HOLMEN — I stood on the 18th green at Drugan’s Castle Mound golf course staring down the hole about 4 feet away for what was about to be my third putt of the hole.
Usually, three-putting would be a source of frustration, especially given that I’d reached in two with the best 8 iron I’ve ever hit. But on Tuesday — a sunny, picture-perfect day for golf in the mid-70s with a consistent breeze that made me wish my round never ended — this three-putt was what I needed for a personal milestone.
I picked up golf in 2015, and have played a fair amount in the summer since, improving at a glacial pace, but improving nonetheless. But that 4-footer on Tuesday was all that stood between me and the first sub-100-stroke round of 18 holes of my short career.
I knocked the putt in, gave a customary Tiger Woods-esque fist pump, and walked back to the cart to mark my new career low round.
I know breaking 100 isn’t impressive to a lot of people — the vast majority of the high school golfers in our area would smoke me up and down the fairway — but what I’ve found in golf is that the challenges you put on yourself are what keep drawing you back to the tee box when schedules and weather cooperate.
Team sports were always my niche growing up. Football, basketball, wrestling (which kind of counts as a team sport), and baseball were pillars of my childhood and what stoked my competitive fire. But when football ended in college, other outlets for that competitiveness became tougher to find. Believe it or not, trying to out-drink your friends becomes less socially acceptable when you creep into your late-20s.
Work schedules being what they are for sports reporters at the Tribune, taking off certain nights to join a bar’s softball league or something like that just isn’t all that feasible. I needed to find something outside of trying to improve at work to do that featured competition.
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After a few years of treating golf as a struggle between myself and one of our area’s various courses, I came to find that the real competition is internal. It’s one of consistency, muscle memory and physics, but it ultimately comes down to what clubs you choose and how you swing them.
With enough rounds under my belt at this point, I can diagnose certain things I do incorrectly that produce a bad result — pulling my head off the ball, letting my wrists come open on a downswing, the works. These are rookie mistakes, and normally I’m able to fix them the next shot, but other times holes get marked with a big “X” on the scorecard and I pretend it didn’t happen.
Ask my frequent playing partners, and the most common words out of my mouth after a botched shot — besides the four-letter variety I’m not allowed to print — are “pulled my head” or “at least I know what I did wrong.”
Then, if I’m able to recover with the following shot, I’ll come back with, “Why didn’t I just do that the first time?”
I played the front nine of my milestone round with my friend Daniel. We’ve spent a good deal of time chunking up a golf course together and are the same tier of average players. Walking back to the cart after the ninth hole, he said, “Every round I’ll have five or six shots that make me come back.”
He’s right — there’s a rush when the ball explodes off your clubface and lands just where you want it, or you catch a drive just right and laser it down the fairway. The rarity of such shots, combined with the knowledge that you do in fact have the capability to pulling them off from time to time, pulls you back to the course in an attempt to hit them more often.
With a 99 in my pocket, the next goal is 95. Still a fourth-flight score, but closing in on respectable.
The competition continues.