All my life, I have marveled as I watch the pros hit fairway after fairway and green after green – especially on one of those courses where minus-25 will be the winning 72-hole score.
And I have wondered …
What does it feel like to KNOW you will be in position for birdie on every hole?
In other words, how can you be consistently great in our great game?
More importantly, how do you stay in The Zone for 18 holes?
Then I had a small taste of it the other day while playing some sunset golf.
On the first five holes, I did something I have never done in all these years – I hit every drive in the middle of the fairway and hit every green in regulation.
I was swinging within myself, not trying to do too much with the shot. Smooth. In control. Confident.
I was 1 under par and could have been 2 under if a nicely struck 25-foot downhill putt hadn’t curved right in front of the hole and stopped inches away.
I was feeling it.
I was in The Zone.
And, sadly, I also knew: This probably was not sustainable.
“Don’t think that!” you probably are saying.
I wish it were that easy.
You probably can guess what happened next, but the culprit was something that has plagued my game as much as wayward drives – indecision.
It was a short par-4, probably the easiest on the front nine. All I had to do was scrape something out by the 150-yard pole, and I’d have another doable green in regulation.
I should have hit an iron but, for some reason, opted instead for a 5-wood. I’m hitting the ball well, I thought. I’ll just put a good swing on this and be that much closer to the green, so …
That’s not what happened, of course. I hit a big hook, and the ball never had a chance to avoid the hazard on the left. I did well to get the next shot on the green, but it still was a bogey. Back to even par.
Even though my confidence was shaken, I had a chance to recoup my loss of a stroke on the next hole, a short par-5 with water up the left side on the last half of it. It’s very reachable in two as long as you don’t do anything dumb.
So, naturally, I did something dumb. I started my drive out too far to the right and hit a low liner right into a tree
I was extremely fortunate that it bounced into the fairway, and a big 5-wood from a squirrelly lie put me a little more than 150 yards from the green.
Then came Big Mistake No. 2: Trying to hit a 7-iron smoothly and not try to do too much, I instead came over the top and hit another low line drive into the water. When I couldn’t get up-and-down, I had my first double bogey of the day.
I recovered enough to par the last two holes on the front for a 38, but the damage to my psyche was done. We played four more holes on the back nine before the sun dipped below the horizon, and I played three of them poorly. I was all over the lot again off the tee, popping up and duck-hooking drives and not knowing where the ball was going to go if I did hit it squarely.
So how should I assess those 13 holes? Should I simply be thankful for the first five, knowing how good it felt? Or should I be a little greedy and trudge to the range, knowing that those swings are in there, somewhere, if I just concentrate on being smooth and on time.
That’s another reason why we play – the endless quest to find The Zone. It’s such a friendly place, but it’s so hard to gain admittance.
I’m glad for that, though. If it were easy, this wouldn’t be nearly as much fun, and it makes you appreciate it that much more when you find it. I hope you’ve known that feeling, too.