Breaking 80: It's all coming together
Published on Monday, May. 27, 2013 11:25AM EDT Last updated on Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012 02:46PM EDT
It was one of those moments on a golf course when everything becomes crystal-clear, an epiphany without the lightning and celestial voices.
I had just completed an incredible (for me) string of success at Saskatoon’s Holiday Park Golf Course on a glorious Prairie morning last week. After a decent (for me) front nine round of 44, I had strung together three magnificent holes: parring the 12th and 14th while recording a rare (for me) birdie on the 13th. I had accomplished this magnificent feat with three straight one-putts, the same way I had finished five of the previous eight holes.
Of such consistency dreams are made.
But despite my many years of experiencing failure while holding a golf club, despite my understanding that nothing comes quickly in this game, despite my intimate knowledge of my many shortcomings on the golf course, I actually told myself this: It’s all coming together.
Yes, the months of hard work on the practice range, the hours of instruction and the new equipment were all turning me into the golfer I wanted to be. I was days, if not hours, away from breaking 80 – not just once, but with great regularity – and maybe a year or two away from the seniors pro tour.
As you may have guessed, that was not the epiphany. This was the false epiphany as told by a false prophet: me.
The real epiphany came a few holes later, the product of a more typical (for me) triple-bogey, two double bogeys and a bogey to finish the round.
That finishing string of ineptitude included two lost balls, two damaged trees and, if I remember correctly, a concussed squirrel.
I realized then that my quest for competence was only in its early stages. As my coach/pro/psychiatrist Bradlee Ryall has told me too many times, improvement comes in small increments, not in huge chunks. This is a process that will take more than a few months.
But I also realize that I’m in a better position than most to complete that process, assuming you don’t take into account niggling details such as lack of talent, a shoulder that makes more grinding noises than a 1981 Lada and a mind that often finds itself trying to remember two words to the Turtles’ last hit when it’s supposed to be focusing on a putt.
I’m one of the lucky few who can put in the time this game demands, at least if one actually strives to get better. Not many golfers can spare four hours a week on the practice range, a couple spent putting on the rec-room carpet and another five to 10 on the golf course.
Without that kind of commitment, improvement is as unlikely as a Stanley Cup parade in Toronto or an apology from Rob Ford.
When I started this quest four months ago, I was shooting in the middle to high 90s. For a while, thanks to the inevitable confusion and suicidal thoughts that come with taking lessons, I was 10 strokes worse.
Today, I’m in the low 90s and have even ventured into the 80s.
There has undoubtedly been improvement.
Pro shop managers have stopped assigning groundskeepers to follow me around the course. My golf partners are starting to stand a little closer when I tee off.
Breaking 80 is a distinct possibility.
But breaking 80 with any regularity – say more than once a decade – is not. At least, not yet.
PROGRESS UPDATE: The first step toward breaking 80 is breaking 90, a feat I accomplished for the first time this year while in Saskatoon for my niece’s wedding last week. Maybe it was the clear Western air, or possibly the camaraderie supplied by the groom and those facing the daunting prospect of wearing matching suits the next day. Maybe playing with a guy who describes his swing as "something that makes the baby Jesus weep" helped. Whatever the reason, I shot 88 at Holiday Park, an established public course that measures 5,936 yards from the whites – 7,000 if you count some of my errant tee shots. It also includes far too many big trees for a course on the Prairies. (I’ve always found that wheat presents less of an obstacle than a pine tree.) While 88 is never a bad score for guys like me, it was marred by two three-putts and two very creative triple bogeys. I hit eight fairways and greens, a number that could also use some improvement. This week, I tried the 6,348-yard McNab Regional Park course ("now with grass greens”) in Watson, Sask. ("the gateway to Wadena”) and shot 89. I would have killed for the eight fairways or greens I hit in Saskatoon, managing only six and losing four balls off the tee, including one that is now a lawn ornament in a yard that stands way too close to a golf course. The trio of three-putts didn’t help. Curse those grass greens.
A game with two faces
Chris Zelkovich has accomplished many things in a journalism career that has spanned almost 40 years. He has worked as a reporter, editor and columnist for a variety of newspapers and his work has appeared in several magazines. His 12 years in golf have been somewhat less distinguished.
Bradlee Ryall is a Class 'A' member of the CPGA and Director of Instruction for the Braeben Academy. Nominated for the Ontario PGA Teacher of the Year award in 2009, Bradlee has studied and trained with some of the best golf instructors in the world at the David Leadbetter Golf Academies and served as teaching professional at some of the greatest golfing destinations in the world including the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge in Alberta, Canada.