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Golf Writers from the Heart

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The year's opening round is done; seemed a lot like 2016

In this first week of May, the earth has certainly blossomed enough in all the nooks and crannies of the Northern Hemisphere’s golf locales to make the game open to all who care to get the season started. While Lerner & Loewe’s lusty sentiment about the month is a tantalizing call to a stirring type of action, for sure May is the month when all golfers above the equator can get a swinging action of another type underway.

I know, some golfers have been out there for a month or two already, but it is amazing how some areas have not had decent golfing weather even into early May. What an astounding feeling it is to start the golf season, the first round in particular bringing a huge range of emotions, beginning with the lead-up to it. I finally began my season this week with a round of golf at Tashua Knolls in Trumbull, Conn. This is about my 45th season of playing golf, and the feeling at the start of another year hasn’t changed much. I’m guessing these are universal emotions:

“I’m finally going to get rid of that dreaded (fill in the blank) problem with my swing.”

“Thank God I can stop watching and hearing TV talking heads discuss golf and start playing it.”

“How long before my lousy golf kills my excitement level?”

And when the first fizzled drive or three-putt comes: “I’m just the same old crap golfer I always was.”

One of my favorite Golf Digest coworkers, the late, great Oklahoman Ross Goodner, comes to mind at this point. Ross could build excitement for a golf game, no matter the time of year, better than anyone I’ve known. He’d say on the first tee of a nice track (Shorehaven in Norwalk, Conn., comes to mind) on a beautiful day, “It doesn’t get any better than this.” And he’d mean it. But by the third tee, after a few wayward shots and a pair of three-jacks, he’d be as “low as a hog on market day,” to quote Jed Clampett. He’d be in such a funk, the end of the round couldn’t come fast enough. Sometimes that would only be nine holes. One time, on a country club best left unnamed, we finished the front nine and on the way to the 10th tee he cut over to his car and loaded up for home. He said, “I just played nine of the nicest holes in Connecticut. Why would I want to play nine of the worst?” And homeward he went.

My first round was on a 60-degree, sunny and breezy day. I normally play from the set of tees one short of the tips; my feeling is, I make doubles just as easily from that set as I do from the whites. I should have gone the shorter route on Round No. 1, but I had that maiden-round feeling I was a better golfer now than I was when I last played in November. Why would I think that? Because of all the extra time I had now after a job loss to swing a weighted club and stretch bar at the fitness center. I was certain I was going to eliminate my early release/no weight transfer problem that has plagued me for years.

I should have known things wouldn’t go well when we were instructed to play the back nine first. What, no first hole of the year being the first hole of the course?! After a nine-hole trifecta of three triple bogeys, including the first hole, three bogeys and three pars, I was already in a funk about how it was the same player and same verse but a different year. I was already picturing by how at year’s end I’d be the same frustrated hacker who’d let another year go by without taking the next step to a lower handicap.

I wasn’t going to let that familiar refrain ruin the entire experience, however. What makes the game THE GAME for the devoted but hapless golfer is what the experience in total gives us: an escape from the everyday, a diversion from life’s hectic pace. My first round reminded me that the camaraderie and setting are everything. Well, not fully. I like birdies, pars and highlight-reel golf moments just as much as any golfer, but the company and course fulfill the experience.

My other foursome members provided the character variety. Mike, more noted for being a longtime runner, was our man with the nickname. Christened “10-feet Under” for never missing a putt under 10 feet, he contrasted that prowess with many adventures from tee to green. Dave, an anesthesiologist, uses a calculating mind to gauge how all the elements will affect his experience but nothing dampens his enthusiasm for the game. This week he let loose with his inhibitions about using a metal wood off the tee, and experimented by putting his hybrid away on the back nine. His Big Bertha fairway metal was effective and his takeaway from the round was optimism for new driving strategy. And Andrew, the longest hitter of the four, enhanced that status, but dealt with his bugaboo of skulling his short irons, perhaps most closely illustrating of us four how few golfers “have it all” when it comes to a total game. All three of them, like me, see the potential good in their games, and enough of it, to keep the faith for discussing our next scheduled game.

What the group exhibited best was the ability to laugh, as best we could, at our inadequate games and kid and amuse each other with mild zingers and personal chit-chat.

Alarmingly, we experienced first hand, on the front nine, the rudeness of the entitled public golfer. The country club golfer can be snobbish, but one of the worst species in golf is the publinxer who thinks his regular course is their personal domain on which to act however they want. There was a group of Tashua regulars on our rears on the front nine, hitting shots to the green right when we'd taken our last step off it, never shouting “fore” when a ball came close. At the turn, we purposely took our time getting food, happy to let them go through, which they did but never stopping and having anyone ask “Hey, mind if we play on?” The public golfer who plays as a regular and displays rude behavior to all others not part of their clique is still alive and thriving, unfortunately.

So, the opening round to 2017 is history. Not much good news about how I played, but there is some comfort in knowing the things I love about the game are still there, doing well, even among the bad swings.

Cliff Schrock