We’re heading into the time of year when we find all sorts of pleasant surprises on The Golf Channel. There’s nothing quite like flipping on the TV late at night to see what’s on and discovering a live PGA Tour event on the other side of the world.
Come to think of it, maybe that’s one of the best things about our great game – it’s always filled with surprises. Just as no two courses are exactly alike, no two rounds are the same, even if you play the same course over and over.
Every time you go out there, if you’re an average player like the rest of us, you don’t know what’s going to be working.
One round you drive the ball like Cameron Champ – minus about 150 yards, of course. The next round you hit it like a chump.
You go to the range to work on your short irons and hit every shot dead solid perfect. Then you take your newfound confidence out to the course and go back to your yanking and shanking ways.
One day you can’t buy a putt no matter how well it’s stroked. Then the next day your stroke feels like a jab and you still make everything you look at.
There’s something magical about watching your ball in flight when you’ve struck it well. Think about that for a minute. Do you get the same feeling from other sports?
How about basketball? After you’ve reached an advanced level of shooting ability, you expect to make at least 8 out of 10 free throws. Most of them look exactly the same – same spin, same swish. Excellence becomes monotonous.
How about bowling? If you know what you’re doing, you’re probably going to hit your mark most of the time and have the ball hooking right into the pocket. It’s not as if the pins are set up differently on each alley. Same thing every time. Ability, meet monotony.
How about tennis? Sure, there are different types of shots, and everything hinges on where your opponent hits it. But it’s the same size court and sometimes the same results over and over. More monotony.
Now I realize that there are golfers out there who are extremely consistent and tend to do something similar on every hole.
Let’s say it’s a normal-length par-4. They aren’t a big hitter, so they’re not going to try to hit a big drive. Something down the middle will do. Out of 14 driving holes on the course, they’ll be on the short grass at least 12 or 13 times.
They can’t reach the green, so they just try to put themselves in position for their third shot. Nothing risky. Anything within 50 yards of the green will do.
Now comes the key moment. Not only do they want to put it on, they want to get it close. And even if they don’t hit a good wedge, they at least give themselves a putt for a par.
One more thing: They never three-putt. Ever.
I’ve played with guys like that many, many times. I always tell them the same thing: Don’t you get tired of that?
It happened just the other day.
He was playing his remarkably steady game. Nothing dazzling, but nothing stupid.
I was playing my usual all-over-the-place game, but luckily for me we were on a more forgiving course where a wild drive simply was in the other fairway.
And I was scoring. There were several pleasant surprises, such as the 75-yard flip wedge over a tree right in front of me, over a bunker and onto the green, but I got on a roll on the front nine, making a string of solid pars despite my occasional wildness.
The short hitter, meanwhile, kept talking about how he was bogeying every hole. He went the first seven holes without a par and was visibly frustrated.
But he just kept doing the same thing – down the middle, in position, on the green, two putts and occasionally one putt. And when we tallied up our scores at the end of the round, I was only four strokes better. I would have guessed it to be more like 10.
It always has been that way for me – wildly inconsistent. Yet that’s what fascinates me about golf. It’s what keeps me coming back. I suspect that if I ever got to the point where I knew exactly what to expect every time I teed it up, I would get bored and want to do something else.
Instead, there is no sport I enjoy more, even when I stink.
There is no sport I have spent more time trying to master.
There is no sport where I’ve had more surprises.
There is no sport where a good day is more satisfying.
That’s our great game … our surprising great game.
Get out there and see what your next surprise will be. Like a golf telecast from China or Japan in the middle of the night, you just never know. But the fun is in the discovery.