One of my earliest golf memories came long before I actually got on a course.
I watched the Chicago sports report on television religiously, and one of the sportscasters, Bruce Roberts, had a routine that made our great game look like our easy game.
If there had been a golf tournament that day, he would show a clip of someone sinking a long putt, chip or something from much farther away. As the ball skittered toward the hole and dropped in, he said the same thing every time:
“And … this one … had … eyes!”
I was fascinated by these swashbuckling heroes – Nicklaus, Palmer, Player and even some guys with funny swings and serious games – charging around the links and making these seemingly impossible shots.
It was irresistible. It wasn’t long before I was making noise to my parents about graduating from the nine-hole miniature golf course a few blocks away to the real thing a few miles away.
But when I finally got to see if my ball also had eyes, it seemed to be looking the other way most of the time. Of course. If every shot went in, it would be boring. The magic is in the challenge. I will never conquer golf, and I’m fine with that.
Something happened the other day, though, that reminded me how important it is to give your ball a chance to prove that its focus on the cup is 20/20.
For the first time in as long as I can remember, I knocked it in twice from off the green – one that I putted, the other that I chipped.
Both came in the last five holes to turn a middling-to-bad round into a halfway decent round. It saved me at least two shots and more likely four or five, yet another lesson in the importance of the short game.
Both bombs came on par-5s after I had missed the green with a wedge on my third shot. That’s inexcusable. If you have a wedge in your hand, you’ve got to get it close, not be scrambling to save par.
The first time, I left it short – also inexcusable. But it was just off the green, so I elected to putt it. It was about 50 feet with a little bit of break to the left, but not much.
“Get it to the hole,” I thought. “Give yourself a chance – 100% of putts that are short don’t go in.”
I couldn’t have struck it any better. It was tracking all the way. It was almost expected when it dropped in the cup. One of the best putts I’ll hit all year, most likely.
It had eyes.
I wish it was contagious, but that’s not golf. I came to the 18th tee a little disappointed after I had three-putted the 17th from a similar distance. I hit a decent drive and solid layup on the second shot, again leaving me with a wedge. Again, the wedge wasn’t that bad, but it caught the severe slope on the left side of the green and drifted off the side.
Now I was faced with one of those do-or-die, downhill/sidehill chips that can leave your score gasping most of the time. I had to delicately land the ball on top of the hill and let it drift down to the hole. It was going to be fast, and I knew that I easily could hit it off the green on the other side if I struck it too hard or would be faced with an impossible downhill putt if I babied it.
Lo and behold, I hit it just right – probably the best chip I’ll hit all year. It nearly stopped at the top of the hill, slowly rolled toward the hole and dropped in on one of its final revolutions for yet another birdie.
Again, it had eyes.
The lesson is this:
When you look back at a round, your favorite memory might be your best drive – it felt so good when someone said, “You got all of that one!”
You might think about that solid 5-iron on the tough par-3. You didn’t convert the putt, but you were happy with a par there.
But if you holed out from beyond 25 feet – something you didn’t expect to make – that should be your best moment every time. And if you do it twice, you should treasure that round because even the pros have days when they don’t do that a single time.
If I was picking golf highlights, I’d have the same philosophy that Bruce Roberts used to have: The eyes have it. It’s yet another facet of golf that is something to see.