The Perfect Game

Wakond Club No. 1, from blue tees, May, 2011

The perfect game in baseball is a rarity among rarities. Only a handful of no-hitters are seen in a season of baseball, but the perfect game of 27 consecutive outs and no base runners has been achieved only 18 times in baseballs modern era. In golf, the perfect game is all 18 holes played in par or better, and it is a seemingly reachable perfection. Like a dangling fruit just out of hand’s reach, par golf sits there printed on the score card. For the majority of golfers, it is as unattainable as pitching in the major leagues.

The quixotic and perverse nature of golf is that anyone with the means can play a round where a professional tournament is held (aside from uber private locales). And during that round, the average golfer may get a glimpse of perfection in the form of a par on a famous hole, a perfect sand blast to within a foot of the cup, or a chip that clatters against the pin and settles into the hole. These transcendent moments of golf perfection are gobsmack hits of opium for the golfer that brings the poor hack coming back for more. On the score card though, these bright spots of perfection are just holes in the roof letting in shafts of celestial light. I used to keep a golf log, and over the course of two years, my best scores on every hole on my home course resulted in a perfect 72. It was in me, but I suppose I never let it out.

Woe betide the golfer who yearns for more and tried to do something about it. I have finished reading the testimony of John Richardson,  who did such a thing and is the proselytizer of the perfect. His book, Dream On: One Hack Golfer’s Challenge to Break Par in One Year (link), is an engaging story that requires golfist faith -the faith that the honesty of the player is a given and that his tale is as true as a score card submitted for handicapping at the clubhouse. It is no big fish story, John’s tale.

I find a lot of things in common with John. We are of similar age growing up in areas where golf is part of the social mesh -me in North Florida, and John in Northern Ireland. I spent many years at the now defunct Baymeadows in Jacksonville, Florida, dreaming of playing with the best while struggling to break 90. Both of us admired Seve Ballesteros and his swashbuckling approach to the game. Both of us gave up golf to become working adults -me to go to college, medical school, and postgraduate training, John to work at becoming a successful  entrepreneur. And both of us took up golf again at similar points in life, after marrying and starting families.

What is different about John was that he took his obsession and channeled it into a deliberate path to perfection. At  the start, he struggled to break 100, but within a year, he broke par. While it was no surpise, the ending of the book in the kind of ethereal round of golf that all hackers dream of, the tension and drama were there nonetheless. The great thing about the book is not necessarily the end result, but the year long journey he took. John proved that all the well worn excuses that golfers have about themselves -including mine about not letting myself be scratch, are mistaken justifications for continued hacking. In fact, whenever he fell into a rut, it was revealed to him that it was a swing error, something as elemental as grip, posture, stance, and alignment, and not always his negative thoughts. That is correct -it’s not your negative thoughts, but instead bad form and lack of practice that leave your game rotting at bogey or worse.

He does seek professional help -and I have taken this advice by taking my first lesson with our amazing new club professional, Mr. Aaron Krueger. He also sought clinical motivational advice -not a shrink, but very close, because a golfing rapture is limned by golfing madness. And he practiced. A lot. Particularly his short game.

This is like one of those miracle baseball movies you can get where some average Joe all of a sudden is throwing heat in the big leagues. I read his book with the same suspension of disbelief that I have for big fish stories, with golfing faith. It gives me hope, and a renewed sense of purpose. So what does it all mean?

I will hereby publicly declare my intention to break par by the end of next season (October 31, 2012) and bring you along with me. May good golf come walking with me and endow my ball with angel wings.

The Deacon of the Turf

This handsome gentleman is John Temme, the Grounds Superintendent at Wakonda Club. He is up before dawn every day grooming the course into a quality that I have not seen matched often in my golf travels. It is with his leave that I can play sunrise golf before his crew get to the holes. He has a golfer’s mind with regard to maintenance which really lets the course be front and center for the player. Despite heavy play, for example, the greens are still amazing (please repair ball marks even on away courses). He maintains a great blog: which I think is of interest to anyone who maintains a lawn -a great big 40 acre lawn.

Cart Path of Destiny

img_0198Only 10 more days until they unleash the dogs onto Wakonda’s newly resurfaced fairways and greens. The loss of old growth oaks around the greens to ensure 8 hours of summer light may signify changes in the character of the course or just a hair cut. I favor the latter.

I recently started following Twitter and was amazed at the ability to narrowcast my interests to a likeminded group of people. The story of the week is Staff Sergeant William Vile’s disappearance -he is officially MIA (link). The action resulted in US casualties -follow it on and Political persuasion aside, you have to hear it from the people on the lines to make an informed opinion. As much as Huffingtonpost amuses me, to rely on any single news channel (includes you people tuning Fox in the doctors’ lounge) invites tunnel vision.

We’re on the 7th hole of 2009, and we’re going about 4 over. Hopefully, we’ll finish out this nine with a few birdies, including finding SSG W. Vile.

Wakonda shows me her incisions, healing nicely.

Fall at Wakonda is usually a brutal time. The fabric of space-time rips and golf balls disappear into these multi-dimensional portals. I’ve lost golf balls on the greens due to the leaves. I imagine these balls falling through some worm-hole and ending up as the cherished plaything of some child in the Pleistocene. I digress.

The renovations have been something I’ve mostly watched from the parking lot and driving range. I decided to take a golf cart for a spin around the course with my iPhone.

No dogs or vascular surgeons allowed...

No dogs or vascular surgeons allowed...

The new grass has taken, and the course looks ready to play. The grass on the greens has been mowed and does look great. The image to the right is the new practice green which greatly expands the area. New topography, including moguls and half-pipes, have been added. What I look forward to is having the practice green reflect the quality and nature of the actual greens on the course. I thought that the practice green had become a bit of a Potemkin green that looked a lot better than the actual greens on the course -now they are one and the same.

The drive was pleasant -and obviously popular as I saw another pair on a golf cart driving about. I drove up to number ten, which wasn’t changed at all. In fact, I could have hit approaches onto number 10 with impunity as the green had already seen action having been put in in 2007. I turned about and peaked at number 8, which didn’t strike me as much different. And then I saw number 11. Shown here on the left, I had featured it on an earlier blog entry as the “Carnival Hole.” The big Misery Tree was gone. So had the Crown of Thorns -the oaky headdress at the top of number 11 which shaded the green. It was a different look, and it took a moment to get used to -in fact, it will take a long time. The basic premise of the hole is now different. The drive no longer has to be left center and long. You can be fade right and have a reasonable approach. The pit of despair to the right hasn’t changed. Balls will still roll down and away if they come in too hot.

Here was the surgery revealed to me. It was like a face transplant. The skin was different and new, but the underlying bone structure was the same refined, beautiful Wakonda. As if to add emphasis to the change, the stylist cut back the hair, daring the observer to comment about the surgery. And where are the scars? They will be on your soul, my friend.

I cut back and down number 17 which hadn’t changed too much, and up 18. The trees lining the fairway were are still there -these are signature features and won’t be touched unless they become unstable or are blown down.

Oak privacy fence, to hide your shame

Oak privacy fence, to hide your shame

As we end the long march to the new presidency, I realize that in many ways, the renovations were not that painful for this member. Compared to the presidential campaign, the renovations were a breeze. Growing tomatoes takes longer. During that time, I sampled the golf fare at other courses and made new golfing friends. The fellowship of other golfists leavens the soul, and a new golf friend is a welcome ally against the oncoming Troubles.

The flag shows your way home

The ride up number 18 shows it hasn’t been changed. Seeing Ol’ Glory flapping above the green invigorated me. Presidents will change, and times will get tough before they get better, but golf will always be there. Remember, golf clubs can always be repurposed into dinner catching rabbit dispatchers.