Monday, November 23, 2015

Anatomy Of a Birdie

Anatomy Of a Birdie

Teeing off on the sixth hole, the weekend golfer wasn't thinking about anything other than the task at hand.  The round had started off okay as he stood at four over par after five holes. While that may sound bad when compared to professional golf scores, or even top amateurs, it was just fine to this part-time player with an 18 handicap. 

So, when he took his swing with his driver and saw the ball doing a slight hook to the left, it didn't seem like anything special.  Not enough of a hook to cause trouble or disappear into the woods, but enough that it would land in the rough.  Our golfer calmly placed the head cover back on his driver, placed it back in the proper slot in his bag, and started pulling the cart to the approximate place where he believed the ball ended its journey.

Having traveled 225 yards to this spot, the man was pleasantly surprised when he checked out where the ball rested in comparison to the flag stick.  This par four hole was relatively short - 355 yards from the white tees to the center of the green.  That was where the flag was placed on this day, evidenced by the dingy white flag on top of the stick to indicate the cup was in the center of the green.  He sized up the shot, pictured the path the ball would take on that path to the cup, and started his shot routine.

His weapon of choice for this chapter was the nine iron.  He had been making good shots with this club as of late, but they were usually shorter than the distance required.  One hundred yards was the average length of his shot with this club.  The mental aspects of golf can be so much harder than the actual striking of the ball that he decided not to over-think this one.  Since the nine iron had been so good to him, he pulled it out. 

He took two practice swings, addressed the ball, and swung.  True to the earlier vision, the sphere made a perfect parabola toward the flag stick.  Because of the uphill slope, however, exactly where the ball landed was a mystery.  It would be solved soon.

It only took three huge steps up the slope, as he was excited after hitting a perfect-looking shot.  Some of the enthusiasm was dampened, however, when he saw the ball's resting spot.  It was a mixture of good news and bad news.  The good news was that the path he saw was true - the ball took that straight path from rough to a landing spot on the green.  The bad news was the landing spot was thirty feet away from the hole.  Darn the bad luck, he thought, just couldn't get enough juice on that shot.

Staying in the mindset of not to over think anything, he grabbed his putter after settling the pull cart near the green and took off his glove.  Ever since he played his first round, he just liked the feel of the putter in bare hands.  Walking to the spot of the ball after removing the flag, he took a quick glance of the surface and slope of the green.  Here, our golfer caught a break as the green looked clear and flat.  Late fall golf can have some adventures while putting when fallen leaves litter the green.  Fortunately, here there were none along that road to the cup.

He grasped his putter and lined up the little white line to the center of the cup.  He went into his pre-putt routine of lining up the putt, stepping back and taking two practice strokes, moving the club back behind the ball, loosing his grip on the putter then re-gripping, and finally the stroke.  

That stroke was true and he felt it.  He watched the ball roll along, the swoosh from the brand on the ball having endured the force of the collision between club face and ball surface.  The ball stayed on path to the cup, not straying one millimeter from that path until it fell to the bottom of the cup.

Our golfer was overjoyed!  He pumped his fist vigorously, wore a huge smile and took a few happy steps to pick the ball up out of the cup.  When he replaced the flag stick, the moment of joy was over.  This isn't to say there was no afterglow as he kept smiling.  But his mind was immediately onto the next hole.  This was a brief adventure - the sixth chapter in which nine would be written.  But this chapter had one of the happiest endings that can happen on the golf course.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Almost Time to Say Goodbye to Golf For Another Season

Living in the northeastern part of the United States,November is a month that brings home the reality that golf season in the area is nearing an end.  I realize that some golfers here will make frequent trips to warm weather states to keep playing in the winter months or even live the "snowbird" life and stay in the warm weather until spring arrives.

Because I don't have these options, I will keep playing here as long as possible. One course stays open until the first snowflakes fall and that is great when it is a warm winter. One year, I played nine holes on New Years Day!  That was quite fun.

However, why I wanted to write this particular essay about this particular topic is that the golfer who plays in cool fall weather is a special breed. I played nine holes yesterday on a course tucked inside the campus of a local college. It is a nice little course with no par 5 holes, wide fairways and rough that isn't so rough. This doesn't mean there are not challenges, however - and golf in November comes with plenty.

One of these is when the wind picks up, like it did yesterday, the greens will have plenty of leaves present. For the serious golfer, this will mean having to clear all the leaves that have blown onto the green so a clear path is made to the cup.  For a weekend hacker like me, that is too much work  Just knock the ball, let it roll over the leaves, and hope for the best! That actually worked on the fifth hole yesterday  By slowing down a putt I hit too hard, the leaves helped the ball calm down enough to drop in the cup to save me from a double bogey. 

While this may sound bad, this is actually the time of the year I love playing the game even more often. The course is not crowded except for exceptionally warm days. Since that wasn't the case yesterday (cloudy, windy, temperature around 50) and I almost had the course to myself - didn't see a soul ahead of me until I caught up to a foursome on the eighth tee.  As a golfer who likes playing solo, this was a wonderful time.

I also find that I shoot my best rounds late in the season.  Maybe it's because I had the previous six to seven months to warm up for November, maybe because I am more relaxed or maybe it is just dumb luck. Or there could be another reason - the same reason why no matter what course I am playing, the best holes I usually have every round are eight and/or nine (I play nine hole rounds).  Those last good shots are what are stuck in my memory and make me come back for more.  The same goes for these good rounds in November. Whether it is because of a good score, a great shot that lands in the precise spot I pictured, or just having a good time outdoors instead of staying inside watching football, I treasure each time I can break out the sticks in November.  

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Most Popular Sport Isn't So Popular With Me

The professional football season is more than half over.  Some of the usual teams are at the top of their divisions, such as the New England Patriots and some are surprisingly good this year such as the Carolina Panthers.  My favorite team, the Minnesota Vikings, are tied for the lead in the NFC North with the Green Bay Packers.

Especially with that last fact, one would think that I would be trying to watch as much of the sport as I could and cheer on the Vikings. That is not the case. While my love of professional football has been waning for some time now, this season seems to be even more profound, as I have not watched an entire game yet this season, nor have I had much desire to do so.

Take yesterday, November 8.  Living in the Hudson Valley region of New York, I live in the market area for the two teams representing the New York City metropolitan region, the Jets and Giants.  Because my television provider also has a station from Albany, I also can watch the Buffalo Bills (the only true New York team some say) if I want to do that.  Or, a local establishment with NFL Sunday Ticket is within walking distance for me, so I could venture down there to watch the Vikings if I so desired.  But with all these options, plus the later game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Denver Broncos, I chose not to watch a single down.

Instead, I finished a book I was reading on Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau, who was diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and subsequently committed suicide. Then I  wrote a  of the book.  The weather was sunny and crisp, a beautiful fall day. Instead of spending it inside watching a game that is under more scrutiny for the health of players like Seau, I decided to play 18 holes of golf.  When that was done and I came back home, I did watch sports - but hockey as there were several games to choose from, settling on the match between the Vancouver Canucks and the New Jersey Devils.

Some may ask what's wrong with me - after all, the NFL is the most popular league and football is by far the most popular spectator sport.  I used to spend every Sunday watching football from kickoff of the first game to the end of the Sunday night game.  Even as late as 2012, when Adrian Petersen of the Vikings came within nine yards of breaking the all time rushing record.  But something happened after that.  Yes, there is all the negative publicity that the NFL has received.  Domestic abuse, child abuse, concussions, former players suing the league for insufficient medical care after football - they all are reasons people may stay away.

But yet, that is not the full explanation.  Just watching the games is not fun any longer.  It isn't good entertainment to see so many penalties called.  Notice the reaction of a wide receiver who does not catch a pass thrown in his area - he is always looking for a penalty to be called on the defender.  Rule changes occur every year to benefit the offense.  Fantasy football has made "fans" really cheer only for a certain player, not a team any longer.  None of these things alone would make me give up the game entirely.  I don't think that will happen - I do believe that at some point this season, even if not until the playoffs, I will be tuning in.  But a funny thing happened this year - I have discovered that there is a whole new world to be explored on Sunday afternoons in the autumn.  And frankly, I couldn't be happier.