A few years ago, I wrote an article entitled “Golf is a Fickle Game.” At the time, the subject of the article was short-game guru Stan Utley, and his shocking collapse at the Lake Erie Classic. After 3 effortless rounds of 68, 66 and 66, Utley seemingly lost his abilities in less than 24 hours. And we’ve had even more recent examples in major Pro Golf events. Just since June 2010, we’ve seen Dustin Johnson close with an 82 at Pebble Beach, Nick Watney’s 81 at Whistling Straits, and Rory McIlroy’s epic collapse at Augusta, and Graeme McDowell’s +9 over the last 19 holes at the Players Championship.
As a reminder,the dictionary defines “fickle” as “marked by erratic changeableness in affections” and “liable to sudden unpredictable change.”
But, the Good News is that the change can work in your favor. The same fickle nature that makes you want to give up the game forever, is the same one that surprises you with unexpected moments of glory. Today’s article is about this “wonderfully” fickle game.
Moment #1 – Hoxsie’s Surprise
When I play in Two-Man Events at Elma, the odds are high that my partner will be there before me. So when we were 10 minutes from our tee-time, and the normally prompt Eric Hoxsie was nowhere to be seen, I was a little surprised. Luckily, he came running over the hill a few minutes later.
Scrambler: “Did you oversleep?”
Eric: “No, but I’ve had the worst morning. I walked out the front door and stepped in dogsh*t. So I had to clean that up.”
S: “Is that why you’re late?”
E: “No, I was half-way here, hit a bump, and heard the truck bed door bounce. So I got out to close it, and my clubs were gone!”
S: “Oh Crap!”
E: “So I back-track towards my house and start picking up gloves and towels on the way. Someone was nice enough to stand my clubs up at the corner of Tschang and Rt 98.”
S: “Not the best way to start the day.”
E: “No, this probably isn’t going to be my day. How have you been hitting?”
S: “Haven’t swung in 3 weeks – I was counting on you. How’d you play in you’re league last night?”
E: “Worst round of the year – shot 46.”
S: “Well, at least we’ll get some exercise today. Hope we can avoid last place!”
At that moment, the Golf Gods must have felt Eric had suffered enough for one day, and gave him a break. Eric went out and shot a -1 under 34 on the front nine, rendering the Scrambler moot in Best Ball team event. On the back 9, we switched to a Scramble format, and I was finally able to chip in, en route to a completely unexpected Team Victory.
Moment #2 – Lightning Strikes
In the 36 Hole Elma “A” Championship a few years ago, the Scrambler held the 18 hole lead with an opening 75. Through 5 holes of Round 2, all seemed well, as I was still even for the day. Unfortunately, the golf swing took a brief vacation, and the next 9 holes were played at 10 over, leaving me 3 strokes behind.
After lipping out birdie putts on 15 & 16, I was still two back. After the 17th approaches, I faced a 65 foot cross-country birdie putt, while the leader was staring at a 15 foot uphill opportunity. At this point, I had resigned myself to a loss, and even encouraged my competitor to “finish like a champion & make it.” At that point, Golf’s fickle nature asserted itself.
Just trying to avoid another bogey, I watched in disbelief as the putt kept tracking towards the hole and barely climbed over the front edge for a stunning 3. It must have shocked my competitors, as both leaders 3-putted from their more advantageous positions. With an up-and-down par on the 18th, I had secured a title that appeared lost just 20 minutes earlier.
Moment #3 – Just Get It Over With
In the semi-finals of the Elma Match Play Championship, the Scrambler was 3 up with 3 to play, and seemed on track for the finals. That was until the normally routine act of two-putting became a foreign concept. First from 15 feet on 16, then from 30 on 17, and then only needing a two putt from 10 feet on 18 to close out the match. After missing the 18 inch second stroke, we were headed to a playoff.
I was still in a mental fog on the first tee, and my mind was reeling when my snap hook bounded deep into the trees. I located the ball, but it was so deep, a punch out was still only a 20/80 option and I was still 220 out. With my opponent in the fairway, I figured I would need a large dose of luck just to save bogey and perhaps survive another hole.
And then I saw one of those “theoretical” possibilities that often compound my score. You know, the type Phil Mickelson visualizes, and still gives Bones heartburn (and Phil has consistency, unlike me). There was a little clearing in my forest that might allow me to get up & over the trees back onto the hole. If I could sky a 3-iron quickly, and then have it slice 40 yards, I might have a chance. If Cheech Marin had been there listening to my thought process, I would have had a snapped 3-iron.
Honestly, I had only a 5% belief I could pull it off, and really was just determined to “get this match over with” after blowing a sure victory with my consecutive 3-putts. But with nothing to lose, I pulled the trigger…
I felt the unmistakable “click” of solid contact, and then encouraged the ball to “get up” until it cleared the tree tops by a foot or so. And then it started curving right and I lost sight. I bent down to look under the trees and waited anxiously to see the landing…
Finally, it returned to view, landing just short of the bunker and bounded up 10 feet past the hole. I was stunned and mentally drained from the emotional roller-coaster of 3-putting away a tournament to hitting the best shot of my life within a span of 30 minutes.
And really, that is the essence of this incredible game. The capacity for this sport to surprise me at the most unexpected of times is mind-boggling. While we will more often encounter the “negative” fickle nature of the game, those rare moments when you are rewarded beyond your expectations will never lose their charm.