Monday, June 20, 2011

First Tee Jitters

Well, it finally happened.

It’s near the middle of June. It had to happen sometime.

But yesterday it finally happened.

I played my first round of golf.

No practice. No driving range. No putting on the living room carpet.

I just showed up to play golf.

In a tournament.

No, not a fun best ball drive around in a cart drinking beer with your buddies tournament.

This was a tournament for our local zone. Playing with a partner, our combined scores would have to be good enough to qualify and advance to the district tournament in July. And from there, the regional, and from there the provincial. Qualify there, and you go on to the national tournament.

I’ve known about playing in this tournament now since March.

But there is little time for golf now, with being so busy at work, and my new responsibilities to our local Legion branch. And of course there’s the girls softball schedules and all star try outs. That leaves me very little time for golf.

Or much else, really.

When I arrived at the local course in Windsor to register, I met my partner for the first time. Larry looked the part of an avid golfer, black pants and red shirt, weather beaten golf hat and worn glove. Looking at Larry I knew I had the advantage of a good player for a partner.

The combined scoring format meant Larry was counting on me to pull my share of the load. I felt ashamed as I introduced myself to Larry. But as we shook hands, Larry confided to me that this was his first round of the year too. He stopped on his way to the course to hit a bucket at the range to try to get his swing back.

I didn’t even do that. And I told him so.

I explained how unprepared I was to Larry. Larry simply smiled and said, “Don’t worry about it”.

We paired up with another pair to make our foursome, a couple of seniors from another branch in our zone. These guys –further advanced in their years – were both retired – and both played every other day.

Oh dear.

We were the first foursome off the tee – the starting foursome. This of course means the whole tournament would be standing there watching us – judging us – as we teed off. A group of forty or so ambitious golfers would be standing there watching me take my first swing of a golf club since last September.

What was I thinking?

Our foursome was called to the tee, and as I was I was putting on last year’s old golf glove, Ian of the other pair said to the crowd “Show us the way there Fred”.

Now I’m scared.

I pulled a brand new ball out of my pocket with a tee, and as I bent down to put the tee in the ground with the ball on top of it, I felt my knees shake. I moved the writing on the ball so that the words “Titleist” pointed down the line I was aiming to the left side of the fairway.

I was sure to slice the first drive of the year. That is if I even hit the ball. I might just dribble it off the tee box to the white tees just ahead of me. And this crowd would all laugh at me.

I stood up and took one practice swing as I stood behind my ball looking down the fairway to my target. I could hear the mumblings in the crowd – small talk amongst themselves – as I approached the ball – taking one final swing with my left arm only to get a feel for the weight of my driver.

The mumblings in the crowd stopped as I addressed my ball, slightly behind my left foot and gave the club a final waggle.

The silence was deafening. But the thoughts in my head were so loud I thought everyone in the crowd would hear them.

“you can do this … nice and easy swing … don’t lift your head … bring that right hand over … “

There was no wind. The air was still. The crowd was silent.

I drew back the club and it felt good. My club head was in the right place. I came down through the ball pulling hard with the left arm and bringing the right hand over exactly as I struck the ball, I watched the tee do a couple of flips in the air as I followed through.

Then I looked up as I followed through – in that pose one takes after hitting a drive. It felt great. But the sky was grey – and my ball was white – and I couldn’t find it in the sky.

But it felt great. Where was it?

Then I heard the crowd behind me. I heard “Nice shot”, and “it’s drawing nice” and “he got all of that one” … but I still didn’t know where it was.

As I picked up my tee, and turned to join the crowd so that a player from the other pairing could hit his tee shot, I saw smiles in the crowd and nods of approval from the other golfers. “Nice shot” said Larry as I stood beside him.

I leaned over and in a whisper I said “I lost it in the sky. I have no idea where it went”.

You’re about 280 down there – just past the one fifty marker – in the first cut off the fairway”, and he offered his fist for me to punch with mine.

When Larry hit his, he blasted it down the middle – and the ball took a bad bounce and ended up in the first cut on the right side. We were side by side on opposite sides of the fairway. Ian and Dave – the other pairing in our foursome - were side by side in the middle of the fairway – Ian playing a big slice – and Dave hitting straight as an arrow. But both were some fifty yards behind us.

As we got into our cart to drive away, both Larry and I breathed a sigh of relief in unison, and we both laughed.

“That wasn’t so bad, was it”, said Larry.

“I was trembling the whole damned time”, I confessed.

“Yeah, I know – I saw your knees shaking”, replied Larry. “Mine were too, but I’m wearing pants”.

We qualified to go on to the District tournament in July. But we didn’t shoot great. I had a nine on one hole, but I put together a string of pars and a birdie to offset it later in the round. Larry played bogey golf with the odd double. We only beat the other pair by one stroke. They qualified as well.

Later, drinking beers after the round, I confessed my terror on that first tee box to all at the table.

“You didn’t look scared to me” said Ian.

I saw your knees shaking”, said Dave.

But I’ll be playing and practicing before we go play District in July.

And I might just wear black pants like Larry instead of shorts – no matter how hot it is.

I don’t want them seeing my knees shaking at District.

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