Friday, April 6, 2012

Ooh My Head

That’s the title of a Ritchie Valens song from the late 1950s, later stolen by Led Zeppelin to create Boogie With Stu. Look it up. Wait, I’ll do it for you –

But I’m not going to discuss music or specifically Zep’s unsavory habit of ripping off other band’s music and calling it their own.

Instead, I am talking about MY head. Last Wednesday I shot my lowest round of golf in five years. A very satisfying 71 at Casselberry Golf Club, with My Man Mike. Satisfying in the sense of shooting a low number, but also unsatisfying in that my damn head got in the way of it being a much lower score. Allow me to recap, and you will see why –

I hit a nice drive on the first hole and proceeded to make a solid par. On two, I half-skulled a gap wedge to 6 feet and made birdie. Number three was a solid two-putt par. We jumped ahead to #6 to bypass a slow foursome and I hit a sand wedge to 3 feet and made the putt for another birdie. On 7 I made a real good sand save for par. On 8, a tough par-3, I hit a 5 iron to 15 feet, two putt par. On 9 I hit a 6 iron to 5 feet and made the putt for birdie.

Enter the first chink in the mental armor – I said to Mike “Holy shit I’m three under.” Mike’s response is what he always says to me – “Don’t think about it. Keep swinging.”

On 10 I made a lucky par. Eleven is arguably the toughest hole on the course, and I made a bogey. I parred 12 and 13. Standing on the 14th tee I’m 2 under and I know it.

And that’s exactly the wrong place for your head to be – knowing what you’re shooting. The impulse is to try to protect/defend instead of, as Mike said, to keep swinging.

I pulled my drive on 14, but was okay. I tried to hit a hard 9 iron into the wind to a front pin with a bunker in front. Bad strategy. There was 40 feet of green behind that pin, but I hit the club that brought the bunker into play. Splat – into the bunker. Left with a very simple, clean uphill lie in the bunker and about a 50-foot shot, my last thought was “Don’t blade it over the green.”

Well I didn’t. I hit it 3 feet and left it in the bunker.

Now I’m pissed. Stepping up to the next shot I did exactly what I told myself not to do on the previous shot. I bladed it over the green, damn near decapitating Mike in the process. I pitched on and made a 10-footer for double bogey.

Even par.

On to 15. The toughest hole on the course – a 220-yard par 3. On the drive from 14 to 15 I am kicking myself – ‘Nice job Nimrod. You just doubled an easy hole and now you gotta play the toughest hole on the course’. I tried to jump on my 3-hybrid and hit a skank pull-hook that rattled in the huge magnolia tree and came to rest inside a drain culvert. After taking a drop, I hit on the green and two putts later, I registered back-to-back double bogeys.

Two over. When fifteen minutes earlier I was two under.

Ooh my head.

Sometimes I really hate this fucking game.

But it’s not the game! It’s how I play the game that’s the issue. I made three good pars on 16, 17 and 18, and I said to Mike, we gotta go back and play 4 & 5 because I want to post this score, and we had skipped them earlier.

So back to #4 we go, a solid 380-yard par 4 with water in front. The play is to hit the drive as far as you can to set up a short iron over that water. Knowing that, I heel a piece of crap drive about 210 yards off the tee. Now instead of a 9 iron approach I have 170 yards to a back pin into the wind with a pond in front, and I am trying like hell to get two over into the clubhouse.

It was at this point sanity re-entered the cesspool of my brain. I took out a 7-wood, my 180-yard club, and made my best swing of the day, placing the ball about 25 feet from the hole. Two putts later and I can finally breathe a sigh of relief because the fifth hole is just a 120-yard par 3 with no real hazards.

On the fifth tee I said to Mike “I need an ace to break 70.” He just laughed. Because he knows me. I hit it 12 feet from the hole and before I hit the putt I said “If I make this it’s 4 under on the front nine.” I didn’t, but a tap-in par gave me the 71.

Golf is essentially played between the ears. Yes, there is a lot of mechanics involved in executing a proper swing, but ultimately it is about using your brain to a point, then shutting it off – you have to use it to calculate yardage, wind direction, the lie, where you want to hit it and so on. Then you have to shut it off when it’s time to hit the ball. Trust what you got…and just swing.

And for Christ’s sake, do not think about what your score is.

My head hurts.

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