Monday, December 27, 2010

The Ace

Christmas Eve in Southern California dawned mercifully sunny, if a bit nippy and breezy. I know my protestations about the previous week of rain in our fair city will fall on deaf and snow-clogged ears for those of you in chillier environs, but the rain was near-constant and fell the entirety of my four-day weekend and you know what that means.

No golf.

So I was more than thankful to see the sun when I got up at 6:30 in the ayem for an hour drive east to get a round in before the Christmas Eve shenanigans began with the in-laws.

(I find it humorous to say "in-laws," because that terms carries an automatic negative connotation, but I have to say, the Emet Clan--all 40 of 'em--are the most enjoyable and welcoming group around and I have such a great time with them always.)

Emet was not with me for the round and I was playing a course for the first time. With the festivities starting at 1 p.m. at Emet's sister's house, I chose a course close to there and jammed out early. The course was Oak Valley, one of a cluster of courses where the 10 and 60 freeways meet in Beaumont, CA (point of reference for degenerates: about 15 minutes from Morongo) and a tight little track. Narrower fairways than my usual course. And trees. Lots of fucking trees. Oaks, I guess.

After hitting balls for about a half-hour, I headed to the first tee. "Are you my single?" asked the starter. I affirmed that I was an he went into a meandering tale about how he didn't have anyone to pair me with, BUT(!) if I wanted to, I could skip the first hole (which contained a foursome that was less than stellar) and try to catch up with a threesome ("Old guys, but they hit it pretty good") that was a few holes ahead of me. He assured me I could come back to play #1 after the round, so I drove to the #2 tee and set off.

Hit a gorgeous drive on the short-ish par-four, leaving myself but 92 yards to the flag for my second. Gakked a 3/4-swing sand wedge to the left of the green and chipped in for birdie.

That's right.

The third was a very short par-3 with an elevated tee and when I say "elevated," I mean elevated. At least 100 feet above the green. The GPS gave me 117 to the flag, so I hit a nice, easy sand wedge not nearly easy enough and ended up behind the green in a thicket. After pitching out of that crap, then pitching onto the green, I three-putted.

Now, I'm not taking you through my round hole-by-hole. I noted those two merely to illustrate the state of my game. A birdie, immediately followed by a triple-bogey on the easiest hole on the course. So stupid.

I still hadn't caught the older gentlemen in front of me, but I could see them on #4. I bogeyed that'un, done in once again by a poor approach after a solid drive. The wind was pretty pesky. I'd guess 12-15 mph, and I kept trying to hit my short irons on a low trajectory. I do this by playing the ball further back in my stance and putting my hands in front of the ball, thereby closing the face. I play in wind a lot and have somewhat mastered this style, as it gives me a nice little fade and keeps the ball low so the wind doesn't knock it down. The problem I'd been having to this point in this particular round, however, was the lack of fade. Ball was going straight and I was missing greens left.

Pretty much caught the threesome on #5, a long, downhill par-5. I had to wait to hit all three shots (yes, I hit the green in regulation; yes, I three-putted it from about 55 feet). As they were walking off the #5 green, one of the guys yelled back to me that they'd let me play through on the next hole, a par-3 measuring 148 yards.

Here it is:

They were waiting for me on the 6th tee. Maurice, Burt and Dale. Three buddies who've played together for 40 years. They even keep a spreadsheet detailing their rounds (and who owes who). Being the personable guy I am, I thanked them for the offer to play through, but suggested I just join up with them, if they didn't mind.

They didn't.

This is what it says on the golf course website about #6:

"This straightforward par 3 sixth hole is not as uphill as it might appear from the tee. Pull the appropriate club and hit it hole high on this two-tiered green."

The tee box was a few steps up from the cart path, the green a bit uphill from where we stood. The flag was in the front. Dale spied it with his GPS and announced 137 to the pin with the front of the green at 130. I had two clubs in my hand, the 8 and the 9 and debated my options as Burt dropped his tee shot about 20 feet past the hole with a 6-iron. I had read the course tips and remembered what the website said about the green not being as uphill as it looked. Which is what had me thinking 9-iron. But the wind was too prominent, coming right at us.

"Show us the way," Maurice said.

I stepped up with my 8-iron and went into my knockdown stance. Though I was yanking everything to this point, I stuck with my typical plan and aimed a little left, right at the sand trap guarding the left front of the green. I struck it pure, solid contact, a little humpbacked liner that, yes, was starting to fade a bit, was, in fact, tracking right toward the hole.

"Get up!" I said.

I saw it land. I saw it take one bounce. I saw it trickle toward the flag. But I did not see it go in. "That's looks in there tight," said Burt. "Yeah, it does," I said.

It did momentarily cross my mind that the ball went in. More likely, I thought, was that it rolled a few feet behind the hole and was obscured by the pin. I knew it was close. Five feet maybe. Not much more. I was hoping for a nice, easy birdie putt and wasn't even anxious while waiting for the other two to hit.

As I drove the cart toward the green, I still couldn't see the area near the pin. I went down in a canyon and then up and the front part of the green was obscured by the sand trap and the ridge. It wasn't until I reached the back portion of the green that I could see the hole.

There were not any golf balls near it. At which point my heart started thundering in my chest.

"Gentlemen," I said. "That ball may have gone in the hole."

I walked rather briskly, not breathing at all. Saw the ball mark, six feet to the left and short of the hole. I think I even clsoed my eyes for a second as I reached the flag. Opened them as I as looking right down its length.

Yep. There it was. A Nike PD High. In the cup.


I didn't jump around or anything. I had, after all, just met these guys (and, thinking about it later, what a stroke of good fortune on two counts: One, I had just caught them. If I go slower, don't catch them until the next hole or beyond, I have no witnesses. Two, the first shot they see me hit is a hole-in-one). I WAS smiling from ear-to-ear, leaning on my putter and trying to wrap my head around the shot. They were awfully nice and congratulatory about it (Maurice gave me his phone number at the end of the round. He said to give him a call if anyone disputed the account) and told me about their first holes-in-one (each of them had multiple, but Dale didn't get his first until age 71--he now has two). I texted Emet. I tweeted the ace (and thanks again everyone for your kind comments and congratulations).

Lastly, I said the my partners, "Now, let's not make any assumptions about my skill level based on that hole," which was followed by suggestions from them about how many strokes I should give them.

Of course, they gave me the honor on #7 and I responded by topping my drive all of 175 yards. I finished the front 9 with a 41. One bird, one eagle, one triple, five bogeys and a par on #1 when I got back around to play it. I was having visions of grandeur about the epicness of this round, the lowness of my score, visions which were only exacerbated when I birdied #10 when I holed out a sand wedge from 60-yards for a birdie, another ridiculous shot in the round that caused Dale to shout, "Who the hell invited this guy?!?"

That's right. After 9 holes, I was only four-over. No, it did not last. I promptly doubled 11, had two pars and three bogeys over the next five holes, and strolled to 17 with an outside shot at breaking 80. I needed to play the last three holes in one-under, but it could have been done, especially after a gargantuan tee shot left me only 48 yards to the pin on #17.

My tee shot was so monstrous, that it ended up in the rough past the end of the fairway. I did not account for the possible flier lie. I also hit it too hard. So the ball landed a few feet past the pin, took a hard bounce and a long roll and ended up in the back bunker.

From where I took three shots to get out (it should be noted that the sand was dense and soaked after a week of rain and I knew I had to really muscle up to get it out and I did, or thought I did, hit two of them pretty good, but just didn't have enough oomph or took too much sand or did something else that I can't exactly pinpoint because I was too enraged with a red misted fury that did not, surprisingly, result in a chucked club).

So that sweet-ass triple-bogey ruined the outside chance of 79, but I recovered to bogey the difficult 18th and par the first for an 84, my best score ever and EASILY my lowest handicap differential round (Oak Valley plays at a 71.0/132, considerably harder than my home course).

It was a swell shot and a swell round and when Emet asked me about it later, I told the tale with all the relish contained here and re-told it to all her relatives (all of whom play) and, later, confided in her about how upset I was with those two triples, to have left all those strokes out on the course.

"You have problems," she said.

I know.

Friday, December 03, 2010

The B Team

Yesterday morning, I logged onto Facebook and the first thing that showed up was a picture of my son. He was at a hockey game, sitting right up against the glass. In his hand was a puck and on his face was a smile. Not just any smile. It was the one that comes from deep inside him, like his entire heart and soul is etched on his face, like his body explodes from the effort, the joy of that moment.

He went to the Ducks game with his mom and step-father. I wasn't even aware he'd gone until I saw that photo on her Facebook page. And I thought of all the things that means and the last four-plus years and reactions past and bitter twists of the road and that all-too-frequent feeling I've had, the one that laments "What I Miss" of my son's life.

I thought all those things in a rapid instant, but none of them harmed me. None lingered, each negative thought purged by feeling, the feeling that I was happy for my boy, for the experience he had.


At my recent wedding reception, my Dad stood up to tell a story. He didn't get it quite right, didn't bring it home like a seasoned orator, but we all got the gist. He talked about driving me home from soccer tryouts when I was 15. It was the first time in my entire career I didn't make the 'A' squad. The decision was unfair. On talent, I make the team easily, and I failed to grasp the myriad, behind the scenes machinations that led to my demotion to the 'B' team. I was beyond despondent, knowing all my friends would play on without me and that I was relegated to the lesser group, made up mostly of boys a year younger than I.

I could go one of two ways: sulk my way through the season and fixate on the unfairness of it all or work hard to prove them all wrong.


The day after AJ's mom told me she was leaving, we went to a local amusement park. I know that sounds weird. That was quite literally the saddest day of my life. There was a pain in my heart that I would come to know very well. I felt like I was inside out. All of my nerves exposed, vulnerable to the slightest touch or word.

Yet, I felt I had to go. If there was the barest thread on this unraveling spool, I had to grab it.

As it turned out, the amusement park made me ill. AJ wanted to go on a ride that was basically a centrifuge. Shaped like a spaceship, the ride enclosed us and we laid down at an obtuse angle. Soon, it was turning at a speed which fastened us to the walls of the ride. The force soon made me sick and I began to pine for the end. I could see others climbing the walls, held there by gravity. I reached out for AJ, fearful he was as scared as I, but only saw him giggling and rolling around, suspended above the floor.

I was nauseous the rest of the day. Vertigo plagued me for a week. AJ and I still joke about it today. When we drive past the park, he says, "Daddy, there's the ride that scrambled your brain."


That 15-year-old soccer season turned out to be the turning point. My coach gave me his confidence, as did the team. I played every minute in central midfield, a position I hadn't played for six years. My game improved immeasurably. More than anything else, I had fun, more fun than I'd had playing soccer in many years. And, in the ultimate Fuck You, my 'B' team advanced two rounds further in the State Cup than did the 'A' team.


I got an e-mail from AJ's mom last week, a few days before the wedding. It said,

"I am grateful to have you and (Emet) in my life, and all the support that I get from you regarding AJ. You’re an amazing dad and (Emet) a great role model."

Gosh. There's a lot in there that has the potential to "scramble my brain." But there's also one, final, immutable fact, the only one that truly matters: we are succeeding.

I have said many times, even during the worst of it all, as badly as I felt for myself, I felt worse for AJ. And that is what kept me pushing forward. What saved me, really. I had to keep it together for him. I (mostly) did. And the child is flourishing, is content with his life, scattered though it may sometimes be.

All the potential detritus that could poison his future, the regret, recriminations, bitter grudges, have all fallen away. They do not matter any more.


The lesson, my father said at the wedding reception, summing up his speech, is that sometimes you have to go through the bad to get to the good. He's right. I ended up All-Section in high school as we twice won our league and once the Section title. I slogged through two years of doubt and pain to come out the other side.

Emet is deep and strong and generous and an absolute revelation about the way people can be. I am amazed by her knowledge of self, of her capacity to give and her strength of character. I'm also hot for her.

She would never claim to be my savior and that's probably true to some extent. With the help of many (a lot of you out there, in fact), and my own promise to my son, I was able to save myself.

Emet is the reward.


There's a picture from the wedding. Perfect blue skies and docile waves and undulating sand. Emet and I are looking back over our shoulders at the camera and AJ is standing next to us. He has his hands in his pockets. He looks sharp in his pressed white shirt and tie. His hair looks perfect. But I hardly see that. All I see is his smile, the one that comes from deep inside him, like his entire heart and soul is etched on his face, like his body explodes from the effort, the joy of that moment.