Golf and the Meltdown

I did it again yesterday. I was approaching the Number 9 hole at Spring River Golf Course with a personal best 47 strokes for the front 9. For those of you who do not golf, this means that I was approaching mediocrity in my golf game as opposed to just bad golf. But for me, it was a big deal. My goal is to shoot less than 50 on the front 9 and back nine for a score less than 100 by the end of the year.

My goal yesterday was to shoot a 54 or less on the front nine. I learned a trick from my brother while playing golf out in Arizona with him. Realize what your game is, then set your own par accordingly. It’s the same principle that many use to figure a handicap, which is used in amateur golf all the time. My brother’s method was to set a 5 stroke limit for every hole. Five ends up being his par. Well, I know I’m not going to do that well, so I set a 6 hole limit for every hole, which would have given me a 54 for 9 holes.

Six is my par. That takes the pressure off me to obtain what I cannot obtain in the real game, a true par. Doing this gives the golfer a psychological advantage in that when you come to a par 4 and you decide it is a par 6, the pressure is off to make 4. To make a true par you cannot muff a single shot for the hole. To make a true par for each hole, your tee shot has to be really good, along with your mid-range shot, your short shot onto the green and your first putt. 90 percent of golfers cannot do that, especially given that most of the game is played in the six inches between one’s ears. (With my par at six, I actually hit a par on the Sixth hole. That truly helped my score.)

This is why handicaps were introduced. We may see great golfers like Tiger Woods shoot a 68 on any given day, but most golfers are not great. In fact, statistics show that 90 percent of all golfers never break an 80, and only about 75 percent of all golfers ever break 100.

My brother shot a 102 when we played, so he is above average, and falls into the 25 percent that do break into the double digits. It was the first time he has golfed in 4 years, so I imagine if he continues, he will drop back into the double digits.

Breaking 100 is my goal and I was trying to take a baby step toward that goal yesterday, just shoot 54 or less on the front 9. That goal was in reach when I came off the green at number 8 and headed for the tee box of 9. To be honest, butterflies begin bouncing in my stomach as I approached number 9. When it comes to Spring River Golf Course, number 9 has witnessed some of my biggest meltdowns. You could say that hole is doing her duty in getting inside my head, because she is there, sitting on a bucket, just laughing in my face when it comes to my game.

I tried not to listen to her. My mind immediately jumped to the facts. I have a 47, I simply need to finish the hole with 7 strokes to reach my goal. That is truly doable. In fact, I’ve done it before. I scored a par on this very hole… o so many months ago. She just laughed and shouted “meltdown!” I couldn’t get that word out of my head.

I teed up the ball, relaxed, took several easy practice swings and then launched my shot. I hit it well, but just slightly to the left and into the trees. “No problem,” I thought. “Just another opportunity for greatness to follow.”

Then I had to wait. There were four golfers ahead of me that I had not had to wait for since passing the elderly foursome back on the fourth hole (which is where my game really began to improve.) I had to wait to take my second shot… and I began thinking.

As every golfer knows, you must concentrate on your game because the most important aspect of the game is mental. Or is Yogi Berra once proclaimed, “90 percent of the game is half mental?” But to think too much about the game is catastrophic. In other words, you need to concentrate, but not think too much.

I was thinking too much. I thought I could hit my second shot along the tree line and get it closer to the green for an easy chip shot. That wasn’t clear thinking. I should have aimed for the middle of the fairway for the longer, but easier followup shot. Instead, my second shot went right along the tree line until it hit another tree and ended up behind a small burn.

OK,” I thought. “Wait for the foursome to get off the green and put the ball right up on it.” Again, I was still thinking too much. I should have shot for the front of the green, then my chip shot instead of trying to go for the green.

Again, another tree. The ball went left again and now I had bunkers to worry about.

The next shot went to far to the right, but actually landed with an easy chip shot onto the green. If I got the ball onto the green and two putted, things would be well. But it was too late. By now, the pressure inside my head to finish off the hole meant that the nerves between my brain and muscles were no longer firing as they should. I wanted so bad to finish off this hole so well, that my muscles could no longer function. The chip shot flew over the green and to the fence. I was officially in meltdown mode.

I haven’t figured out how to break the cycle. But I do know the feeling really well. I could tell what I needed to do, but my muscles, hands and arms couldn’t do it. Every swing was filled with an unbeatable tension, followed by complete disgust at the results. I even ended up in the sand bunker, twice. Normally, I can play the bunkers well, but not in meltdown mode.

Instead of getting on the green in 4 strokes, it took me 9 strokes. I was utterly defeated. The goal of 54 was long gone and Number 9 was dancing around me shouting “Meltdown! Meltdown!” 

OK,” I thought with futility once again. “Just 2 putt and everything will be well.” Only problem, I couldn’t putt either. Another normally descent aspect of my game had left me. It took me three strokes to get the ball in. Instead of getting my my 54, I ended up with my normal 59. What looked like it would be a good 9-holes of golf, was shattered with one hole. Number 9 had won. She had done her duty and humiliated me. I couldn’t help but think that had I had just found one decent stroke in all of that, I could have come away with something. But even my putting was putrid.

That’s why the call it a “meltdown.” It’s purely psychological. It’s not as though the ability isn’t there physically, but the hole itself truly is inside my head like a giant mountain standing between me and my goal.

I’ve talked to other golfers about it. Zach, who works in the pro shop, said that is the hardest part of golf. Getting over the psychological barriers we face is what makes the game so difficult. Good golfers find a way to play through it. I haven’t yet discovered the ability to do so. I know when I’m in meltdown mode, but haven’t found a way through it.

I know when I do… I will score a 54 or even better. But until then… I will have to face the meltdown again.

I did try to play the back 9. But I must confess the joy had left me. I was truly having a good time on the front 9. I did manage to get the ball on the green on Number 13, which is a par 3. But I 5 putted to get it in.

By the time I hit my tee shot off Number 15, the joy was completely gone. So much so, that the thought of a turkey sandwich sounded much more appealing than finishing out the round of golf. I picked up my ball and headed for home.

Here is a clip from the movie about Bobby Jones, the greatest golfer ever to live.

Here is one on the life of Bobby Jones.