But every year in December (when the weather's usually ugly -- I'm from Northern California and a fair weather golfer) I used to take a trip to Southern California, ostensibly to visit my mom for Christmas. Of course, the greater Palm Springs area was only a couple hours farther away and with the weather being so nice down there it would have been criminal to let an opportunity to play pass, wouldn't it? So I usually spent 3-5 days of the "Christmas" week playing golf in the desert and then the remaining 2 days with my understanding mother and other friends and relatives. Having priorities is important. And hey, after a couple days in a row of playing 18 holes I would actually start to get some feel back and remember what it was like to have a game.
Anyway, on one of these short trips to paradise I had a close encounter with a peak experience that I'd like to tell you about.
I had spent the previous evening at the Super 8 Motel in Indio, so I arrived at PGA West in La Quinta early in the day. I knew that my chances of getting on the course as a single were best in the morning. I was not disappointed; the wait was not long. I heard my name called over the loudspeaker to report to the first tee of the Stadium course.
The Stadium course at PGA West is a brutal Pete Dye monster to put it conservatively -- sharp around the edges (literally with fangs in some places). Anyway, I was surprised to see whom I had been paired with: a nice, somewhat older couple and their thirty-something businessman son with a cell phone already very warm in his hand from minutes of use. I was surprised because seeing these people standing on the first tee of the Stadium course was like seeing a group of three helpless toddlers perched on the edge of the KT22 cornice at Squaw Valley. It was with a sense of genuine concern for them that I introduced myself all around and proceeded with small talk.
Burt and Francis Wilkinson and their son, Beau (cell phone), were from Illinois and in the travel agent business (Beau sold securities for Merrill Lynch). They told me how they made a trip here every December and had a time-share of some sort just blocks away from PGA West. Apparently they played here every year, so I relaxed a little, realizing that they had actually survived this experience before.
I was feeling pretty good because it was my first day in the beautiful weather, I didn't really have any expectations, and I was finally getting to play some golf. So when I went bogey, par, double bogey, par, par on the first five holes I didn't really worry too much about it. After all, this was the Stadium course at PGA West.
I was playing from the black tees (furthest back), as all macho idiots do (even though they shouldn't, because even the touring pros don't play all the tees all the way back -- as a rule, those tees are so adjustments can be made to compensate for wind or other conditions). Anyway, apparently the (my) rationale for playing all the way back was that should anything miraculous happen it would be too embarrassing to admit that I had been playing the blue tees. Silly.
So when I reached the sixth tee it was with a "what do I think I'm doing?" thought bubble that I pulled out my 3 wood to play the horrible 255 yard par 3 known as "Amen". Amen is almost completely surrounded by water, it is literally all carry over a lake. If you don't knock it on the green there is just one place you can miss: long and left. And, as if to make it even more ridiculous, this particular day the pin was on the right side of the green, most of the way back and very close to the edge of the lake, appearing to be within inches of the water from the perspective on the tee. So, obviously I aimed for that one bail-out spot, having no grandiose delusions that I was capable of hitting a 3 wood accurately enough to risk aiming at even the middle of the green from 255 yards -- the water is really close and really in play (in fact the water seems like the entire hole other than the tee and green). Long and left here I come.
My new acquaintances had moved farther on up the hole to the white and red tees respectively, so I was left back on the black tees to face the intimidating tee shot alone, talking to myself about being ridiculous, and so on. I decided to focus on making a complete swing and hitting the ball solidly (knowing that the cardinal sin would be to get anxious about the result and come out of my posture to "hope" the ball onto dry ground some 230 odd yards away). I figured if I made a good swing there wasn't much I could do after that but to pray, or beg.
The ball took off like a rocket, right off the sweet spot. Well, that at least gave it the best possible chance of reaching land, so my focused attention would perhaps pay off. The only thing left to verify was the direction. The ball was not headed for the promised-land-of-a-bail-out-spot, as I had intended. It was headed straight for the pin like a heat-seeking missile. Now, unfortunately that particular flight plan was going to require the maximum amount of carry, as the green gets farther away the more to the right you go. So, in pushing my tee shot I had forced it to "be all it could be" rather than allowing myself any margin at all for error. I watched -- not knowing what to think -- so I begged.
Fortunately for me there was no one nearby to hear my pathetic display (please, please, pls, pls, pls....). As the ball descended it did not leave its direct line of attack on the pin. As it landed (whew! -- key portion of the word here being LAND ) it still did not forsake its mission. It looked as good as any shot I have ever seen in my life from beginning to end. Though I would love to take full credit for this truly brave and ultimately spectacular golf shot, the fact remains that I had pushed it at least 20 yards to the right of where I had lined up. (Just don't mention that, Mark)
There are some undulations on the 6th green, as with many greens, and at some point the ball disappeared. It was seeking the pin with unwavering determination and then it just... disappeared... Huh?
Now, 255 yards is a long ways away and it was pretty bright out, so I couldn't see perfectly. But I could still have seen a ball on the green, even from there, had it been visible. Could it have... ?
I looked at Burt and Fran and Beau. They were looking at the green with their hands shading their eyes, trying to see, and then they looked back at me -- blankly. Apparently they had seen nothing. Part of me wanted to scream, "Oh my God!" But golf and professionalism and composure somehow got the better of me and I just stood there looking at the green, as if suddenly I would somehow either see the ball or know that it had indeed gone in the hole. I don't know how long I stood there trying to make something happen.
The other three of my foursome hit their shots without incident (7 balls in the water between them, but on that hole, believe me that is without incident). As I caught up with them in my golf cart I tried to stay calm and not hope too hard (it was shameless, really). But Burt had to go and ask where my ball was.
"Well, I think I got lucky and knocked it up there on the green somewhere," I said coolly.
I expected Burt to go off on some effusive barrage, like, "Wow, what an amazing feat of superhuman ability that was, to actually carry that lake and have the ball end up on dry land, let alone the green!" But all he said was, "Okay," and drove off down the cart path around the lake toward the green. He insufficiently appreciated the shot because he lacked a meaningful reference. After all, I was "a pro", wasn't I? I was supposed to be good.
Needless to say I had difficulty containing myself as I proceeded along the cart path around the lake. The undulations in the green, despite the fact that they were not overly severe, still obscured the portion of the green where the bottom of the flagstick was. It seemed like it took hours to get to a place where I could see the hole.
When it finally came into view. My incredulity increased even more, but disappointment crashed down on me like an avalanche. The ball was visible, on the green, and appeared to be hanging on the lip of the cup. Many thoughts went through my mind at that moment:
The truly amazing part of the result I was still to realize (no, it didn't fall in the hole). As I neared the pin I discovered just how close the ball actually was. Looking straight down on the ball from directly above it was not hanging over the lip, but there was absolutely no visible green between the ball and the exact center of the front edge of the cup. It was that close. Which means either that the ball had rolled right up to the precipice of ecstasy and decided not to drop or it had actually hit the pin, bounced back and stayed out -- one or the other. In either case it could be considered the unluckiest moment in recent memory -- or a good hole. I chose to focus on the former, feeling that "good holes" were not that rare a commodity. Aces on "Amen", on the other hand, were a bit more on the scarce side.
As let down as I was feeling at that moment, I surprised myself by laughing out loud when Burt said, "Hey, that was a pretty good shot." Beau hadn't really noticed too much of any of this; he was on yet another call.
As it turned out I birdied the next hole too. From there I went on to have a kind of up and down round, but finished by making birdies on 2 of the last 3 holes to shoot 73 (which I was very happy with, as it was, and still is, the best score I've had on that course). So, all told the day was a great success, even though I'll never forget my close encounter with the ultimate thrill on the 6th hole.
The funny thing is I was so excited to be playing well that I went to the range for 2½ hours after the round trying to work the rust out of my game all at once. The next day I was planning to play the Nicklaus Resort Course, one of the other courses at the PGA West facility, and after my success the first day I was all fired up and determined to play even better and shoot under par (from the back tees of course). To my chagrin, I woke up so sore that I could hardly move (from so much swinging the day before). Hysterically, my enthusiasm ended up being for naught. I tried as hard as I could, but had no swing and almost no game entirely (my putting and short game touch had left me as well). Even after "loosening up" (if you could call it that) on the range beforehand I was still only able to manage 84 on the much gentler Nicklaus Resort course. I almost quit at the turn, feeling like I just wanted to lay on some ice and take a nap, but I figured I was on vacation and who knew when the next one of those would be... and hey, I might make a hole in one!
. . . . . .Golf.
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