He turns over, slapping the top of the alarm clock he regrettably set for 6 a.m. on a Sunday. His feet gingerly slap the ground as to not disturb his sleeping wife any more than he already has. A quick shave in the bathroom before he's dressed. His clubs rattle in the bag as he drags them through his house and places them in the trunk of his Corolla. The garage opens as the car starts and takes him to the golf course.
He puts on his sunglasses tucked neatly in their overhead compartment. The rising sun was blinding but he didn't need the road signs, he knew the route better than he knew the 14th hole on his home course. That hole drove him mad. He's birdied every other hole on that course, but not the forbidden 14th. He could bogey, double bogey, even quadruple bogey, but that damn hole always kept the birdies away from him. It was simple enough, long tee shot to the fairway, another hit down the dogleg left, and then… he was there. It was 6:27 when he arrived at the course.
He checked in at the desk in the pro shop, milled around looking at clubs he wished he could own. 6:52 and he bought a small bucket of balls to hit on the driving range. The bright yellow balls jingled as he walked to get a warm-up in before the 8:30 tee time. He stretched only for a couple of minutes just to get out the morning tightness that lingered. He reached into the golf bag, as he always did, and started with his pitching wedge, the heaviest club he had. A few light swings to get his shoulders loose and pop the ball high into the air, rising above the still low sun. He smiled as the balls flopped down within a few feet of the orange flag he was hitting at just 20 yards away. He grabbed the club with "56" engraved on the metal head. It was a thin club, a wedge with a 56-degree loft, making it a great approach club. The loft also added great difficulty in using it, many hours were put in to using this club effectively. Three swings, that was his magic number, three balls placed neatly around the same orange flag. He smiled.
He bagged the wedge and grabbed his 7-iron. There was a metal plate behind him marking distances. There were seven different colored circles, each with a number next to it. The colors represented flags, and the numbers told distances. The turquoise circle had 165 next to it. He looked out to the turquoise flag, selecting his next target. 165 yards should be right in this club's wheelhouse. He kicked a ball into place with his foot, reached his arms back, club in hand, and turned his chest around letting his arms follow through with the club head trailing. The club zips through his field of view and takes the ball with it, there is a satisfying WHHHHOMP that can only be produced when there is perfect contact. His chest leads his arms over his shoulder and behind his head as he turns to watch his ball soar, landing ten yards within his turquoise mark.
He smiled. Five more swings and he only replicated that contact twice. Sometimes everything fell into place, and sometimes it didn't. There was right around ten balls left in his bucket, he dumped onto the smooth grass, put some sand in the divot he left in the ground and walked back to the clubhouse. There was a restaurant inside, a hallway away from the pro shop. Convenient as he ordered his egg whites and fruit with about 40 minutes till tee time. The food arrives in five minutes, he was one of three guests in the restaurant and they had their food already. He eats leisurely, killing time. He pays out, tips his waiter, grabs his cart, loads the clubs, parks next to tee box 1, walks out, and tees up his ball. Go time.
There's a rush of air and WHHHACK as his driver slams into his sparkling white ball and whisks it 280 yards down the fairway. He clambered into the golf cart happy. 280? Not bad. He approached his ball and stared through the rangefinder, it told him there were still 170 yards left to the white flag he longed for. He grabbed his 7-iron hoping he could replicate what he did on the range. WHHHHOMP. The ball soared and landed promptly on the short grass of the beloved green. Two shots to green on Hole one? Hell yeah. He drove the golf on the cart path until he was next to the green. He walked to ball slowly analyzing every peculiarity of the green. He dropped the ball just a mere 8 feet from the hole. A sharp slope right forced the aim of his putter left. Just a slight tap! and the ball rolled, falling right, right, right, right into the hole. Birdie? Hell yeah, great hole.
He finished the front nine of the 18-hole course a whopping four under par, his best score. Hole nine loomed before him as he stood on the tee box holding the head of his 9-iron and resting on it like a cane. He looked down at his ball, the same ball he used for the entire front nine, then he looked at the coveted white flag just 127 yards away. It should be a simple easy 9-iron swing to the green, but the 80-yard-long lake in his way took his mind off the swing. CRACK. Dammit! The ball thumped off the club and rocketed twenty yards past the green landing in the thick, rough, grass behind it. Exasperated, he dropped the club in his bag and swore as he drove to his ball. He grabbed the famed 56-degree in attempt to save his score on this damned hole. He didn't anticipate the grass to be so thick today, it stopped his light swing on impact and forced him to jerk the club to the finish. The head clumsily struck the ball rolling it on and off the green into the sand bunker leering at him on the other side of the green. He lugged his putter and 56 to the bunker. Dropping the putter just before the bunker starts, he stepped gingerly into the sand and planted himself a foot from the ball. He was careful not to touch his club into the sand before his swing, he knew that would invoke a two-shot penalty he could not afford. A glorious swing lands the ball near the pin and he taps it in with one putt. He wrote down double bogey on his scorecard. Great hole idiot.
Holes 10, 11, 12, and 13 all fell victim to the golfer's patience and time built swing. Par, par, par, and par all built his confidence after that dreadful par three. Hole nine lingers in the back of his mind as he tees up on Hole 14. The ball zooms straight down the fairway and he breathes a little easier. There was another great swing placing the ball again on the fairway and only 20 yards away from his target. He relaxed his shoulders as he approached the third shot. He grabbed the 56 once again, dusting off the sand he neglected to clean after Hole nine. He stood firm over the ball, his club resting behind it. He breathes slowly. Simple chip, just get on the green and walk out with a par. The club starts on the back-swing, rising slowly. It peaks, starts its descent, and he picks up his eyes just a moment too early from the ball. There's a horrid a sound and he looks away. The ball skips over the green into the monstrous bunker on the other side.
The ball was lying inches from the two-foot-high wall of the white sand bunker. There was not enough room for a full swing in any direction. He started to slam the forsaken 56 into the ground before he gained his composure. He stood over the ball, swearing at his only choice. He brought the club back and slammed it forward, forcing the ball into wall, it bounced high and backwards. His head followed it as the ball mooned over his head and set on the grass about four yards behind him. He was farther from the flag but he put himself in a spot where he could at least swing the club. He chips up, landing the ball 30 feet from the hole. It takes him three putts to get the ball in its stupid hole, and he scribbles an eight on his scorecard. Three over, that's how you ruin a round, ladies and gents.
He fails to clear his mind and bogeys Holes 15 and 16. After a furious ball throw into the lake next to 16, he takes a deep breath and scores a birdie on 17. He escapes the mine-like bunkers littering Hole 18's fairway and is able to end the day with a well-earned par. He looks at his scorecard and smiles a moment before ripping it in half. He stores the half of the card corresponding to his awesome front nine in his wallet and trashes the back nine half without a second look.
He checks his watch; 11:53. He grabs a couple of hot dogs from the restaurant and wolfs one down on his short walk to the pro shop. There he buys a large bucket of range balls and finishes the second hot dog while the clerk prepares his balls. He walks, again jingling the range balls but this time passing the driving range. He strides looking only to the chipping range. A smaller patch of grass west of the driving range. The setup was simple, a small patch of grass to hit from, and five flags: 10, 15, 20, 25, and 30 yards apart. He set the basket down and tipped it over letting the balls drip next to his feet. He plops his bag down and yanks the 56 from its spot. Alright you piece of crap, let's see if I can still use you.
After bombarding the net at the back of the range with a few angry shots, eliciting glares from others on the range, he calms down. Two deep breaths. One. Two. He's ready, he steadies his cap and his stance. Adjusting his grip on the club he relaxes his shoulders. One more exhale and the club starts its controlled ascent. He swings down at the ball and glides through the last of swing with a poise that elicits a look of admiration from the others who thought him out of place just moments ago. The ball rises, falls, and bounces a foot from the 10-yard flag. He was aiming for the 20-yard flag.
A sharp exhale and three more hits grants him distance control once again. He starts hitting the flags in order. 30, 25, 20, 15, and 10; again. 30, 25, 20, 15, and 10; again. 30, 25, 20… It was too easy for him. He looks over to a regular at the golf course that he recognizes. With some confidence back in his swing, he challenges the familiar face to a chipping contest, loser buys the other a sleeve of golf balls of the winner's choice. The woman nods and smiles. 18 rounds akin to the 18 holes of a course. Each round one would call a flag, the closest to the flag won the round, simple. With the rules decided and quick handshake, it was on.
She was a master of the short-distance, high-arching, flop shot and picked the 10-yard flag for the first round. He shoots first. Swinging and cutting through the ball like butter he lands it within a few feet. The bar was set and she was up to the task. He awes at the ball's flight path and admires it all the way to the ground. He laughs, it wasn't close, she had him beat by five feet. He makes the 30-yard flag the next target. Another silky swing and the ball bounces into the pin. The distance is too close for the woman and she loses the round.
They trade all 18 rounds and go to a tie-breaking round 19. Her pick, she chooses the 15-yard flag. His shot, he stands over the ball. There is no adjusting. No shifting of his feet, no relaxing of the shoulders, no re-gripping of the club. He is solid. He takes one look to the flag then back down to the ball. Back, back, back, and follow through. There's a crisp Pink! when the club strikes the ball and she is in disbelief. The balls lofts, lands a foot behind the flag, and then the backspin. It hops once, twice, each time receding opposite its natural path and back towards the flag. The ball comes to rest leaning on the flag's staff. He does a mini celebration as he trades places with the woman. Her swing is excellent but cannot match the man's combination of luck and skill. She lands two-feet away. More than a great shot, but his was perfect.
He shakes her hand, tells her his selection of balls and that he'll pick them up tomorrow from her. She smiles at him, asks for a rematch, and guarantees his prize. A polite goodbye and he begins to leave the course. He left some unused range balls back there, but he knew to finish on a high note. Any more swings and golf would knock him down. He stows his clubs again in the back seat of his car. He sits in the driver seat while his car idles. He pulls out the half of the scorecard bearing his front nine accomplishment. Looking at the tear he remembers the pitiful back nine. He tosses the scorecard out of his window and closes his eyes, throwing his head back into the seat. He thinks back to his latest victory over the 56-degree club, and the woman. He laughs. I absolutely hate this game. It's 12:32 and he's heading home, swearing off golf for a week that'll only last 20 hours.