Everyone Else Hits the Green
This is fiction based on the comments of a fellow PGA Professional and some of my own experiences. This was the first article to be posted in the entertainment section, way back in '99.
I'd really like to improve the mental side of my golf game. I think I'd be pretty good. But I
must have a screw (or three) loose in my head. How do I know I'm a nut case? Well, when I
try to mentally practice, like all the golf psychology books recommend, or even when I have
dreams about golf, I visualize nightmare golf, bad golf -- horrible golf. I want to have
dreams about great golf, pure golf -- casually proficient golf. Like...
You're on the first tee. It's 9:15 AM. The weather is perfect. You can smell the fresh-cut
grass and you're really itching to hit that first tee shot. You are so relaxed and confident
there's actually a smirk on your face. There is no excess tension in your body at all.
You are the first one in your foursome to tee off. You step up and take a couple of lazy practice
swings, pick out your intermediate target from behind the ball and get a clear picture of the shot
you want to hit. Then you rhythmically walk up to take your address position, quickly get
comfortable and...unleash the most fluid tee shot, with the best feeling swing of all time -- 270
yards, right in the gut. Your foursome goes, "ooh" and "ah." The people on-deck
and milling around the practice green go, "ooh" and "ah." And you think to
yourself, "Thank you very much. Thank you." You're off to a good start.
The first hole is a 420-yard par 4, with a slight dogleg right. You've got a nine iron left.
The pin's tucked in the front right, just behind a bunker. So you aim slightly left, and
flush it. The ball holds its line perfectly and is exactly pin-high, eight feet to the left
of the hole, within two feet of your ball mark.
You're going to be the last one to putt, so you have plenty of time to get a good read. You can
see the line of your putt as if it was painted on the putting surface -- just outside left edge.
You take a couple of practice strokes to get the feel of the distance. Your hands feel great on
the putter, its weight is just perfect. There's not a spike mark in sight. You address the ball
and look to the hole once or twice to verify that you're lined-up correctly. You already know
you're going to make it. You stroke it smoothly, right on the sweetspot. The ball rolls as if
it were on velvet, never leaving the ground or your intended line. It drops in slightly left of
center with perfect speed. Routine, textbook birdie -- from beginning to end performed like you
really knew what you were doing. You can hardly wait to get to the second tee.
The second is a par 3 of 192 yards, a little downhill. The pin is back-left, and the green
slopes significantly from back to front and left to right. The only place you must
avoid-at-all-costs is long-left. You need a club that can't go long. It looks like a
five iron. It feels like a five iron. You hit a five iron; aiming right at the pin and
hanging-on to a little cut move -- smooth and sweet. The ball seems to climb and hang in the
air on its way to the green and then falls a bit to the right on the way down -- right in the
middle of the green.
You've got a 30-footer, straight uphill, with almost no break -- perfect. You hit a solid
putt on a good line to the hole. It stops about 10 inches short. You tap it in unconsciously.
Rock solid par -- nothing to it. Your mind and body are working together. You feel great.
You're making the right decisions, picking the right clubs and executing all the shots.
(Hey, this guy's good.) This is really fun.
You go through the entire round like this. You don't make any mental mistakes. You don't
make any big mistakes in execution; a few slight mishits is the worst of it. No problem;
nobody's perfect. You remain calm throughout the whole round, not ever an anxious moment.
You end up hitting all eighteen greens in regulation, take 30 putts and shoot 66. Life is
but a dream... (snicker)
It's not bad enough that reality can't be like that. Even when I visualize and practice
mentally (even when I dream) it's more like...
You're on the first tee. It's 9:15 AM. The weather is perfect. But you can't smell the fresh
cut grass, because your mind is occupied with the dread of hitting that first tee shot. Why?
Because for the last two weeks, when you play or practice, you have no idea where your driver is
going -- none. Of course you're the last one to hit in your foursome and everybody else has hit
the fairway to the approval and acknowledgement of all the bystanders in the area of the first
tee. You are not confident. You do not feel good. You take a couple of lazy practice swings,
pick out your intermediate target, and as you approach the ball to settle into your address
position a member of your foursome says (good-naturedly and with no malice aforethought),
"Okay, Tom, come on now, let's make it four-for-four in the fairway." This person, naturally, is
your least-favorite member of the foursome, the one you always hope does not show up (in fact,
you can't figure out who invited him to become a member of your foursome in the first place,
or why). For the tiniest instant you consider (and dismiss) hammering him over the
head with your driver, or viciously rebuking him in front of everybody, for saying something
so utterly inappropriate and counterproductive. But golf is not a game where inflicting
physical damage on your fellow players is appreciated behavior, as it is in some other sports.
Besides, there are people watching and waiting, and you can't take all day.
So, rather than collect yourself and start your pre-shot routine over again (as if that
would help), you just do your best to concentrate on your swing thought, which is
"smooth and solid." At least that's what your swing thought is supposed
to be. But somewhere between saying it to yourself internally and the top of your backswing
it mutates and turns into something that sounds suspiciously like "a shadow of evil is
You make the best swing you can under the circumstances, and with a spasm of tension and
tightly held breath you kind of heel/skank one that starts down the middle of the fairway
and leaks to the right. The contact feels so horrible that, as you finish your
"swing," your hands slowly lose their hold on the club. It proceeds to
come out of your hands, over your left shoulder, and onto the ground behind you, in the
most woeful follow-through pose, your eyes looking down at your feet and the club bouncing
behind you on the ground.
The ball ends up in the right rough, completely blocked off from any access to the pin by the
trees on the right. It's short, it's crooked, and it's ugly. There's not a sound as you move
toward your cart. You are riding with the same fellow who'd made the "helpful" remark
earlier -- wonderful. But, you're trying to be positive, so you think to yourself,
"At least it's in play."
You get dropped off at a yardage marker on a sprinkler head, on the right side, near the rough
and in the vicinity of your ball. You take a couple of clubs and your playing companion drives
off toward the middle of the fairway... where everybody else is. You notice in passing that your
ball is only about eight feet from being out of bounds. The nearest yardage marker says 188. In assessing the
situation, you can see that you'll need to hit a fade of some kind. Unfortunately there is
grass all around your ball, especially behind it, and if that's not bad enough the ball is
slightly above your feet -- great. The only other option is to hit it up and over a part of
one of the obstructing trees -- and you'll still need to cut it a little. Or, you could punch
out. (Sure you could.)
Considering the distance, the lie, and the trajectory you'll need to clear the tree you
conclude that muscling-up on a six iron is the way to go. You figure the worst case scenario
is that you'll end up a little short-left, with a good angle to chip or pitch from. You glance
over at your playing companions. They are looking at you. You get behind the ball and try to
picture the shot. Whether or not it's humanly possible to hit this shot you don't know.
But you're about to find out. You take a slash at it and catch it pretty well; better than
you'd expected. It doesn't come anywhere near clearing the tree as you had
intended, but somehow, miraculously, it gets through unscathed. It could be the greatest
recovery shot of all time. But you notice that it isn't fading -- perhaps the leaves of the
tree took spin off the ball -- and for that matter, it's not really coming down either. You
see the ball land long-left of the green, bound over a mound and head down a gentle slope
toward some large bushes -- oh goodie.
Everyone else hits the green.
Upon arriving at your ball you are pleasantly surprised to find that it's not in
the bushes. It stayed short -- just barely. So, the bushes will interfere with your backswing,
unless you play the ball back in your stance and take the club up much more steeply than you'd
like. Unfortunately, you need to hit a high, soft shot, even though the pin is in the
front-right, because you must go back over that mound and the green slopes away from you. If
that's not bad enough the grass around your ball is fairly thick bladed, sturdy stuff, and
it's growing back against the direction of your swing. The mound obscures your view of not only
the bottom two-thirds of the
flagstick, but the spot where you want to land the ball and the entire green as well. The only
other option is to bump it into the bank of long grass and ... forget it. So you make the best
swing you can under the circumstances and... you hit it a bit thin. It's going way too fast.
It's got good direction, though. You can't see it once it gets over the mound, but you
hear it slam into the pin at mach-one. The talkative guy says, "Great shot!"
You roll your eyes. As you walk over the mound you can see that your ball has come to rest
about three feet from the hole. Still trying to be positive you think to yourself, "Okay,
go ahead and make your par and get out of here." But no matter how hard you try to be
positive you can't escape the fact that you have just hit three horrendous shots in a row and
gotten luckier than a...
You mark and clean your ball. Everybody else putts out: one birdie, two pars -- quick, routine,
painless. It's now your turn to clean up the mess you've left. You read the putt right edge,
it is clearly a right edge putt. Grass, however, is not a perfectly homogenous surface. Although the
stroke feels ok the ball goes straight, catches the faintest piece of the right lip and never
even considers going in. You've missed it: bogey -- nice start. And the truth is that you have
already used up a large portion of your eighteen-hole allotment of mental energy, with all the
stress you have imposed upon yourself, on just the first hole. There are seventeen more of
these "walks-in-the-park" to go. You remind yourself in passing that hole number
one is one of the easiest holes on this course.
Number 2 is the 192 yard par three. You are last to hit. You hit five iron well but you
must have come over it just a bit because when you look up it's going just slightly left of
the flag and it really jumped off the clubface. You hope it will cut just a little, after
all that's the shape you play most of the time. It doesn't. You hope it will grab
immediately, after all it's still early and the greens are soft. It doesn't. It lands on
the back-left fringe and holds pretty well, but the first bounce takes it about two inches
into the longer grass.
Everyone else hits the green.
When you get to your ball you can't believe it. You missed the green by, what, maybe three
feet and you have the worst lie in the history of golf. You don't have any idea how the ball
is going to come out of this lie... other than, it's either not coming out or it's coming
out way too hot. You remind yourself in passing that you're not supposed to miss this
You take a stab at it and it does indeed come out... about a foot. It lands on the fringe and
almost makes it onto the green. It had that ugly feeling, where you know the ball was in
there somewhere but you never did touch it. (Come-on-along-I'll-take-you-to---the-lullaby-of-chunkland...
[quoted from J. Fleming, 1990])
Now you have the scariest putt on the green. Everybody else has casually two-putted from
below the hole -- quick, routine, painless. Your putt is about a fourteen-footer, left to right,
and downhill to say the least (like, if your ball doesn't hit the hole it won't stay on the
golf course!). You barely touch it, aiming way left. It picks up speed and breaks, picks
up more speed and breaks some more, it's really moving now and breaking some more, it catches
the lower lip and... instead of spinning out it spins in! Par. Your playing companions are
going nuts, hooting and hollering, knowing how difficult the situation was.
You breathe a massive sigh of relief. You have made par. But the stress toll you have
accumulated in just two holes is unfathomable.
You go through the entire round like this. There are too many anxious moments. You only
hit six greens in regulation, take 31 putts and shoot 79 with an O.B. and a ball in the water.
Golf is vicious. Life is cruel.
Surely, you think, you're a better player than your score would indicate. But how to tap the
inner resources you know you possess and realize your true potential...
While thinking about it on the drive home a light bulb comes on. You've got it! You vow to
practice twice as much. (Forget about making a living, or even "living" the rest of your life) Also,
tomorrow you'll sign up for classes in self-hypnosis, transcendental meditation, positive
thinking and tai chi. Things are going to change. It will be a whole new "you"
and before you know it you'll be shooting in the 60's all the time -- who knows, maybe even
playing the Senior Tour... As you pull into your driveway you can picture yourself
walking down the fairway with A.C. Doosie, Umberto Concerto and/or Jim Albatross in a Senior Tour event.
But for the moment you're still feeling the bludgeoning you received on the golf course, and
there's only one way to feel better when you feel like that...