The National Golf Foundation reported that 44% of U.S. courses still are open even though 16 states have ordered all courses shut down and two – California and Florida – are under widespread local restrictions.
But no one is monitoring the unintended consequences of playing our great game during the pandemic. I already have identified a key one.
It is a habit that in-the-know golfers have been practicing for a long time: When you bring one or more clubs onto the green, you leave them on top of the flagstick. What was the one thing you had to pick up before you went on to the next hole? The flagstick, of course.
But now we can’t touch the flagstick because of COVID-19 restrictions, which means we have put our extra clubs in the middle of the green and remember to grab them. Sounds like a simple exercise until you just made 20-foot putt – or missed a 3-footer – and are distracted for a moment.
I thought I was doing fine with the new procedure until it was time to hit a few balls before my last round. I reached into my bag for my 56-degree sand wedge and … not there.
I knew exactly when I had used it last – out of a bunker at the 18th green in my previous round. I had placed it next to me and then made a 10-foot putt to close out the round. But when I turned to say goodbye to my playing partners, I must have forgotten it.
So that meant I would have to use a gap wedge out of bunkers all day. It also meant I had lost a club for the first time since I was a teenager – which evoked a painful memory.
Back when I was a caddie, we got to play the country club every Monday. With the course closed to members, it was exhilarating to see what we could do on the grounds we had walked the previous six days. We wanted to be at our best.
But there was a problem for me: My set of clubs didn’t include a sand wedge. My uncle said I could borrow his.
It wasn’t a big deal until I looked down at my bag at the end of the round and made an awful discovery: The sand wedge was gone.
I don’t recall why I didn’t know where I had left it, but what I do remember is that my friend Tom loved to kid me about it. “Your peanut butter-and-jelly sand wedge,” he called it.
My brain flashed immediately to that 50-year-old memory – and the fact that “sand wedge” sounds an awful lot like “sandwich” – as I looked again and again the other day, thinking that surely the sand wedge was hiding under a head cover or with another club.
No! I couldn’t have! I was in shock.
“I lost my sand wedge!” I told my playing partner.
“Your sandwich?” was the response.
I paused, thinking that my enunciation clearly hasn’t improved in the last half-century. But it wasn’t a big handicap, as it turned out.
I used the gap wedge about a half-dozen times out of the sand and hit a good shot all but once. It also made me improvise from the fairway, and I used everything from an 8-iron to a gap wedge to negotiate those delicate little pitches from 75 yards on in.
When the round was over, it was time to go back to the course where I had left my sand wedge. But first, I called the pro shop.
After I explained what I had happened, the pro shop employee hesitated for a second. I should have known what was coming.
“Your sandwich?” she asked.
I couldn’t help but laugh. Clearly, I need to find a new name for this club … or quit losing it.
She said I would have to go to the cart barn to see if my club was there. Surely, it had to be among all those wedges. It had been only a week.
Alas, I soon was contacting my club fitter to buy a new sand wedge. This time, I emailed. No chance of being misunderstood that way.
This experience also gave me an idea for a new sandwich at the golf course restaurant: peanut butter and jelly.
Call it “The 56-degree.” You and I will know what it means.