An Appreciation for Professional Golfers

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).

Wow, I wish I could devote myself to golf in such a way to become as good as you are, Shade. I really like playing, but don't have the resources to devote to it in order to progress very much.
I can only imagine the pressure that is felt by the pros on virtually every hole they play.

Everyone I play with admires my practice swings. Then my nerves get to me terribly when I'm playing in front of people. When I get the rare opportunity to play solo (often in the late afternoons), my score tends to improve by 5-10 strokes. Translating that somehow to the usual 4-man cadre of players is something I have yet to do in long stretches. I'm impressed you're a scratch golfer. I feel its a good day when I crack the 80 barrier. I haven't improved a lick in the 10 years since high school. It sucks to know you've peaked at something a long time ago when you should still be somehow improving.

Is this a metaphor for what appears to be a severe online game habit?

Shade -- it sounds, though, like you have some real talent. This was your first PGA-type event...with the scores on the front nine, there's certainly promise. Maybe another attempt would leave you looking at the back nine thinking "I've been in this situation before, I can handle it."

Sure, you'll probably always have some nerves. But perhaps experience will make them affect your game less.

Pure conjecture, but I'm trying to be encouraging, since it sounds like you're doing so well!

Well, like with anything, time at the craft is often a determining factor in how good one becomes. Having retired from working outside of the home some thirteen years ago has afforded me more than a little free time to devote to my favorite pastime. I shot a 92 on a typical municipal course the first time I put in a full round, fell in love with the game, and have devoted a fair share of time to it since. It gives me something to do while the wife is at work and the kids at school.

I am not entirely sure I have the mentality to compete at a high level anymore, though. I have found that since retiring, I move further and further away from aggressively contested pursuits. In my twenties, it was a part of my life, but as I progressed through my thirties and into my early forties now, I am much more passive than ever. I still enjoy bettering myself, my game, but bettering others has little appeal. Unfortunately, this certainly makes me realize that while it’s a nice fantasy to imagine competing a higher level, I am probably ill suited for the mental pressures that would accompany it.

I enjoy the game for its relaxing nature. The self-centered focus is engenders. I fear I deal with stress very poorly anymore.

Me and a few friends picked up the game recently, tooling around the local course during learner's hours and taking some lessons. The course's pro advised us to give putting on the practice greens a shot, and to put something up for grabs.

I could not believe the way my nerves absolutely jumped on my back, just trying to see who could come closest to the pin from six feet away. It was amazing. Not nearly what you experienced raven, but still, there and screaming in my ears.

It's funny, I think it's worst in golf because it's just you there, and there's so little tactile response to guide you or to make you feel better, because you've got one moment, one shot to hit that ball just right, and then it's totally out of your hands. I played as a goalie in Floor and Roller Hockey at my alma mater, and got to a fair few titles games, and I never felt the nerves I did in that moment. Perhaps it was the knowledge that I was good enough already, but knowing it, feeling your legs pumping, actually having the taste of it, doing it, that makes a huge difference to me, nerves-wise. Sports like golf and basketball, where you can only control so much... I don't know how people do it.

Prederick wrote:

Me and a few friends picked up the game recently, tooling around the local course during learner's hours and taking some lessons. The course's pro advised us to give putting on the practice greens a shot, and to put something up for grabs.

I could not believe the way my nerves absolutely jumped on my back, just trying to see who could come closest to the pin from six feet away. It was amazing. Not nearly what you experienced raven, but still, there and screaming in my ears.

It's funny, I think it's worst in golf because it's just you there, and there's so little tactile response to guide you or to make you feel better, because you've got one moment, one shot to hit that ball just right, and then it's totally out of your hands. I played as a goalie in Floor and Roller Hockey at my alma mater, and got to a fair few titles games, and I never felt the nerves I did in that moment. Perhaps it was the knowledge that I was good enough already, but knowing it, feeling your legs pumping, actually having the taste of it, doing it, that makes a huge difference to me, nerves-wise. Sports like golf and basketball, where you can only control so much... I don't know how people do it.

Aye, the whole 'one-moment' thing can get to you. I was a backup keeper in college for soccer and never got nervous because I could watch the play build and was always adjusting my positioning accordingly and taking calculating chances. In golf, its one shot and a lot of muscle memory. I'm pretty sure pro-golfers are the closest thing we have to Zen Masters outside of, well, the religion itself.

Awesome story, Shade. Like everyone else, I wish I had the time to devote to such a great game. So, the question is, how does one go about retiring at 40?