Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"Captain's Choice" Golf

A few weeks ago, Amber came to me with a proposition. "Hey, Chris!" (Note that these aren't direct quotes. I'm using quotation marks for dramatic effect.) "My company is having a golf tournament in a few weeks. Want to play? I'm even thinking of playing!"

Now...normally when I think "company golf tournament", I'm thinking of a bunch of corporate well-to-do 40-somethings who play golf regularly, take the game very seriously, and insist on placing large bets on even the most trivial of things throughout the round. If we'd be playing with a bunch of "golf snobs" (as I call them), then I'd want no part of this company golf tournament. Fortunately, this would be a mostly younger crowd that doesn't take golf as seriously (for the most part). On top of that, the format would be beginner-friendly, so I wouldn't have to worry about finishing, say, 35 strokes behind. Sign me up!

I used to play golf a lot. My golf interest and skill peaked several years ago while in grad school. Back then, I had a full student membership at the Penn State course and played once or twice a week. I consistently shot in the 90s, and my golfing career culminated with career-low 78 in July 2005 (including a front-nine 34!). Then, I started working 40 hours a week, and decided continuing an interest in golf wasn't worth the time commitment. As a result, I haven't played a full round of golf in over three years.

Fortunately for me, the tournament format was ideal for someone who hadn't played in a while. It was something called "Captain's Choice" or a "Four-Player Scramble": on each hole, each team of four players tees off, the group decides which of the four drives was best, all four players take their "second shot" from the approximate spot where the best drive landed, the group decides which "second shot" was best, and so on. (There were a few other quirky rules, but they're not really important.) So, if I hit my drive into the woods or into the water - which I did plenty of times during the tournament - who cares? That's what my teammates are for! I figured I'd hit a good shot every once in a while, and that would make it worth my while. Just to make sure, and to ease my fears that I had completely forgotten how to hit a golf ball, I went to a driving range 10 days before the tournament to "warm up".

Is playing "Captain's Choice" golf like real golf? Uh, no. In fact, I think it's less fun. Part of the golfing experience is recovering from a bad shot. Yes, it can be frustrating, but it can also be very rewarding. But in "Captain's Choice" golf, there is no scrambling. Every now and then, everyone on the team will drive it into the rough or miss the green, but a shot from the light rough was as close to a "challenge" as we got all day. Did we ever have to hit out of the woods? Nope. Did we ever have to hit it out of the sand trap? Nope. Boooooring. Sure, it was fun to post a bogey-free round of 66, but that's not real golf.

On my team, we had Amber (who actually made a decent contribution despite her almost-nil golfing experience), and two serious golfers. (I was hoping my teammates would tilt more towards the "young" crowd rather than the "golf snob" crowd, but that's my fault for understating my ability and experience level.) Our team was actually tailored pretty well for the "Captain's Choice" format: the two serious golfers would hit it 250 to 300 years off the tee (I can only hit it 200-225, and usually not in the fairway), then I'd hit a short iron onto the green (short irons were undoubtedly my strength), then we'd all miss the putt for birdie. And when we all hit our drive into the woods or rough, we'd take Amber's 100-yard drive from the ladies tee down the center of the fairway.

I was impressed at how little my golfing skill had dropped off Of course, my short game was rarely tested, and I think that's what you lose the most by not playing: touch. My lack of driving accuracy - which was never good to begin with, and now is even worse - also didn't matter. But short irons and approach shots? Oh yes - I can still hit those. In fact, I won the "closest to the pin" competition on three of the four par 3s, beating 15 other golfers each time. Shoot, I even won some prizes: 9 golf balls (3 for each "closest to the pin") and three bags of golf tees. (Hey, Dad - want some tees?)

Problem is, now all of Amber's co-workers think I'm a really good golfer, purely based my excellent performance on the par 3s. But they didn't see my drives. If I played the round like a "real round", by myself, I estimate my score would have been in the 105 to 110 range. Sure, I would have had a birdie on the par 3 10th, but I would have also had to hit 3 and 4-irons with my second shots instead of 8 and 9-irons, if I was even lucky enough to hit my drive onto the fairway, which usually, I wasn't.

So, was this enough to get me interested in golf again? Am I going to start playing every week now? ... Nope. For one thing, it took us just over FIVE HOURS to play 18 holes, and that's way too long. I've played 36 holes in less time than that. I also spent more time than I'd like to admit looking for my ball, often unsuccessfully. But I did learn that I can at least not embarrass myself only playing occasionally. Maybe I'll even bring the clubs down to Florida for Thanksgiving and New Year's this year.

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