, angels began to sing and squirrels began to dance.
This is the way shots are supposed to go but seldom do when I hit them.
That answered my questions. I knew then that I am trying to get better because in the end I will hit more balls like this, because few things can match the sheer joy produced by such shots. (Okay, there’s at least one thing but golf partners tend to be a lot more forgiving.)
And despite the many speed bumps on my road to improvement – naturally, I three-putted the 12th for a bogey – I know it will come. My occasional putting woes aren’t a matter of technique but of concentration.
I am confident this, too, will improve, though why I was thinking about Willie McCovey’s line drive in Game 7 of the 1962 World Series while putting on the third green (another triple) is something that may require the expertise of a psychologist.
Until then, I’ll have to rely on my golf coach.
PROGRESS UPDATE: Due to rain, bad luck and spousal commitments I managed only one round in the past week. Despite my many misfires, I shot 93 at Don Valley – my seventh straight round under the 100s I was shooting when I started taking lessons. What was most encouraging about this was the realization that I easily could have been in the middle to low 80s. Okay, somebody easily could have been in that range, and someday it may be me. There were five three-putts, most of them just plain silly and the products of not assessing slopes or simply not concentrating. I blame global warming for both. On the positive side, there were three one-putts and I hit nine greens or fairways off the tee – tied for my best this year. Because I’m still working on widening my swing, there were at least six shots that went wildly astray when I either swung a little too widely or concentrated so much on the wide part that I forgot to complete my back swing. Work at the practice range produced a mixed bag of results – from promising to discouraging to downright frustrating. On the final note, I apologize to those close enough to have overheard some creative use of hyphens on my last visit to the range.
Upon further review
Thin edge of the wedge
Golfer heal thyself
Seeing the forest through the trees
One game does not an improvement make
I am certifiably insane
Turning the corner?
Mirror, mirror on the wall
All part of the learning process
Practice what you putt
Nothing easy about my swing
The Cadillac of golf testing facilities
First date jitters
Miracle worker or victim No. 5
Getting to the root of my rot
Why doesn't golf love me back?
Chris Zelkovich has accomplished many things in a journalism career that has spanned almost 40 years. He has worked as a reporter, editor and columnist for a variety of newspapers and his work has appeared in several magazines. His 12 years in golf have been somewhat less distinguished.
Bradlee Ryall is a Class 'A' member of the CPGA and Director of Instruction for the Braeben Academy. Nominated for the Ontario PGA Teacher of the Year award in 2009, Bradlee has studied and trained with some of the best golf instructors in the world at the David Leadbetter Golf Academies and served as teaching professional at some of the greatest golfing destinations in the world including the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge in Alberta, Canada.