Moving up, heading south, looking forward
For all the claims of the golf equipment manufacturers, and all the teachers who try to refine your skills, and all the sports psychologists who get you to believe in yourself, I’m happy to say that I, your humble scribe, have figured out the secret to driving the ball further and, generally, lowering your scores.
It’s really quite simple, although it may have a brief negative effect on your ego – especially when your friends start teasing you and suggesting you might want to wear a skirt, or carry a bottle of Geritol in your golf bag.
The answer is this: move up a set of tees.
You’ll still hit bad shots and you’ll still three-putt, but you’ll be doing it from closer to the hole, and ultimately, I guarantee you, over a series of games, you will post lower numbers than you would have posted playing the extra 300-or-so yards from the blocks you previously hit from.
Good-natured ridicule from others notwithstanding, there is no shame to moving up.
I first tried it in my last game of the season last Fall, at my home club, and posted the best score I’d made in three years. I had suddenly found myself landing drives where they used to land, and hitting 7-irons into greens again, instead of hybrids. I finally had come to accept the fact that my drives no longer carried 250, and my 7-irons were falling short of the standard 150 that I’d expected for the last 50 years.
I’d tried to adjust my game to these realities, but nothing could bring back the distance, and the greens in regulation I used to assume I’d reach. I tried new swings, even new irons, but neither the practice range nor the simulator were lying: I’m getting old.
So I decided if I can’t adapt my game, perhaps I can adapt my golf course. It’s worth trying if you’re getting older. It’s like winding back the clock ten years.
As circumstance would have it, I had to spend much of late Sunday afternoon on Highway 400, heading south. I was driving with more than my usual rate of speed, as I wanted to get home to watch the back nine of The Players Championship, the last half of the Raptors vs. Heat, and the Jays rubber match with the Rangers.
During the drive, I tuned in to PGA Tour Radio on SiriusXM, and was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable listening to golf is, even without the pictures. You can’t close your eyes behind the wheel of a car, obviously, but if you could, you’d get a pretty clear picture of what you’re missing by listening to the all-male announce team.
Even though Jason Day was never less than two strokes in the lead of the tournament, the radio boys managed to whip up a fair amount of enthusiasm and drama. Although, having said that, how much drama can you realistically savour when it’s Jason Day leading the improbable threesome of Ken Duke, Alex Cjeka, and Colt Knost, whose body appears to be inhabited by Craig Stadler?
I didn’t recognize any of the names of the broadcast team, who kept calling each other by their full names just so we wouldn’t forget – ‘let’s go over to 14 now… how’s Jason doing there, Bill Razinksy?” Nonetheless, they did a credible job, and to paraphrase Gary Koch, it was “better than nothing”.
I haven’t played the TPC Sawgrass course in over 30 years, but even so, it’s still on my personal Top 5 Courses Played list. I played it about five times in ’82-’83, and I loved every single hole.
Back then, there were long waste bunkers on several holes. These were a Pete Dye signature, almost as much as the railroad ties that still border many greens at his courses, including TPC. I don’t know why, but they seem to have taken out all those waste areas, and replaced them with water… for example, there’s a long snake of water from the end of the 15th tee to the beginning of the fairway, about 100 yards, I’d guess. Water definitely looks prettier than waste bunkers, but I always thought the latter were a good and less common feature. I’m sure there’s a good reason why they changed, though.
Other than that, the course has changed very little since it opened in 1982, to a lot of criticism from the players back then. Many thought it was way too hard, both figuratively and literally. Jack Nicklaus compared hitting TPC greens to trying to stop a ball on the roof of a Volkswagen. But over time, the course has become loved, feared, and revered, and the Championship has been elevated in status to an unofficial 5th Major.
It’s a tournament I look forward to almost as much as The Masters.