As my partner, Josh Burkey and I walked up to the our last hole of the night, we were both in trouble. It was the 3rd hole at Little River Golf Course and the first round of the Little River Men’s Club Playoffs. It was do or die. We had to protect our season-long 1st place spot. The other half of our team, Dewey Turner and Chuck Allegrini had finished their 9-hole round on the 1st hole and reported in. Turner lost his match and Allegrini won his. After hearing this, Burkey and I looked at each other. We were both 1-down with one hole to play. We each had to win the last hole to force a playoff. In the case of a playoff, each team would choose a man to play, starting on the first hole and the first to win a hole wins the match for their team. Needless to say, Burkey and I had our work cut out for us. Our matches had been close all day and we had each lost the previous hole to go 1-down with only one hole to play.
My mind eased a bit when my opponent, Jason Hearst, hooked his tee shot into the woods. My tee shot was safely in the middle of the fairway near Burkey’s, and his opponent Bobby Burdick was also safe, landing in the right rough. As we walked up the fairway our teammates and a few other members started to form a gallery behind us. I did my best just to keep my breathing steady as I set my bag down near my tee shot.
At this point, Hearst had hit a couple of bad shots and was becoming increasingly frustrated with his performance. I stepped up to my ball, 5-wood in hand, knowing all I had to do was have a solid 2nd shot, chip and a putt to tie my match. I took my time settled over my ball and smashed my 5-wood within 40 yards of the green. The 3rd hole is a long par five, and I was in great shape. Meanwhile, Burkey hit a nice 2nd and Burdick hooked his 2nd way left and near the hazard. Team FloBeds was looking pretty good. Hearst and Burdick continued their downward spirals and Burkey and I finished strong to tie the match and force a playoff.
Our opponents had an easy choice for who their man would be. Fernando was Turner’s opponent and was having a great day. On the other had, we knew that we had to choose one of our high handicappers because both Turner and Allegrini would have to give Fernando a stroke, Burkey would play straight up, and I would receive one stroke. It was either me or Burkey and honestly, I was nervous as hell at the thought of it being me. Burke felt confident and wanted to take Fernando on. We walked together toward the 1st tee talking about who should play. Fernando was right there the entire walk down, trying to get us to flip for it. Even though I was not nearly as confident as Burkey, it made more sense for me to play him because I would get a stroke. About 50 yards until we reached the 1st tee box, Burkey was about to flip a tee between us until I stopped him. Being the highest handicap on the team I was not fully convinced of my ability to beat Fernando, and being the guy the fate of team rests on was a terribly daunting prospect. Strategically, since he had to give me a stroke, it made more sense for me to play him rather than Burkey who would have to play him straight up.
Burke turned to me and asked: “You got it?”
Not entirely convinced myself yet, somehow “Yeah, I got it,” came out of my mouth. At that moment I knew I actually had to do it. I had to step up and hit good golf shots or be the guy who lets the team down in a clutch situation. Never in my life have I been really good at sports. I was always fast and in my prime, I could jump pretty high for being only 5 foot 7 inches tall. These skills made me okay at running track, but I never won a race. I place second, a lot. In basketball, I sat the bench mostly and really couldn’t shoot or dribble very well. I would get a couple of rebounds when I did play and lead a couple of fast breaks after forcing a steal. I picked up golf about 13 years ago because it is an individual sport that you can play with a few good buddies, have a few beers and every once in a while hit a great shot. Those moments made it easy to keep paying the money to play another round.
Recently I have settled down, became a member at my local course and my handicap has dropped from a 30+ to a 20. I can shoot below my handicap on a good day but I still have enormous potential to post a 100+ round. That moment, as I stood over my ball to take my tee shot, I felt like all of my sports experiences came flooding back to me and now I had to prove to myself that when push comes to shove, those 100+ rounds, didn’t matter. My numerous second place finishes by two tenths of a second in the 100 meter dash, didn’t matter. The hours of basketball practice just to sit the bench for all but two minutes, didn’t matter. All that mattered in that moment was that my team needed me to let go of those “failures” and put together a few good golf shots so that we can come back to play for first place the following week.
Fernando’s tee shot was not in trouble, but it was not very good. He ended up only about 100 yards from the tee box. On the 1st tee at Little River, if you can still see your ball after your tee shot, it makes the long par 4 feel like a par 5.
Needless to say, I was nervous as I stepped up to the tee box. I choose to hit driver despite some questionable shots with that club earlier in the day. All I knew was that I needed it to be in the fairway. I took my time, stepping back an extra time, reminding myself that I knew how to breathe. Once I hit it, my shot was not much better that Fernando’s except that it was about 70 yards farther, a little to the right and in the rough. I was approximately 220 yards away from the green.
Fernando choose a 3-wood and tried to reach the green from over 250 yards out. For a moment I thought that his shot would end up right of the green, in the hazard, but it came up short and landed in a small creek in which he would get a free drop from. Not bad considering how far he was from the green.
The last thing Burkey said to me as he left me to take my second shot was: “Hit what feels comfortable.” I had no idea at the time how good this advice really was. Let me try to paint the clearest picture I can. I was 220 yards from the green, sitting up on a hill looking down at a sweeping fairway with a creek that runs about 60 yards short of the green. Usually, club selection in this situation would be pretty easy. I would normally hit my 5-wood or if it was really buried, my 3-iron hybrid. Again, Burkey’s comment made a lot of sense. All I had to be was short of the green to have a chip a a putt for a par or bogey. That way, Fernando would be forced to birdie or par the hole to win, otherwise we would push. If I miss-hit either my 5-wood or my hybrid I would likely be long and right bringing the hazard into play. Neither seemed like a good play. The next club down would have been my 4-iron but I took it out of my bag to make room for another wedge. I never hit my 4-iron at Little River anyway. So, I pulled out my 5-iron.
There were a few people standing near me when I stood up to a 220 yard shot with an iron in my hand. I imagined they thought I was laying up, and I think I thought the same thing. It’s fine to be short, I thought, and with a 5-iron, I had to be short. One of the last thoughts I had before I went into my pre-shot routine was what Turner would have said if he saw me reach for my 5-iron: “Pull out your 5-wood and be done with it!” For once, I was glad he was standing near the green waiting for us to make our approaches rather than “coaching” me through my shots. There was too much at stake to make any mistakes. It’s fine to be short, I said to myself and went into my routine.
I wouldn’t say the ball was buried in the rough but it wasn’t sitting up nice and fluffy either. Again, I took my time addressing the ball. I had all day. When I felt like I was calm enough and lined up well enough I took a swing. I don’t remember swinging exceptionally hard but once the ball was away and it hit about 50 yards short of the green I said: “Get up!” The ball hit hard again and I said: “Get up!” again. The ball hit hard again and once more to put it about 7 feet onto the green!
As calmly as I could I put my 5-iron away and shouldered my golf bag and started walking toward the green, knowing that I all but sealed the deal to win the match. One of the spectators that saw me hit the shot asked what I hit. I told him it was a 5-iron and he couldn’t believe it. Honestly, neither could I! I pretty much hit a 220 yard 5-iron to win a playoff hole to send FloBeds into the finals!
The rest of the hole went as expected. Fernando had to birdie the hole to win and he bogeyed, giving me 3 putts to tie and two to win. Again, I took my time, choosing not to listen to my teammates who tried to give me pointers on where I should hit my putt. My putting was the only thing I had a lot of confidence in that day. I sank two 20+ foot putts earlier to stay in it and lipped out at least two others. I had two putts. All I had to be was close. And man, did it end up close! Fernando gave me the 11 inch put for par and we shook hands. It was over. And I was a hero.
Looking back at all of my sports “accomplishments” for once, I feel like I have something to brag about. My team needed me to perform and I didn’t let them down. I will never forget the handshakes and the looks of pride in my teammate’s eyes as we laughed and walked to the clubhouse. The next stop was Patterson’s Pub. That night, the drinks were on me!
Dragon on the Ledge