For the past twelve months, my golfing game has shaped up quite nicely as I am playing even to par. Having achieved scratch status, I’ve taken to fancies of grandeur. The perfect opportunity to test my burgeoning game (and ego) came to fruition as I took to the Emerald Valley Gold Course for this is the very course that hosted the U.S Open Sectional Qualifier just the previous week. What I learned was surprised me to say the least. My golf game is pretty damned good. My nerves are for crap.
So here’s the short of how I reached such conclusions. After scoring a comfortable par (4) on the first hole, I stepped up to the par 3 second hole which measures about 170 yards from the gold (pro) tees. I hit a smooth 6-iron into a center cut hole with a slight fade (to avoid the protected front right) and after a soft landing, it rolled in for an ace. Not my first hole-in-one ever, but my first on a PGA quality course from the back tees. Needless to say I am pretty pumped at this point (as well as basking in the adoration). I then proceeded to strike a beautiful tee shot on the next hole, a par 5, that set me up for an easy birdie (4). I followed that with another birdie (3) and then a par (3). The 6th hole was my first misstep as I chipped poorly from off the back of the green and two-putted myself into a bogie (5). Fortunately, I played the par 5 seventh cleanly and netted another birdie (4). I finished the front nine with par (4) and birdie (3) for a grand total of 31 on the front nine. It is as I made the turn and was sucking down a Propel that the full realization of how well I was playing really struck me. Emerald Valley is not a hackers course. Only 5 players broke par in the qualifying and there were only four rounds in the 60s (with a low of 68). I was on pace for a 62, taming it with ease! At least, I was until I stepped up to the 10th.
Now I am not normally a very excitable person, taking life in stride and finding humor or joy in almost everything. However, as I stood over my teed ball on the first hole of the back nine, I felt the first flush of anxiety hit me. Marriage, witnessing my child’s birth, league or club tournament championships, never had I felt such a surge of nerves before. It’s rather hard to give due description to the feeling of having your skin suddenly light afire or the feel of cloying sweat that pursues it, but that was the body I was suddenly residing within. I hooked that tee shot in the timber and while the scramble thereafter to save bogie actually calmed me a bit, the first seed was planted and my nerves were to be slowly choked by the unrelenting creeping tension. I battled through the next eight, carding a 41 for the back nine for what would appear to be a very respectable 72 (even) for the round, but that doesn’t give justice to how broken I was at the end. If I had to play another 18, I’d be lucky to shoot a 90. I was exhausted, my legs felt like gummy worms, and I am sure I had the look of a man who just saw a ghost.
Thus, it is with reflective admiration that I can honestly say that I have renewed respect for those guys and gals who play under the microscope, with millions of dollars at stake. It certainly made me conscious of the importance of a good six-inch game (that being the one between the ears).