The most unlikely of pars

I play golf because I love the game, even though I play it poorly.

I play golf because it allows me to spend time with friends. 

I also play golf because sometimes, the moments are unforgettable, ridiculous, and hilarious.

On Sunday morning, I played golf with two friends at Rockledge country club, a public golf course in West Hartford, CT. After playing poorly for seven holes, I came upon the 17th hole, a downhill par four that curved slightly to the left. 

My tee shot went low and left, hitting a tree and landing amidst the trees on the left side. 

My second shot - an attempt to punch the ball out of the tree line - hit the tree in front of me dead on. The ball ricocheted backward, flying across the fairway about 15 yards behind me.

I was now farther away from the hole than when I started. 

My third shot sailed down the fairway but hooked left, hitting another tree - my third in three shots. This time the ball dropped like a stone at the base of the tree, inches from the trunk. 

Trapped against the tree, now about 50 yards from the green, my only choice on this fourth shot was to punch the ball toward the green as best I could. I took a 7-iron and treated it like a putter, smacking the ball toward the pin.

The ball flew over the grass, landed softly on the green, and rolled into the cup.

I had just managed a par, despite the fact that I had hit three separate trees on my first three shots, including one shot that yielded negative yardage.

The most unlikely par ever. 

My friends thought it ridiculous and hilarious and unforgettable, as did I. On the previous hole, I had hit another tree while teeing off, this one just 20 feet from the tee box. The ball ricocheted directly back at me, about six feet from where I was standing. 

That had sent us into hysterics, too. Little did we know that there were greater things to come.

I have so many clear and brilliant memories from my dozen years on the golf course. Moments spent with friends, hitting spectacular and spectacularly bad shots, laughing at our own inanity, and sharing moments of genuine warmth and friendship. 

There was also the time a squirrel stole the bag of nuts from Plato's golf bag. The time Phil hit a woman with a ball and tried to blame it on us. The time I hit a duck on a hill. The time the head of Plato's six iron detached from his club mid-swing, sending it helicoptering between mine and Jeff's heads. The time Andrew and I unintentionally played in the snow. The time Jeff accidentally divulged the sex of his future child to me without realizing it, and then the time we did it again with the next child.  

Both of those moments also happened on the 17th hole at Rockledge. 

Those moments, and hundreds more. Maybe thousands. 

I was lucky when my friend, Tom, introduced me to golf by purchasing a set of irons for me for $10 at a yard sale and throwing them into the back of my truck with a ribbon wrapped around the shafts. Little did I know what I was getting that December afternoon more than a decade ago.

A lifetime of unforgettable, ridiculous, and sometimes hilarious moments, including the chance to one day score par on a hole despite squarely hitting three trees along the way.

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A serious commitment to golf

I've played golf in the rain many times. 

I've once played golf in the snow. 

To be fair, it wasn't snowing when we started the round, and the forecast hadn't called for snow. But it was definitely cold enough for snow. 

But this photograph of golfers in California playing as wildfires burn in the distance is both unbelievable and most impressive. 

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My son thinks I'm a golfing god

I haven't beaten one of my golfing buddies in well over a year. I've been drastically altering my grip and swing, but I'm also just not as good as the guys who I play with. They hit the ball farther and more consistently than me.  

I managed to squeak out a tie against one of them this summer, which almost felt like a victory.

But I'm getting better. Hitting the ball farther. More consistently. Understanding all that was lacking from my game. Still, beating any one of them is probably a ways off. 

It's fine. I love golf. My father-in-law gave up the game years ago when he realized that he was never going to break 100. I understand his desire to be competitive, but even if I never beat a single person again for the rest of my life, I'd still play the game. 

But it sure would be nice to win again. 

As the summer drew to a close, Elysha and I took the kids to mini golf. 

The one thing I can do on a golf course is putt. A three-putt is a rarity for me, and when I'm reading the greens well, I can sink long putts.

Sadly, the expression "Drive for show, putt for dough" doesn't apply when you hit your driver as far as your friends hit their pitching wedges. 

An exaggeration, but only slightly.   

On the nineteenth hole of mini golf, I sunk the miracle putt to win a free game. As the buzzer sounded, my children went wild. My son told everyone in the vicinity that I had won a free game, and he kept telling them until we finally walked away. 

Honestly, it wasn't luck. It was a straight putt that needed to be struck just hard enough to leap over two troughs and land in the hole without going past. I judged the distance carefully and swung. 

It dropped. 

Two weeks later and Charlie still talks about that putt. My free game. My miracle shot. 

I'd still rather beat one of my friends occasionally. I'd like to be a competitive factor as we make our way into the final hole. But if that can't happen, Charlie's belief that I am an amazing golfer is a solid consolation prize. 

Psychology of true friends

My friend Andrew - a golfing fanatic - ruptured his Achilles tendon while playing basketball last week. It's going to be a long road to recovery.

Three months in a walking boot. Eighteen months for a full recovery. 

The next golfing season in serious jeopardy.

My friends and I have a sack of golf balls that we pass from player to player depending upon who has won the last round. Bragging rights of sorts. Andrew currently holds the sack after winning the last round of the last season.

I sent a group text alerting my friends to Andrew's injury.

The first response was a statement of empathy. A question about recovery time.

Andrew provided details and expressed his concern over the upcoming golfing season.

I reminded him that I played golf with a separated shoulder one year and told him to suck it up.

A friend warned him against the hazards of contact sports at his advanced age.

Then we asked about the sack. Demanded it back. Reminded him of the rule that if you miss three rounds of golf, the sack must be returned to the group. Forgot his injury entirely. Moved onto more important things. 

When Andrew attempted to insert a injury clause to the bylaws, we told him we'd just get a new sack. A bigger, better sack.

See that? A momentary expression of empathy for a man who will be suffering through 18 months of pain and rehabilitation and perhaps a loss of the thing he loves most, and then we were ready to stick him on an ice flow and push him out to sea. 

This is what friendship is all about.