Breaking 80: Epilogue
Published on Thursday, May. 09, 2013 12:01PM EDT Last updated on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012 10:46AM EDT
When I began my search for golf consistency (aka, Mission Improbable), one of my first experiences was playing a few holes with the man who was about to become my teacher. (A moment's silence, please.)
At the time, I compared it to going on a first date, with all of its inherent fears and anxieties, though without the pre-date retching. And although I did the equivalent of spilling the soup in his lap, belching after dinner and slamming the car door on his foot on the way home, he saw enough in me through those eight holes to make me believe this was the start of a beautiful relationship.
As traumatic as that opening night was, it was a picnic compared with what happened last week - five months later. I was playing a full 18 holes with pro Bradlee Ryall, basically a test to see how far I had come after a spring and summer of lessons, practice and playing golf.
I admit I didn't go into the day with high hopes. This project has been quite a ride, which is probably what the Titanic passengers were saying on their way to the bottom of the Atlantic.
I started out bad, got worse, then got better as I was convinced I had turned the corner from mid-90s hacker to mid-80s golfer.
Then things got really bad. A combination of too much thinking about the swing and not enough thinking about the game produced a string of triple-digit scores since early September.
It was the good, bad and ugly -- without the good.
If our initial meeting was a first date, then this was the wedding night.
Talk about performance anxiety.
The scene was Mississauga's BraeBen Golf Course, where Ryall heads up the teaching academy - though I haven't checked this week to see if our experience has prompted a career change. I also haven't had the courage to check into whether or not there is crime-scene tape around the course, because my performance that day was surely an indictable offence against the game of golf.
It did not start out well (see "anxiety, performance.") My first shot on the 502-yard, par-5 opening hole went long (good) and left (bad) and out of bounds. That was the wedding night equivalent of wearing Winnie the Pooh pajamas and bunny slippers to bed.
I did recover well enough to salvage a double-bogey despite chunking my fourth shot and rebounded miraculously by landing my tee shot eight feet from the hole on the 144-yard, par-3 second hole. Even more miraculously, I made the putt for a birdie.
A plaque is being engraved as you read this.
Brimming with newfound confidence, I then did what I usually do when things are going well. I turned the 315-yard, par-4 third hole into an eight-stroke nightmare that included a flubbed bunker shot and not one, but two botched approach shots.
Showing great resiliency, I then landed my tee shot on the 131-yard, par-3 fourth 15 feet from the cup. Then, showing the kind of great incompetence my beleaguered golf partners have seen too many times, I sailed my first putt eight feet past the hole.
I three-putted my way to bogey, a development that had Bradlee scratching his head and no doubt wondering exactly what I had been doing all summer.
The rest of the front nine was pretty much a repeat of the first four, with good holes followed by awful ones followed by worse ones.
I emerged from the front nine with a 49. It could have been better - Bradlee counted five strokes wasted by my neglecting to engage my brain before hitting off fescue or putting downhill - but it could have been a lot worse.
And it got a lot worse.
The back nine was the golf equivalent of the federal Liberal Party as I hit balls all over the course, three-putted three holes and wasted rare good drives with approach shots that wavered between high comedy and low tragedy.
Had I been a pitcher, the manager would have taken me out after I quadruple-bogeyed the 10th and 11th holes. Then, he would have sent me to Double A - or suggested car sales as an alternative career.
But Bradlee never showed signs of reaching for a hook, though there were times I wondered why he wasn't using a 9-iron on my skull or going into the witness protection program.
He didn't even resort to violence when, after putting out to wrap up a round of 103, I asked where I had improved most.
"Your putting has definitely improved," he said with a straight face. "And when you hit the ball well, you hit it a lot better."
That's what he said, though I suspect he was really thinking: "Improved? You've got to be kidding. What did I ever do to get hooked up with this guy?"
I certainly wouldn't have blamed him if he did think that, considering that my scores have risen by about 10 strokes this year. The 103 came on a course where I once shot 84.
(And, no, that wasn't for the front nine.)
But there was a but, or two. While he saw an improvement in my putting, he couldn't believe the depth of my inconsistency.
"You make great putts, then on the next hole you putt 10 feet past the hole," he said. "I can't understand that."
Welcome to my world.
Consistency has never been my strong point and I do suspect there may be a lack of focus - though in my defence I challenge anyone to hit that many bad shots and not let it derail their train of thought towards selling clubs on eBay or simply dumping them in the nearest lake.
Despite my display last week, Bradlee preached patience. I'm trying to rebuild a funky, inconsistent swing and that's going to take time and even more work.
I probably could have shaved a few strokes with minor improvements to my short game. But getting consistently into the 80s and even crossing the magical line into the 70s is going to take a lot more than five months.
Despite what the scores say, I still have an enthusiasm for a game that is getting away from me. Maybe watching Bradlee shoot 66 that day had something to do with the fact I was still excited about playing at Glen Abbey a few days after the BraeBen Massacre.
And despite shooting 115 at the home of next year's Canadian Open and despite not receiving an invitation to it, I'm praying there's at least one more good day for golf left this season.
Then, it's BraeBen's winter academy and a belief that 80 is not as far off as it seems.
Here's to a long winter.
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.