Sunday, September 02, 2012

An Embarrassing Round: One Hundred Strokes of Solitude (with apologies to Gabriel García Márquez)

I love my wife. I really love my beautiful wife. More on that later and one of the reasons why, but before that explanation, I must tell you about shooting 100 in the CGA Carolinas Senior Amateur Championship Sectional Qualifier on the Lake Course at Carolina Trace Country Club in Sanford NC.

That's right. 100. The Century Mark. Some 28-strokes over par 72 on the Robert Trent Jones layout that, before August of this year, I last played in the early 1970s shortly after its opening. I do not recall shooting 100 back then; not even close. But on Thursday, August 30, 2012, in a tournament round, I signed and turned in a scorecard showing 100 strokes.

Before deciphering my way out of the memorable round of just 18 holes, I'll set the scene. For several months, I've wanted to replace my interesting golf club collection of a 983 Titleist driver; a Callaway Big Berth 4+ metal-wood; Hogan Plus irons numbers 3-W and 50-degree wedge; a Titleist 56-degree Vokey wedge; an American Standard lob wedge, loft unknown but which was a gift from my friends John and Julian Bunn of Carolina Customer Golf many years ago when I played 100 holes of golf in a fund-raiser for the Cary YMCA; and an Odyssey DF-990 putter.

My desire for new clubs led me to Larry George, PGA Professional at River Landing Golf Club in Wallace NC, who agreed to a club-fitting. The result was a change, a complete change, to a set of Ping i20 including a 10.5 degree driver, a 15-degree 3-metal, a 20-degree hybrid (my first hybrid club), irons 4-W and wedges of 50-, 54-, and 58-degrees. Prior to that I had recently replaced my putter with another Odyssey, the Metal-X D.A.R.T.

Prior to the club fitting and purchases (went whole hog and bought a red and black Titleist lightweight carry bag as well), I committed to play in two tournament qualifying rounds, the aforementioned CGA event, and, believe-it-or-not, the 2012 USGA Senior Amateur Sectional Qualifying, to be played Thursday (Sept 6) at the Forsyth Country Club in Winston-Salem. My USGA handicap index of 5.0 is low enough to allow entry into both.

My game, though, is borderline to make cuts; I'm realistic but wanted the competition, knowing my best bet of advancing to a Championship would be the Carolinas Senior Am. An 80 at Carolina Trace and I would be preparing to play at Forest Oaks Country Club in Greensboro later this month. But, I missed the mark by 20 shots; after hitting countless range balls for two weeks prior to last Thursday's attempt; after shooting 81 (first round with my new clubs) 15 days earlier at Hope Valley Country Club in Durham which has the same Bermuda greens as Carolina Trace; and after playing two practice rounds at Carolina Trace, coming off the course each time with plenty of course notes and the confidence that I would play well enough to advance.

However, last Thursday, at the appointed tee time of 9:17 a.m., after warming up extremely well on the driving range and knocking in several good length putts on the practice green, I stood on the 10th tee, my first of the day, and embarked on a round that will live with me in infamy, not to mention for a long time too. I will not bore you with all of the golfer-nightmarish details, just a few interesting shots and some facts about the round.

For instance, the disastrous round started with my first swing at the Titleist ProV1 which came off the heel of the 15-degree 3-metal with a low trajectory down the left side of the fairway, stopping in deadpan rough under a tree limb. My second shot, ball way above my feet, clipped a few leaves on the tree but ended up in the fairway. Third shot was a little thin and came to rest near the back of the green, safely on the putting surface. Three attempts later, I retrieved the ball from the cup, announced a double bogey six as my score and headed to the second hole, a little shaken but knowing in my head 17 pars were still possible.

On my second hole, in a sand bunker off the tee, I discovered my ball nestled up against the back side of a rock the size of a large marble. Finished the hole with a triple bogey but still had a positive attitude. After hitting a second shot into the water hazard on my third hole (#12), I walked away with another double bogey. I was seven-over par after three holes. And, so it went. Making one par was deep on my mind but fleeting.

There were several good shots and holes that day. I reached the 500+ yard par five 14th hole, my fifth hole, by hitting driver and the 20-degree hybrid, but I three-putted for par. I rolled in an 8-foot putts on the 17th and 18th holes (my eighth and ninth) to save par. That felt good, and gave me pause for hope on the incoming nine after scoring a solid but very disappointing 48 on my first nine holes.

Hope gave way to frustration when my tee shot on my 10th hole, number one on the Lake Course, came to rest next to a tree and lodged on the front side of a root in the left rough. I could only swing to hit it away from the hole, back towards the tee. Triple bogey came easy. As it did on my 12th hole, the course's number three, when I hit my first tee shot out of bounds to the right and my second tee shot into a red-lined hazard on the left.

And, then there was my 17th hole, the 8th hole on the Lake Course at Carolina Trace, a 186-yard, down-hill par three that required no more than my 7-iron, the club I used to safely locate pin high during my two practice rounds. This time my ball landed with little splash, easily a 9.5 dive, in the pond bordering the front and left side of the green. I located the marked drop area and proceeded to hit my third shot into the water, then my fifth shot into the water, and then my seventh shot onto the green about 30 feet from the hole. Three putts later, I relayed to my scorer to write a 10 on the card.

As I walked to my final hole of the day, I needed a birdie on the par 4, to break 100, to turn in a 99. A somewhat good drive down the left side of the fairway came to rest in the 4-inch high rough. Tree limbs were between me and the green, and my second shot, ripping through the branches, stopped short of the green and many yards away from the cup located near the back of the green. I made a valiant chip but it came up four feet short. I calmly rolled the putt into the cup, and chuckled to myself that I was about to post 100 in the first qualifying round I had played since my junior golf days in the 1960s.

Stats, as they say, are usually for losers, so, aside from looking at my scorecard, here is the breakdown by the numbers:
2: fairways off the tee
7: greens in regulation
7: penalty shots (which account for 13 strokes on my score)
41: putts, including seven 3-putts and two 1-putts.
6: pars
5: bogeys
2: double bogeys
4: triple bogeys
1: septuple bogey
0: birdies or better
28: strokes over par

For a fleeting moment, I considered no-carding, but, as far as I'm concerned, not turning in a completed card is disrespecting the game. "I'm embarrassed," I told the official scorer as I signed and offered my scorecard. "Why?" he asked. "I shot a hundred," I returned with a dejected smile. I was actually laughing at myself. "I even had a 10 on a hole." The CGA official, trying to give me some unsuspecting encouragement, told me, "Your 10 is not the highest on a hole today. One guy had a 12 on the 17th hole." That was little relief to me but it softened the blow. I did not ask who might have recorded the octuple bogey, and fled to the friendly confines of my car to return home, despondent about what had just happened during the previous five hours.

Now, for why I love my wife. My first telephone call as I climbed into my car went to my wife, Nancy, who was interested in my round. "How'd you do?" she inquired immediately. After I told her, she asked with dismay in her voice what had happened. She recounted all the practice, effort and determination I had put into this one round. Then she made a suggestion of how to correct it before I tackle the USGA Senior Am sectional qualifier. "Don't go to the range and hit more balls," she said emphatically. "You need to play more and learn from that. I want you to play Saturday morning. Call the golf course and get set up to play Saturday. Will you do that? For me?" And that's why I love my wife; I really love my wife. Not the only reason, but a strong reason.

At NC State University in the 1970s, I took a Spanish literature class. One book we read was One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. I remember it today. As I reflect on my round of 100 strokes, I think about that novel and the beginning and end of the Buendía family. Writing about my fortune and misfortune helps me break away from it. It's just golf, not life. I shall live on.

POST SCRIPT #1: As I was driving home, I received a call from an acquaintance who had also played in the qualifier at Carolina Trace, finishing about 90 minutes ahead of me. He didn't ask how I had done; he asked me one question: "What was the highest score you had on a single hole today?" At that point, I knew the answer to what the CGA scorer had told me. "You're the guy with the 12 on number 17?" I asked and stated. "Yep," he said explaining: Tee shot into a bush on the left side of the fairway; chipped out; tried to hit the third shot but it hit a tree and went out of bounds; fifth shot was same as third; seventh attempt went across the fairway; eight shot back into the fairway; ninth shot short of the green on this 367-yard up-hill par four; 10th swing sculled the ball into the back trap; if you've been following, he got it up and down from the trap for a 12, a nonuple bogey, sinking a 10-footer to avoid a 13. (Click here for an names of scores over par.)

POST SCRIPT #2: The 100 was not posted in its entirety on my USGA handicap. Only a 91, the adjusted score after the four triples and the one septule were reduced to double bogeys.

POST SCRIPT #3: I played 18 holes at Lonnie Poole Golf Course in Raleigh Saturday morning. It was extremely hot and humid but my game was a lot better. Scored an 81 with two double bogeys which included a penalty shot on each. Only 34 putts; hit nine fairways and 10 greens in regulation. The big difference between Lonnie Poole and Carolina Trace, aside from bent grass greens at LPCG and Bermuda at CT, Lonnie Poole has much wider landing areas off the tee, more receptive to my sometimes erratic tee shots.

POST SCRIPT #4: Next up for me, two things: 1. The USGA Senior Am sectional, and, 2. A review of the Lonnie Poole Golf Course at NC State University, three years after it opened. Stay tuned.

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