Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Member Guest

So there it was. Vindication. I had an opportunity this past weekend to get a little confidence back on the greens. That’s right ladies and gents: a three-day member-guest. I don’t know what God-like human being came up with this Tournament, but he’s a genius (or hell, I GUESS it could be a she). Three days, 10 flights, 5 teams per flight, match play. Five nine-hole matches over 3 days and the team in each flight with the highest earned point total goes into a shoot-out for the win. It’s fantastic. They even have FOOD for the caddies. Sheer BRILLIANCE.

But before I talk about the tournament, I’d like to introduce you to my players. The member is Canadian, a little older, and looks and putts just like Jack Nicklaus. Not a bad person to resemble when you’re playing under tournament conditions. So we got THAT going for us. Which is nice.

The guest sounds just like that mafia boss on “The Simpsons” and suffers from A.D.D. I only know this because his loving partner told me. Well no. That’s not true. I knew after the second hole when we ran into 3 foursomes and the guest had a minor SEIZURE he was so upset about the pace of play. He’d swing his club, talk to me for a minute, walk over to a tree and stare at a squirrel, come back to throw grass in the air and maybe take a minute or two to readjust the sunglasses on the top of his head. He never actually WORE those sunglasses over his eyes, but I think they were used quite effectively for balance.

“Yeah, he has full-fledged A.D.D. He’s much better than he used to be though. Back home I used to play in a Tournament with him and all of my friends would place bets during lunch as to how long he’d sit in his chair before he got up to do something else.”

So that was my team. A Nicklaus look-alike and a man with no patience. Both 8 handicaps, both named Bob. The caddie who worked with them prior to my triumphant arrival said that this was all I would hear for 3 days:

“Oh MAN that was a bad shot. Sorry Bob.”

“Sorry Bob.”

“Why can’t I putt? Sorry Bob.”

So I was a little jaded at the start of the Tournament because I’m a fairly competitive person and I really wanted to win, but I wasn’t so sure that was a possibility given the two horses I was betting on.

And I don’t know why I just thought of this, but the member liked to put stuff in his bag. Lots of stuff. I know DONKEYS who have a lighter load to carry while crossing over the GRAND CANYON. In fact, he had so much stuff in his bag that the metal spine holding the bag in its bag-like form kept coming loose and hanging out either the top or sticking out through the bottom. A METAL SPINE.

“Tom, I haven’t had this bag very long. I can’t seem to figure out why that damn spine keeps protruding.”

WHY DON’T YOU TAKE SOME SHIT OUT OF YOUR BAG?

“No problem sir. I’ll fiddle with it to see if I can fix it.”

Their previous caddie also commented on the sheer magnitude of the bag I was about to carry.

“He never takes anything out of it and he ALWAYS walks. It’s awful. It wasn’t until the STRAP broke that I figured I should finally break the news to him.”

Broke the news to him? Well I sure am glad he listened. But enough about that. They were both sweet older guys who had decent swings and wanted to win. That’s all I needed to know.

The first day was a little painful to watch. We just BARELY lost our first two matches—the first 5-4 and the second 5 ½ - 3 ½. I think it was Nick Faldo who once said that in match play, ALWAYS expect the other player or players to make EVERYTHING. I think in many ways that was our main problem with the first day. We played too conservatively and the other teams just let everything hang out.

The second day is what I wanted to focus on because it was by far the most exciting. The first match was halved, which I think pissed off both teams equally because everyone played so well. One highlight that really sticks out in my mind came on the 8th hole where I lost track of one of our opponents. His name was Bill and he had been pretty quiet the entire time, so as far as I was concerned, he was a ghost. On the 8th hole he hit his drive to the right, and from then on I forgot he was even with our group because he played up through the woods the entire hole.

And suddenly, before I knew it, here comes trailblazin’ Bill putting for par. He was 15 feet away, and he drained it. This transformed my confident players into nervous train-wrecks over their par-putts, which they missed quite handily. That brought the match back to even, and that is where it stayed after a tied 9th.

Great. The first chance my players had at a win and we blew it. BLEW IT MAN. But then again, this was the first match in which we didn’t LOSE any points either. And that really pumped up my players. This newfound confidence would prove to be quite helpful in the next match, where we were facing off against two very tough opponents.

Our two opponents—in addition to one of them being a member at this course—were both members at the golf course I had been working at all winter. Fanfuckingtastic. When I bumped into these players the day before, they stopped their cart and said hello.

“Well! Tom! Good to see you again.”

“Hey guys.”

“Tom, you remember Mr. Florida-Member, don’t you?”

“Why yes, of course. Good to see you again sir.”

“Hello Tom. So what are you up to these days?”

“Well, you know. Just…workin’.”

Insert awkward pause here.

“Workin’, huh? Well…good for you.”

And then they drove off. Could’ve done without that. After working my ass off down in Florida all winter, I was hoping that after leaving that place all of the members would’ve just assumed that I was moving onto something bigger and better. Now that one of their own has now just simply assumed that I’m going to proceed to do absolutely nothing with the rest of my life, I imagine word will spread down in Florida and my name will be worth that much less. A very cynical, pessimistic way of thinking I suppose, but I always have trouble answering that question whenever somebody on the course decides to make small talk. At least out THERE my answer will be forgotten. Well, whatever. What do I care what this guy or his stupid club thinks of me anyway?

I guess what I’m trying to say is that not only were these opponents good players, but there was also a back-story to this match that MY players didn’t know about. I wanted to win this match so badly that it hurt.

To add a little MORE pressure into the mix, the caddie who was working with our opponents? Yeah. Legendary. He’s been working at the club for 8 years and he is absolutely brilliant on the greens. He’s weird, quirky, full of conspiracy theories (one of them is about 9/11 and if you get him on the topic, he’ll go on for hours) and looks like Darth Vader when he takes off his hat and sunglasses. He intimidates the hell out of me. I mean come on. You guys know me. My green-reading skills have never been especially “top-notch.” And now I’m going up against probably one of the best green-readers the world has ever seen. Not only that, but his two players are VERY good putters. So as long as they’re conscious, they’ll probably be one-putting everything.

In the words of Harry Connick, Jr. from the movie Independence Day: “Holy God.”

Our match started off on the short par-4 10th. Member-Bob put his tee shot in the shit on the left, and guest-Bob went right down the middle. Phew. At least one of my players recovered from those damn cheeseburgers we had for lunch.

So member-Bob takes a drop and hacks his third shot left again into a greenside bunker, and THEN skulls his fourth over the green into another hazard. So he was out of the hole. Fortunately, guest-Bob was on the green putting for par and a halve. The players were “deadly-silent” as I paced back and forth trying to give my player the best possible read. The problem was, all of the food I had just consumed after our last match was still making its way towards my rectal area, and all of my bodies’ energies were focused THERE and NOT on this upcoming putt. In the process of trying to focus, I heard guest-Bob say something to me, but I couldn’t make it out because I was too busy thinking about how much toilet paper I was going to need. GOD DAMN I need to get my head in the game.

I pointed to a spot a little right of the hole. Darth Vader reacted.

“So…that would roughly be a CUP…woudn’t it Tom?”

“What?”

“Your player just asked you if it was a cup out.”

I just stared at him.

“I…didn’t hear him.”

Darth Vader just smirked. At first I thought Vader was smirking because I had gone temporarily deaf, but after my player missed his putt about a cup on the low side, I understood why Vader was smiling. I had given my player a bad read, and he knew it. One-down after the first hole.

The 11th hole was just as painful, except this time I didn’t even get a CHANCE to read my players’ putts. Vader pointed to a spot on the green, the guest opponent hit it there and made birdie. Vader smiled at me again. Two-down after two.

The 12th hole was where the tides started to turn in my favor. Both of our opponents struggled to get on the green in regulation and were both putting for pars. Member-Bob had the honor with a tricky uphill double-breaker the likes of which neither me nor Vader had ever seen. The pin was in a brand new location, and so I knew I had a chance. Vader could no longer simply rely on past experiences to read these greens. I unsheathed my green light-saber and turned it on flicking the little red button marked “ON.” I pointed to a spot about a foot right of the hole and held my left hand in the air and concentrated. I was trying desperately to recall Master Yoda’s teachings: “Size matters not.”

The ball moved slowly up the hill, wiggled as it neared the hole and fell in on the high side. I smiled at Vader. “Your powers are weak old man.” And just like that, we were only one-down.

The battle down the 13th fairway was intense. Vader and I flew through the air, furiously fencing using controlled cylanders of light, force-throwing dirt and branches at each other and tossing grass in the air to see what the wind was doing. Before we knew it, we were back on the putting surface. Guest-Bob was putting for a net birdie and a chance to bring this match back to even. The only problem was, he was 45 feet away putting up from the lower tier. I stood behind the hole, found a spot I liked and raised my left hand again to try and pass on my knowledge of green-reading before my player pulled back his putter. I stopped once I realized he was having another seizure. So instead I just pointed to a spot. “Just trust it.”

Right in the back of the JAR. I pumped my fist, slapped hands with my player and turned to head towards the 14th tee. Vader was waiting for me with another smirk on his face.

“That was just luck.”

“SQUARE this match is. Fail…your players must.”

“If you cannot be turned…you will be DESTROYED!”

(Cue crazy Star Wars choir: LA…LAAAAAAA!!!!)

So after a few more crazy flips and epic taunting, we arrived on the 14th green where our opponents had a birdie putt to take the lead once again. Vader carved out a line in the green using his evil-looking red light-saber and gave me another one of those F-ING smirks. And before I knew it, his player drained it. They did the same thing to us with a clutch putt to halve the hole on 15, and my team was STILL one down with three to play.

Both opponents chunked their tee shots into the par-3 16th. Guest-Bob took advantage and made a key lag putt to assure a par and brought the match back to even. The 17th hole was halved, and I decided to give Vader a little smirk of my own as we were running to our forecaddie position on 18.

Vader reacted. “All I have to say is, if my member puts his tee shot in a fairway bunker, you guys will take this one.”

What? A sign of weakness from Mr. Intimidation?

“My member is incapable of hitting out of fairway bunkers. He always kicks his feet around afterwards, trying to blame it on the lie. But we all know better. He just sucks out of those things.”

And wouldn’t you know it, his member put his tee shot in one of the left fairway bunkers.

“Fuck.”

Fortunately for our opponents, the guest put his tee shot in the fairway with a good angle at the flag. Both of my players put their shots in the fairway. I smiled at Vader again.

“I’m surprised my players haven’t choked yet.”

Sure enough, our opponent in the fairway bunker smashed his ball into the lip, kicked the sand around, blasted his third shot back into the fairway and then hooked his fourth into the water. He was out of the hole. His opponent, however, put his second shot 10 feet from the pin while my players could only manage 25 and 30 footers. Oh man. It’s going to come down to this, isn’t it? Crap.

I can’t remember why, but our guest opponent went first. He drained it. Another superb read from Vader and another superb putt from the player. That left the fate of the match on one of the next two putts. One of my players had to sink it to keep the match all square after 9. Fortunately, their putts were almost in line with each other, so as long as the first putt was decent, the perfect read would be revealed and we had a shot. But member Bob yipped a little on his putt and left it way short. Now it was all up to me and impatient Bob. One thing I will say about him: he never read any of his putts. He simply trusted my judgment, addressed the putt, and stroked it beautifully. So in a way, this last putt was up to me. He would have the line I gave him and perfect pace. I just had to have the spot. So I paced back and forth trying to get a good visual of the perfect line. I finally chose a spot I liked, and prayed. Without any hesitation, guest Bob stroked a perfect putt. Up over the hill, back hard left and then back slightly to the right. It was tracking. At the last moment, the ball stopped turning into the hole and straightened out. The ball lipped out.

I felt so bad. But the reaction was wonderful. Both teams seemed ecstatic.

“Great match.”

“What a GREAT match.”

“GREAT putting out there.”

And, the most meaningful moment was Vader coming up to me after the match was over.

“Great job out there Tom. Some great reads.”

Honestly, that’s all I really wanted to come out of this tournament. A little more confidence on the greens. Thank God, because I didn’t know how much longer I could SUCK out there.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great article! I've only played with a Caddie once, and it was very disconcerting as I would step up to a putt and they would just point to a spot and expect me to believe them. Funny, when I did I'd make it or get damn close; when I didn't I would three putt.

Jam Boy said...

I know exactly how that feels. Trusting a line somebody else gives you can be a lot like a trust fall. But coming from somebody who has both caddied and played with caddies, I would have to say that you will putt much better if you trust your caddie because if you're not thinking about anything but the line, you're more apt to make a good putt. It's when you've got 30 questions in your mind about the line and speed that you can run into some issues. The less you have to think on the greens (or with the game in general), the better you'll play.

Plus, all caddies do have quite an incentive (monetary in nature) to learn how to read the greens. Caddies are quite focused when it comes to money.

Anonymous said...

Terrific story, Tom! I love the Star Wars angle. I only wish you would have made something up about why the opponent went first with his putt on the last hole.

Congrats on your newfound confidence on the greens.

team tj said...

“SQUARE this match is. Fail…your players must.”

LMFAO...... you are an excellent writer.