Monday, December 8, 2008

The First Test: Sunday, December 7, 2008

Despite my best intentions, I have to agree with English Dave and Kiwi as of late when they started asking why the hell I was at the range all the time—and not playing. My original theory was to iron out the fundamentals and groove a decent swing BEFORE I started scrambling and getting all serious on the golf course. But what I’m finding is that the more comfortable I get with my swing again, the easier it is to get bored at the range—especially when I haven’t had a true test of golf in a while, and so I don’t even know how to prioritize my practice sessions at this point. So that’s what today was all about: quantifying my progress and seeing what glaring weaknesses were going to hit me in the face.

Today was my first round of golf in over 6 months (I don’t count the two rounds I played at that 3300 yard course, as it isn’t 1896 and we’re now using Titleists instead of leather balls filled with feathers). The starter paired me with an older twosome—real estate moguls from Missouri or some crap—who had no idea the importance of my round today. A poor showing today would certainly detract from all the time at the range, calling into question my current practice schedule. Then again, golf is golf, and anything could happen.

Aw who am I kidding? If I hit snap-hooks and shanks all day, I’m going to be pissed.

The course was a local gem nearby my house, playing 7000 yards from the back tees. With a links layout, water on every hole, consistent wind gusts, and greens stimping around 10, I knew I was in for a fun-filled test of golf.

After I met the twosome I’d be playing with, for some strange reason I immediately dropped a few balls down on the practice green and started rolling putts. No stretching, no warm-up swings. Those are for pansies. Then again, because I haven’t hit a driver in over a month due to the nature of my practice sessions (I’ve just been focusing on mid and short irons), I was in for a rude awakening on the first tee.

As I walked to the tee-box, I envisioned some plump Scottish starter with a belly-full of haggis screaming over the wind: Ladies and Gentleman! Now on the tee…Some schmuck who actually thinks he can hang with the big boys! An annoying little bastard who’ll probably snap-hook his tee-ball out of bounds and run home crying to mama! Let’s hear it for the guy who thinks he can spend all his time at the range and still play this game with the best of them! Tooooommmmmmmm Collins.

(Waiting for applause to subside)

“Thank you…I love you all.”

Practice swing. Smack.

Left rough. Dead pull. Fantastic. At least my grip was still strong and quite manly. And, with a fat second shot and a poor chip, I finished the first hole with a bogey. Awesome.

The second hole was worse. Even with my Hogan-esque grip on the club (back before his legendary book of instruction when he would snap hook his putter), I managed to hit a high, weak fade with my DRIVER into the right rough, leaving me 265 yards into a very birdie-able par 5. I was forced to punch out my second, as I found the only set of bushes on the hole—or maybe they were merely decorations for a nearby house and not really meant to be an obstacle at all—and then proceeded to hit my third just short of the greenside trap. I tried to get cute with my fourth, meaning I screwed up an easy flop shot (although, since when are those easy?) and hit a graceful floater right into the bunker. You better believe I had the confident swagger of a PGA Tour pro as I grabbed the pencil after that hole was over and etched a crowd-pleasing double-bogey 7 onto my card.

Honestly, I don’t even remember what the third hole was (3, 4 or 5), I just remember bogeying it and looking at the scorecard carefully, wondering if I could somehow use it as a bandage or tourniquet to stop the bleeding.

And then it happened: a par. And it was a “ho-hum” par at that. Then another. Then more crap, and then I had to get out my graphing calculator to accurately document and present the exponential 43 that existed after 9 holes.

Fortunately, however, my swing was showing signs of life. I know it’s hard to believe with a front side like that, but I played very well on the back nine, carding three birdies and shooting a 36, to finish with a 79 for the day. Maybe that horrendous front side was just what I needed to wake up my game. That had to have been the reason, because the back side was much more difficult than the front, with even more water to carry and smaller landing areas off of the tee. Then again, I started doing everything better: my driver went from crappy to dependable, my irons were crisp, and I rolled in a 20 and 30 footer on the back, finishing the day without a single three putt.

The 18th was an interesting finishing hole. From the back tees, the hole was only 291, but it had creek running in front of the green, meaning you could either hit a 4-6 iron and play it safe or man-up and try to carry the water. Of course I whipped out the driver. With a 43 on the front side and a little wind behind me, I was looking to try and finish the back nine 1-under. Fortunately, I smoked the driver, flying the creek and putting me just off of the green. Unfortunately, however, it took me 3 shots to get down from there. I think I could’ve used a pool cue from where I was and made birdie. But hey, that’s golf. If it isn’t one thing, it’s another.

In looking over my round, I would say that the finesse shots around the greens were the first big chink in the armor. I was striking the ball solidly by the back 9, but I didn’t seem to have any distance control with either the flop or bump-and-run shots I used to know and love. And I also need to practice my bunker play. I was only in two bunkers today, but the fact that I remembered both instances only proves how much I need to work on my technique again. I mean sure, I got out and onto the green, but I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervous hitting a freakin’ bunker shot. I used to love them.

Aside from that, I think the only other thing I should work on (in addition to everything else) is shaping my iron shots. I made the newbie mistake today of taking dead aim at my targets, trying to hit straight shots. Occasionally I’d try the smart thing and let the wind carry the ball to the target, but overall, I need to be fading or drawing my mid and long-irons into the greens more often. Granted, I did a good job of aiming at the right sections of the greens today, allowing for a mishit or some movement, but I think it would be better to take control of the direction rather than to simply leave it up to whatever my swing feels like producing on a particular day.