Gifts on the golf course come in all shapes and sizes

Every day on the golf course is like Christmas. You get to unwrap the gift that keeps on giving – an opportunity to light up your day with family or friends and enjoy some special bonding time.

But the day gets even better when you receive a surprise gift.

For all the shots that head straight toward the out of bounds and never come back, for all the chunks that splash in the water and leave that telltale ripple, there are those moments when you simply can’t believe that your golf ball wound up in such a wonderful place.

Like the best gifts, they are the shots you never forget.

I’m not talking about the socks-and-underwear types of presents. You see those all the time – the drive that hits a tree and ricochets into the fairway, the approach that somehow dances around the bunker and squirts onto the green.

You’re not going to turn down those gifts, of course. They’re necessities. But you’re not going to treasure them. They don’t make memories.

The one shot that stands out in my mind occurred many years ago. I was practicing alone late in the day on the course next to my apartment, and the third hole was a par-4 with a severely uphill second shot.

It was a shot so blind, you could barely see the top of the flagstick, let alone the green. Hit and hope.

It was only a 9-iron, and I flushed it. It flew high in the air, seemingly straight toward the pin. But I would have to get up there to see what happened to it.

I reached the green. No sign of the ball.

Maybe I hit it too well, I thought. That happened a lot in those days, when I swung out of my shoes on every shot.

But it wasn’t behind the green.

OK, wait a minute. It’s not short, I thought. I would have seen it land if it’s short.

The pin was cut on the right side of the green; maybe my ball somehow bounced over there. Nope. Nothing.

There was only one place I hadn’t looked, and by now you probably know where this is going. Yep, it was in the hole. To this day, it is the only time I’ve ever holed a blind shot from the fairway, and it must have been special because I’m still talking about it nearly a half-century later.

Of course, there also are those moments when you thought you were getting the gift of a lifetime only to discover that it was an ugly sweater.

About 10 years ago, I was playing a par-3 with an interesting green that features a ridge in the middle and a back left pin placement. Another blind shot.

Again, I hit it straight toward the flag. (I assure you this is not a frequent occurrence – maybe that’s why I so clearly remember these two shots.)

“That might be in,” we said to each other. But we would have to wait to find out.

My sense of anticipation was almost breathtaking as I approached the green. This would be a fine place for my first hole-in-one, I thought. Tough hole. Good shot. My mind raced ahead faster than my legs – I would buy lunch for everyone in the group if it was an ace.

Another member of the group had hit an equally good shot, so we both were wondering as we reached the putting surface – and then, sadly, we saw two balls near the pin. Mine was the one 10 feet behind it, and that’s where the mystery comes in.

It was early in the morning, when your ball leaves a trail through the dew. My ball had hit short of the flagstick and rolled right toward it. The trail seemingly was headed right into the cup until it inexplicably veered to the right, then resumed breaking left as it skittered past.

To this day, I don’t know how it missed. I was so disappointed, I let it affect me on the birdie putt. Never has there been a more disappointing par.

That’s going to happen sometimes, but I think we tend to forget all the breaks we get in our great game – starting with the privilege of just getting to participate.

So the next time your ball sneaks back into play when it had no business doing that, there’s only one thing to say.

Merry Christmas!

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