Learning to appreciate the tough shot is an education

Watching the pros try to hit the 17th green in the TPC Sawgrass gale the other day brought to mind an interesting experience we all sometimes have on the golf course.

Player after player could only laugh when even a well-struck shot wound up in the water. Trying to figure out what that capricious wind would do to the shot appeared to be creating anxiety that was far more mind-blowing.

So what do you do? How do you convince yourself that a hole isn’t impossible when everything seems to be working against you?

I used to have that feeling on just about every hole years ago when I was lucky enough to play Pasatiempo every Sunday afternoon in the wintertime for $10.

That’s right – Pasatiempo for 10 bucks. On Sunday. That was the twilight rate back in the day during nonpeak season.

It was glorious.

But it also was filled with holes that seemed impossible.

I don’t think I ever hit the third green with my tee shot. Ever. That is the epitome of a long, tough, uphill par-3.

I don’t recall parring No. 11 more than once or twice. That is such an odd shot over the barranca, and then the green is like glass.

And the 16th? No wonder Alister MacKenzie called it the greatest par-4 he ever designed.

Just getting the ball in the fairway on innumerable holes was an accomplishment. It’s not particularly long, but it’s so tight. It’s unforgiving if you miss the fairway, which is so easy to do.

Like so many California courses, you’ve got to hit the ball straight consistently to have a good score. Here are three videos (1, 2 and 3) that show, in great detail, just how awesome it is.

Pasatiempo is one of those courses that make you feel as if you never get a breather. Even if you reach a green in regulation, you have to negotiate putting surfaces that are so tricky, they require a magic touch.

But that’s why I kept coming back.

When I look back on it, it made me better.

It helped that one of my playing partners was a scratch handicap. I learned just from watching him avoid big mistakes and recover when the inevitable happened – the golf course punishes everyone from time to time.

It helped that I was so challenged. Sure, it’s fun to walk out on an easy course and shoot a good score, but you have to see what you’re made of and play a tough track from time to time – or regularly, if you can.

And it helped that I loved the course so much. It felt like such a privilege to accept the challenge every Sunday. That was especially true considering that golfers back east had to keep their clubs in the closet until April or May.

It is the classic example of why our great game has such a hold on us. There’s no way on God’s green earth – emphasis on green – that you will be drawn to a particular tennis court or bowling alley.

But a good golf course? Oh my gosh. Where do I begin?

So as I watched the pros hit shot after shot in the water Saturday, I had one compelling thought: I wish I could hit that shot right now. I wish that was me.

Sure, I’d probably dump it in the drink. But let me at it. It’s worth a try.

I hope you have the same attitude about tough courses. It will do you some good. Check that – it will do you a LOT of good.

It will show you that if you put in the proper energy to practicing, playing and enjoying the sport that has no equal, even the seemingly impossible shot is fun.

No matter how it turns out.

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