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Weekend golfer takes on the best in the city

One of the highlights of my sophomore year in high school was playing my first round of golf with my good buddy Shawn. We played after school one spring day at Cedar Hills Golf Course in Omaha. My very first tee shot crossed the street on the left and landed…in a cemetery. A decade later, the golf course we played on BECAME a cemetery. That was an omen. 

For the next 3 decades, I would play some weekend golf with friends. My lovely wife got me a golf net for the back yard. When there was a charity best ball scramble in town, many times I would be in the mix. I loved it. There was always that little voice in the back of my head whispering “I wonder if I could get good if I really committed time and energy to the sport?”

For the last 3 weeks, I decided to give it a go like Kevin Costner’s character in “Tin Cup”. I made a decent number of trips to Deer Run in Hinton where you can hit a large bucket of balls for just five bucks. That may be the best deal on the links. I enjoyed it. After 2 years with my new driver, I became consistent. No duffin’. Solid and straight. I was ready for our annual trip down to Hot Springs Village (golfing resort) where my mother-in-law resides. I played eighteen glorious holes with some locals on the links. I went back for another nine a few days later. Felt great. 27 Arkansas holes on Isabella Golf Course and NO triple bogeys on the card. And I played with one ball. The fellas I played with gave me one mulligan when I biffed it off the starting tee box. I was nervous. The golf course was immaculate. My game was the best it has been in 11,102 days. Yes, I did the math. 

Will my new-found golf confidence carry back home? 

Monday after vacation, I took a vacation day. A veteran move. Would highly recommend. 

I met Doug at Green Valley Golf Course and played a leisurely eighteen on a picture-perfect day. I carded an 89. There was a stretch where I had three pars in a row. I left a couple of strokes on the golf course. If my putting stroke was a little more dialed in, I’m sure 85 was within reach. If I got a few good bounces in the fairway, 83 would be in play. With every hole, par seemed in reach. I had potential for birdie on some of the easier handicapped holes. After the round, I went to the restroom. There, I saw a flier for the two-day “City Championship” golf tourney. Deadline was Wednesday. I thought “man, if I can keep this up, I should make a run for that next year. I returned to work on Tuesday with a glow of confident golf and fond memories of my vacation. 

Wednesday at noon, I decided to take the leap. I signed up.

I took my past scorecard and played a “mental round” at the Deer Run driving range. I mentally shot an 83. 81 if I had good putts. 86 if I lipped out a few putts…in my head. On Thursday night, I played a 6pm practice round. My “Dunham’s sports $50 discount driver” was steady. My irons were off. I shot a 53 from the blue tees. Not the whites. I was sure a few extra feet wouldn’t tack on that many strokes. Right? I chalked it up to nerves and not being able to see the ball in the dark. 

The day of the city championship had arrived. My golden retriever started to lick my bald head at 6:11am and we were off and running for my 10:20 tee time with Scott and Caesar. Having watched a number of golf tournaments on tv, I knew to show up early and hit the driving range and work on my chipping and putting. I was delighted to learned range balls were ready for the participants. The use of the driving range was included in the entry fee. Hallelujah! It was only 8:11am. After 11,000-plus days of tinkering, I had 2 hours to master the game of golf.  

I compared myself to other golfers on the range. I did not fare well on the range. My fellow golfers were legit. They out-drove me. Hit straighter. Had fancy golf clothes. Better equipment. Swagger. I looked at my 25-year-old clubs I purchased on sale and decided to regroup. Heading to the practice green. Went back to the range. Felt slightly more confident. Three good drives in a row. Three consistent 7 irons in a row. Called it good. 

At this point, I had to change my golf shirt as I had sweat through this one. It wasn’t that warm. So, I chalk it up to nerves. 

10:10am, I meet my playing partners. They are both playing in the senior division. I played with seniors all week in Arkansas. This is great. I will feel at home. As I was playing from the blue tees, I started our round out. Now traditionally, I don’t excel at first shots with onlookers. But this was going to change today. I put my tee in the ground. Got my Taylor Made golf ball with 2 Sharpie blue dots teed up. Took a deep breath and swing a practice swing. I tell myself “You got this. Ninety percent swing. Nice and easy.” I line up my feet. Position my grip. Easy back-swing. Focus on the ball…and we are off.  

Felt good. Made contact. The ball took off, all the way to the edge…of the seniors tee box. Fifteen feet to their left. Those two blue dots on my Taylor Made 3 Long Distance traveled the distance of about twenty feet. Off target. Oofdah. I walked back to my cart thinking about that one fantasy football last place finisher who had to try out for a US Open qualifier for finishing last in the league by his buddies. He duffed his first shot. Just like me. Regroup. 

Scott and Caesar find the fairway leaving a short to mid iron to the green. I get the ball back to the middle of the fairway and somehow manage a double bogey on hole one. Hole 2 did not go as swimmingly well. I found the water. Duffed a few. Sank a long put to save a quadruple bogey nine. Third hole I managed another double bogey. Math was not looking good for my goals. Nine over after 3 holes.  

To summarize, I shot the worst round since that fateful day at the cemetery. 

Surprisingly, I enjoyed so many moments. The weekend of golf will leave a lasting memory for me with a lot of life lessons I gained along the way. At this point, I will head to what I learned.

Don’t give up.

I was disappointed in my play. I know in my heart I had better shots out there. I did not feel at ease. It wasn’t easy. I knew better holes would come my way eventually. I just needed to prod a long and give it my best. I never seriously considered heading to my Honda in the parking lot. I knew this was going to be challenge and you can’t be afraid to take a risk. When my sons struggle with difficult tasks, I tell them to keep their head down and take one challenge at a time. I needed to follow my own advice. 

You can control your attitude.

I kept my composure. Even when things weren’t going well. Kept smiling. I had hope the next shot is my best shot. Or at least a shot that didn’t land in the water. Scott was a past champion of this event. He told me in the middle of the front nine, “Tony, your character is great. Even though your game is not what you want it to be, you keep your head about you and keep up your attitude up. That’s great, Tony. You have great character.”

Don’t compare yourself to other golfers.

Live in the moment. Focus on your best effort and execution. The best golfers seem to have horse blinders on with a singular focus. This is a good tactic to emulate.

Smile and enjoy the beauty.

It was a picture-perfect day. The course looked great. The tourney was well organized. I felt like I was playing on the set of a movie. I enjoyed the competition even though I was mostly competing with myself. After the rounds, they print your name in fancy calligraphy with your score. That doesn’t happen every day. 

Kind words matter. 

After the first round started to improve on the back nine of day one, Caesar told me “Tony, I know you have ability. You’ll get it. It’s coming along. You just need to be patient. Golf is tough.” Those words in my time of links need, was just what I needed. That comment alone probably took off a few strokes off my tally. 

Confidence matters too. 

I clearly did not have it. I did a few days ago. How do I become more confident in golf? I have theories. More on that later. 

Momentum is important. 

I had a few stretches where I got my mojo back. A well struck drive or a pitching wedge executed how it was meant to be makes you want to come back. One good thing about having 217 strokes on a weekend of golf is you can feel good about more shots. 😊 

Don’t live in the past 

I remember the mistakes from day one. What to avoid. How to improve. I wrote “RR” for redemption round on my ball. My final round playing partners were Rob and Kyle. They were fantastic as well. I was at least “partially redeemed” with a better score and better play on day two. Day by day you try to get better and better.

Celebrate your wins. 

I had some pars. A few really good looks at birdies. Some strokes it looked like I could hang with the best. Those moments will hopefully morph into more confidence and better results. 

Celebrate the wins of others. 

Without a doubt, my highlight had nothing to do with me. Scott rolled in an eagle! Hole 8. It was beautiful to see. That moment alone was worth the entry fee. How many times do we get so self-absorbed we don’t see the beauty elsewhere? 

Focus on the process. 

On day two, I put away the golf hat. I chose the hat of the Pittsburgh Pirates. It seemed liked the perfect analogy. The Pirates will not finish about .500 this year. They have zero shot of the playoffs. For the Buccos, the scoreboard is an internal one. What can they do to prepare for a better future in the sport? How can they improve? In golf terms, I need to hit my driver more consistently, use a wider array of clubs, get confidence, become a better all-around golfer and keep my smile. Make a putt.

When you are in a bad spot, get out of it 

This is true for golf and life. Both will occasionally deal you a bad hand. Sometimes the smart play is a shot into the fairway. Take your lumps. Move on. Just like when adversity hits you in real life. 

It helps to have a good team 

When I told my lovely wife about my recent crazy golfing dream to compete for a city championship, she cheered me on and convinced me to try it. Talk about a great playing partner for life! Someone who tells you to follow your dreams – especially when they are a bit unconventional. My boys were supportive as well and my youngest son kept reminding me to relax and have fun. 

Relax and Have fun 

On the links. In life. My son may be on to something. 

Chart out a plan 

I would like to get better. I wish stick golf worked like disc golf. Go to a park. Play 9 or 18 for free. Just pay for the equipment and re-stock the lost frisbees. I believe more than 90 percent of the participants for this tourney play on a league or are a member at a club. That’s a total guess based on conversations. Also, there’s been some advances in clubs in the past quarter-century. Also, a guess. I should invest in new clubs and more tee times if I want to reach my potential. And golf lessons. Definitely, golf lessons. And a rosary. And a golf therapist. (Is that a thing?)  And holy water. Lots of holy water…to avoid the water on holes 2, 4, 5, 6, and 11.  You get out what you put in. Now for the under-estimate of the article. Here it is.

I have more work to do.

I enjoyed my time this past weekend. Odds are good I won’t be on the PGA tour anytime soon. But, maybe after just a bit more practice. Just maybe if I can cut 40 strokes by next year.

 

Tony Michaels / KSUX Program Director / PGA golfer hopeful

52nd place finisher at the Green Valley City 2022 Championship presented by Rick Collins Toyota