4 AM, Saturday: Car loaded, DD gigando mug filled with coffee, GPS less erratic than usual, all systems as close to go as can be anticipated. Wheel the car out of the driveway, pointed in the direction of Long Island and Bethpage State Park’s Black course, site of the State Federation high school golf tournament.
5:30 AM, Saturday: Rest area number one. Coffee always equals pit stop, where I buy more coffee (two from Starbucks, because I have gift cards from my students and I’m being reimbursed. Not normally a Starbuck’s guy, because I have a family and I’m a teacher. Despite all that, Starbuck’s makes good coffee, even on the I-90.
7 AM: Leave the I-90 for the I-81, on which I’ll spend a few more hours and enter Pennsylvania. If you compare New York’s roadways with those of neighboring states, our taxes do some good. We seem to have smoother highways and less construction than Pennsylvania, for shizzle.
11 AM: Have to consider metro New York. Driving there is a nightmare. I don’t mind nightmares, but I do know what they bring~$20 to cross the GW, $7.50 to cross the Throgg’s Neck, back-ups on the Cross-Bronx, the Cross-Island…remember this advice: when a Yawker tells you that you won’t encounter any traffic on your trip out or in or home or wherever, know this~she or he is wrong. Not lying, but wrong. There’s always traffic. About 72 trillion people live there and many have cars, so there’s always traffic.
11:30 AM: Considering the practice round that lies ahead. I won’t play with the boys; my plan is to take photos for their parents and help them navigate and negotiate with the course. Bethpage Black is mother Earth. You don’t defeat mother Earth. She’s like Chuck Norris, only more so. You weave your way between the lines of rough, hoping to avoid the fescue. You don’t mind hitting 5-wood and 5-wood to a par four, as long as you have a chip and a putt, or a putt and a putt, for par. Unfortunately, headstrong and macho teenaged boys don’t fully comprehend this strategy. Actually, it’s not a strategy; it’s a chance to keep breathing.
11:45 AM: The call comes in from Jake. Course is closed due to 9 inches of rain the night before. I hear the whole story from my hosts on Saturday evening, but I’ve been to Bethpage for US Opens, so I know how wretched its drainage is. I ask the lad to find out if we can walk the course, or if they can hit balls on the range. “No” to the former, “Yes” to the later.
1:00 PM: I arrive at Bethpage. The boys hit balls on the range, where mats serve as fairway and marshmallows replace golf balls. I look out at the range and wonder if floater golf balls would be a better idea.
2:15 PM: We break for lunch at The Library in Farmingdale. Nice place to rest your feet and have some soup, or a salad, or fish tacos. We go over the course, shot by shot, hole by hole, green by green. It’s in their hands now.
4:30 PM: I arrive at my digs in Babylon. Friends from college are a marvelous thing. Just last week, at the qualifier, I saw Jerry Haas, then a varsity golfer and frequent interview subject, now the coach at Wake Forest. It’s nice to reminisce.
Sunday dawns. I need to be at the course by 7:30. I’ll be the official scorer for one of the groups. I know it won’t be group 2 or 4, since our boys qualified in those positions. Turns out I have group five, where the other WNYer landed. He qualified through the NYSPHSAA, by far the toughest road to hoe. I later learn that this kid is country and hits the ball the expected country mile. His flexibility encourages me to work on my own when I get home. I keep my promise to me.
7:45 AM: Squeegee crews are pushing water across the first fairway. Two fairways to the right, the 18th of the Green course is now called “Lake 18.” If we were 60 miles east, in the Hamptons, our courses would be sand-based and drainage would be a non-issue. Here, in farm country where the top soil reigns, water moves down slowly.
8:00 AM: We learn that tee times are delayed by one hour. No worries. I have a place to bunk tonight if I don’t have the energy to make it home.
10:20 AM: I meet my group, the official explains my role and we are off. Here are the lessons we learned, in brief:
~Hit driver seldom. It misses most fairways.
~Hit fairway metals off tees. They find fairways.
~If in first cut of rough, don’t go for the green. Aim 50 yards short and control the shot.
~If in fescue, find ball and mark with hat. Then mark hat with another hat.
~If in fescue, don’t try to advance ball. Turn sideways and pitch into fairway. This will save three strokes and one unplayable lie penalty.
~Three-putt greens for bogey are not the end of the world; one-putt greens for nine just might be.
~Drink lots of water before, during and after drinking lots of water. Bethpage is a 4 mile slog, with the greatest elevation changes reserved for holes 15-18.
~Embrace the moment on 18. You’ve earned it.
4:00 PM: 36 hours after I left Buffalo for this place, I leave this place for Buffalo. It seems fitting.