I had run it through my head 100 times. Just play my game, don’t get intimidated by the other player and make sure to beat freshman Zane Jacobs. Great idea.
The sectionals golf match started at 7:30 a.m., which meant I had to wake up at 5 a.m. Despite my best efforts to get a good night’s sleep, I couldn’t fall alseep until midnight.
So I stumbled out of bed, threw on my uniform (remembering to wear a belt for the first time this season), grabbed a cup of coffee and fell into my car.
Because there are so many people, sectionals is played as a shotgun match, meaning all the groups of golfers start on different holes but at the same time.
Due to my performance throughout the year in other matches, I would be going off on the first hole with some of the other top golfers in the section.
I am sure I speak for 99 percent of all golfers when I say that the first drive of the match is the most stressful part of the day. If you hit a bad drive, you feel awful and look stupid. So as I stood over the ball, I had quite a lot going through my brain. I took a deep breath, swung and hit a great drive.
The next eight holes were uneventful. I played well enough to not give up, but not well enough to feel happy inside.
I did learn that two of my opponents are avid fans of sheep shows. One even won regionals with his sheep “Cotton Ball.”
At the end of the first nine, I was seven over par for a 43. Not bad. This was a big confidence boost, and I started the back nine strong, parring the first three holes.
Then hole 15 happened.
I hit my drive directly into the woods out of bounds. The penalty for an out-of-bounds shot is two strokes—and clinical depression. Essentially, you start the hole over, but your drive counts as the third shot.
This time I drove the ball well and got on the green with my fourth shot. A little ray of hope crept into my round.
I approached my 40-foot putt for bogey (one over par) with a damage control mindset. So I zeroed in, focused on the hole, and four-putted for an 8 on the hole.
Can anybody say Happy Gilmore?
I nearly broke my putter out of sheer frustration but ended up just chucking it a few feet forward and muttering curses that would make a sailor blush.
The man who was supervising our group seemed to find some issue with this and gave me a stern lecture on how rude throwing clubs was and how it could be an instant DQ and blah blah blah.
But I was too angry to take anything he said seriously. Besides, I was fairly certain that the sheep boys wouldn’t mind.
I closed out the back nine with a solid 46 to bring my grand total to an 89. It was nowhere near low enough to compete with the top players, but it was less than bogey golf. However, I was nervous. I was well aware that 89 was still in the danger zone because Zane was capable of shooting an 89. I glared out over the course waiting to see him sauntering in. “What did you shoot?” I asked. “Pretty good,” came the reply. “A 90.”
90. 90 is greater than 89. I did it.
I had won the meaningless, self-created competition that I imposed on a fellow teammate. And that feeling was better than any section title.
Player finds victory in his defeat
My alarm went off at 5 a.m. on May 5, and my first thought was, “Do I really have to show up today?”
Normally, I would be excited for sectionals—a chance to play golf against the best players in the region, prove my ability and, possibly, move on to the next level.
As the sun began to rise, we pulled into the parking lot and I noted how deserted it seemed without hundreds of cars.
But I’d never willingly start a round of golf at 7:30 a.m., so I had seen the facility only during the hours of the sane.
I began my warm-up routine with putting, though I quickly found the early-morning cold and subsequent inhibition of my motor skills rendered my putting skills useless.
But, hey, our new team shirts ordered two months ago had just arrived, so that boosted my morale— kind of.
I knew that our team had no chance of winning the section. But the top three individuals also move on to the next level, and I could hypothetically play that well.
“I’m aiming for fourth,” I told my teammates.
It wasn’t just the cold and early hour that made me so unenthusiastic—I had realized over the course of the season that competitive golf was a form of torture.
An 18-hole round usually takes four hours, but the majority of that is spent reflecting about every mistake.
Every round I tell myself not to think about my score and to just go into some sort of meditative trance, but that’s impossible—especially when you’re required to keep track of your score, and your opponent’s, on every hole.
Moreover, golf makes it exceedingly easy to compare your performance to your expectation. Sure, you can always work harder and sweat more in a sport like basketball, but golf literally applies a numerical value to just your performance.
You think you should shoot 40 over nine holes, but you shot a 49 today? That’s good enough for our league, but you wasted an entire shot on every hole, you incompetent fool.
This underlying reality was made even more unbearable this year by my inability to shoot significantly better than I did my freshman year, despite being much more talented.
So come sectionals, I knew it wasn’t going to go well. Maybe it would be like last year, when I shot 18 over par through the first four holes but only a few over through the other 14.
Or maybe I would just do poorly from the beginning.
In the end, I hit two good shots the whole day and shot 101 without really trying—but I was just relieved to be done with competitive golf forever.
During the round, I found amusement in watching the second-best golfer on the best team in the section, fall into the same trap of eternal dissatisfaction.
He made the green in regulation on (almost) every single hole, meaning he pretty much always had a putt for birdie.
And each birdie putt went the same.
First, he’d read the green from every angle to find the perfect alignment.
Then he’d stand over the putt, look forward toward the hole, and look back down at his ball.
Then he’d look at the hole again, and his ball again. And again. And again.
After a good minute, he’d finally putt—and every single time, he’d miss by just a little bit.
Despite still making a par on most every hole, he was clearly unhappy with his performance. I just laughed to myself.
He might have scored more than 20 shots lower than I did by the end of the day, but I walked away with my head high.