Our First Round

Jerry and I played our first round two weeks ago. As I described in my piece from that day, I tried to prepare myself mentally and emotionally for the experience, in order to assure that I would have fun. Did it work?

It did not. I did not have fun.

Now, I did have a good time spending a few hours with my friend Jerry. I also enjoyed my time at the golf course itself, a nine-hole course not far from where I live that nonetheless feels like it's 50 miles out into the country. The place had a great energy. I'll certainly go back.

But I did not enjoy the actual playing of the game. In my piece on mental preparation, I wrote that what I was looking for was that at least some of my shots look like actual golf shots, which to me means proper shot trajectories with something like the distance I believe I should be able to expect, given my size. I wrote that I expected that I'd hit a few that met those criteria, and many others that would not. It never occurred to me I'd literally fail to hit a single shot with the power I should easily be able to muster, and how much that would matter to me.

Please keep in mind that I'm not comparing myself to some impossible ideal, like how far the pros hit, and then excoriating myself for falling short. I watch high school kids two-thirds my size easily out-hit me. This power should be well within my reach.

How deeply that lack of power troubled me has forced me to acknowledge that unlocking my power is the single most important thing for me with respect to my improvement as a golfer. As shot after shot after shot fell short of where I think I should easily be able to reach, be it a nine-iron that didn't even travel 100 yards or a five-wood that barely went 150, I got more and more and more frustrated. A shot going off line was just something I noted and then let go of. But as the round went on, the lack of distance made me want to take my clubs and smash them, one after another, into the trunks of the majestic cottonwoods that grow along the creek that runs through the middle of the course.

Okay, fine, well, besides that: How did it go? What else can I report?

Well, as Jerry pointed out in his pieces about the experience, we both struggled mightily with our short games. During our practice sessions, we usually hit our chips and pitches somewhere between "pretty good" and "lights out," but during the round, we both failed to execute almost every chip we tried to hit. Why the disconnect? Well, it was interesting to note that both of us were clearly tight. We both found a pretty dramatic difference between practicing and playing. Bringing what we've accomplished on the practice green to an actual round turned out to be more difficult than simply showing up. We discovered that learning to navigate the space of playing will be a process all its own.

A positive: except for a meltdown on the ninth, I left every single green with two putts or fewer. That felt pretty good. A couple of times, I even drained nice mid-range putts. It's worth pointing out that we basically haven't practiced putting at all since we started this process. Though practicing putting is in many ways the most efficient use of time with respect to improving your score--turning just a few three-putts per round into two-putts isn't very hard to accomplish--we have felt to this point that our development has best been served by building our short games as our foundation, and then moving out to the range. (Did that approach work? Consider this: Jerry said he now feels comfortable grabbing any club from his bag. That's a huge improvement.)

Were there any other upsides? Jerry already spoke positively of the pleasure of the experience, but I'd like to turn the focus for a moment to his results. He played just over bogey golf for the round, and that includes two holes out of the first three where unlucky bounces put him up against tree trunks with no choice but to punch the ball a few yards out. He's already within shouting distance of the sub-90 round he's looking for. And as for me, if we leave out that meltdown on nine, I was averaging out to double-bogey golf. I have been talking about the goal of breaking 100, but it's worth remembering that a useful intermediate goal is to simply shoot lower than a double-bogey-per-hole 108. I've never once done that well. That intermediate goal is clearly within my reach.

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