I didn't say anything until after a routine par on #5, the number one handicap hole, a long par-4 with an uphill second shot. Nor had Emet remarked on the round I had going. "Are you aware I'm one-under right now?" I said.
"Don't talk about it," she said, like she was watching a perfect game.
Sage advice. But the round is over now and I can't stop talking about it.
It's not like I've been knocking on the door of breaking 80. In fact, I'd been golfing at the same plateau the entire year with outlier results being on the higher scale rather than the lower. My handicap, after hitting a low of 14.5 in March, has risen to 15.1. My scores--and goals--were still bogey golf and the majority of rounds were within a shot or two of 90. The scores were fine, but I was getting frustrated.
This isn't news to golfers. Frustration is ever present. The primary reason for mine was a swing that seemed to come and go, sometimes in the same round. Again, no news to golfers. The only way to find that consistency, I figured, was to keep playing. More experience, the better one can replicate the good swings.
So, of course, I broke 80 in the first round I'd played in a month.
This past weekend was the first I'd had off in a while. I've been taking a lot of weekend shifts because I needed to bank some comp days for a summer chock full o' vacation goodness. Because I'd spent so much time away from my wife, I dubbed the past two days Angeliquend, 48 hours of wifely attention and festivities. Fortunately, she's a selfless person and allowed a round of golf as part of the fun.
We took a trip to the driving range on Thursday after work to get out some kinks, but spent most of our time chipping and putting, as I gave her pointers on those pesky chips that she struggles with (and I could say to her many times on Saturday that the shot she was about to attempt was "the same ones we practiced"). I had mixed results on the range, hitting two balls square then duffing the third. Same as it ever was. Didn't walk away feeling like anything was different.
Then, on Saturday morning, we did some yard work. We let the kitty out into the backyard to play while we did so and I took a short break to play with her. She likes me to whack plastic golf balls at her. It was then that I had a revelation.
The sixth hole is a 178-yard par three over water. It's tough because the hole is open and unprotected from the wind, which blows left-to-right and both knocks balls down and pushes them into the bunker at the right front of the green. I've used as much as a 5-iron on this hole when the wind is howling, but on Saturday it was a strong 7. I found the green off the tee and two-putted for par.
It has been those iron shots that have been the biggest hole in my game lately. I've honestly had no idea where they have been headed the last three months. I've tried a few changes, mostly in my grip, which is on the weak side, partially owing to the wrist surgery I had, but also because it feels most comfortable that way. Nothing's really worked.
So, there I am with the kitty in the back yard, hitting nice, easy seven irons at her as she tries to catch the plastic balls in the air. I'm not really paying attention to my swing until one shot where my hands brush against my right thigh on approach to the ball.
Holy shit! Total lightbulb. That's it!
The seventh hole is a bad one for me and my baby fade. Right-to-left dogleg with water left and a big bunker guarding the corner. That bunker is 235 to carry and it rises about three feet above the fairway. I can clear it. I have. Maybe one out of ten. So, I tend to play away from it. I drove it well, staying right all the way, but it ran out of the fairway. This course is fairly easy if you drive it in the generous fairways (I hit 9 of 14 on the day), but if you're in the rough, it's never a flat lie.
In this instance, I had a hook lie and though I hit it pretty well, it landed hard and carried to the back left of the green, 40 feet and a deep swale away from the pin. I figured my best option was to go high, around the swale, but I didn't hit it hard enough and left myself 12-feet for par.
I missed. "First blemish on the card," I said to Emet, while also noting the hilarity of me calling a bogey a "blemish."
Even after seven.
I'm no golf expert. I've never taken a lesson. But I watch a lot of golf. I pay close attention to those slo-mo swing analysis features on the tee-vee. Most of it goes over my head. I'd rather not stand over the ball and think about swing plane and hip tilt. But I do get certain aspects and one thing I've really struggled with is releasing my hands after contact. I've never been able to get extension on my follow through with my irons (driver is different, for some reason that I don't want to delve into because I hit my driver fine thankyouverymuch). I'm certain that explains my fade and I've tried more changes to get my body and hands around more completely.
It never occurred to me that the problem was in my address.
The 8th is the longest par-5 on the course and very difficult off the tee. A strand of trees guards the left side of the fairway, which narrows at 230-yards. Bunkers on the right and a hill that's driveable but which slopes sharply right to left. Anything center or left rolls into deep rough and a shot where the ball will be at least a foot above your feet. I'm always in trouble on this hole. The solution would be to hit 3-wood and stay short of the trouble, but I can't hit my 3-wood to save my life (guess that's the next thing to work on).
Alas, on this day, to this point, everything was working, so I just dialed back the driver a bit and landed it short of the hill, in the fairway. A smoked 5-iron left me 128 and uphill to the pin and it was here I got a great break. I thought I was hitting an easy 9, but I got more of it than I thought and it flew the green with malice. Until it hit that tree and caromed dead right, leaving me just a few yards off the back of the green, from where I got up and down for par.
Even after 8.
The kitty sat there waiting for me to hit another ball, but I was in no hurry to do so. One practice swing. Two. Eleven. Every single one of them feeling absolutely perfect.
The 9th is a gimme. 308 yard par-4, downhill. I've never actually driven it, but I've been awfully close. There's a lake front and left of the green, but my fade takes it out of play for me. The driving range and a buttload of trees are right, so if you don't hit it straight you might be looking at a big number.
I hit it straight, about 280, and it settled just past where the cart path bisects the fairway. I had my distance right with the wedge, but pulled it, leaving me 15-feet for birdie. I missed it--just--on the low side and tapped in for a front-nine score of 36.
Emet and I hit a bucket before the round. I was anxious to try out my new "fix" with full swings and actual balls.
Thwack. Thwack. Thwack.
Every single one of them came pure off the club face. 9-iron to 4-iron. All the way down the line.
I still hit the ball great on the back-9. Had a bit of trouble with distance control as the wind kicked up. I left my approaches short on both 10 (bogey) and 11 (up and down for par). I found a fairway bunker on 12--a drive that I came across because I was thinking too much--and then three-putted from 20 feet for a double. On the par-3 13, the easiest hole on the course, I hit my one truly bad shot of the day, a super-fat 9-iron that left me short and with a downhill lie to an uphill green. Bogey there. And then 14, where I took a triple-bogey 7.
I hit a good drive, but missed the fairway. The slice lie, my fade and the wind conspired to put me in a greenside bunker from which it took me three shots to get out. I was okay with the first one (downhill lie and I hit the lip of the bunker), less so with the second (I hit a hard patch and my club bounced up resulted in me blading it right into that same lip). At which point I uttered my first curse word of the round.
So, suddenly I'm 7-over after 14 and a little tilted and I say to Emet, "I need to play par golf over the last four holes to break 80."
"Stop talking about it and just hit your shots," she said.
All I did was move my hands away from my body. About six inches. One, I was able to take an inside swing path to the ball without my body getting in the way. I think, and I'm just guessing here, that I was auto-correcting on the way to the ball, dipping my right shoulder too much to get the club face there, and that was resulting in hitting it fat too often. Two, I was much more balanced, so, at impact, my body turn was maintaining speed. Three, my hands were free to release the club head and flowed easily to a good finishing position.
Fifteen is a short (491 yards), downwind par-5 and I owned it, hitting the fairway and then a 5-iron from 210 that ended up pin-high, just right of the green. I got up and down for birdie.
A routine par on 16 (I hit 12 greens in regulation. 12!) and then a three-putt bogey on the par-3 17 (pretty much missed the ball on the first put, a 25-footer up the hill).
I needed par on the 18th, a par-five that isn't especially long, but has a waste bunker fronting the green that discourages going for it in two. Which became a moot point when I out-thought myself again on the tee (I tried to hit a draw so it could ride the wind and all I succeeded in doing was swiping it). My drive was well right (but playable) and only 220, so I laid up with a 6-iron to a decent spot, about 110 yards out.
The green is well uphill from there and we had a blue flag, so I hit a big pitching wedge. It wasn't enough. I had to two-putt from 40-feet for 79.
My first putt was good. I got it there, plus six-and-a-half feet. Six-and-a-half feet, slightly downhill. For 79.
Right in the heart.
Dr. Jeff sent me a message of congratulations and an note of warning. "You will never be satisfied with anything higher."
Yeah. I know.
But I am tempering expectations. All I want is to be able to keep a reasonable facsimile of my "new" swing. I don't think I'm currently an 8-handicap, which is what that 79 would be. No, I still think I'm in the right range. Maybe a little lower than my current 15.1 (and, actually, disregarding any rounds I play until May 31, the 79 moves my HDCP to 14.3). I know I won't hit the ball as pure as I did every time out.
I just want to be able to find that swing again after it inevitably goes missing.
Is that too much to ask? If so, can I just keep it for another week? I'm playing TPC Scottsdale on Sunday.