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Shots I've Seen III

by Jeff Thoreson



Many years ago after a season of witnessing some wild and crazy happenings on the golf course, I started notating such oddities that unfurled at my feet. When the notebook got full, I wrote about the hilarity that had befallen me and my small circle of golf compatriots and called it “The Shots I’ve Seen.” It ended with the sad but hauntingly true story of my friend Shep’s nuclear 5-wood from the first cut that flew right with the authority and inaccuracy of a scud missile. It exploded in a tree with a slightly muffled thwack, and an instant later a red-headed woodpecker fell to the ground, doornail dead.

At that point, I thought I had seen it all and wrote that.

Eight years later, the notebook had filled again. And again I emptied it in “The Shots I’ve Seen: The Sequel.” It ended with the Chopmeister needing to play a shot near a green at Kiawah Island with his back to an alligator sunning itself on top of a greenside bulkhead about 30 yards away. The gator picked the instant that the clubhead made contact with the ball to jump into the water, startling the overweight, cigar-chomping Choppy into a full sprint for his life while his shot rolled into the hole. Certainly now, I wrote, I’ve seen it all.

Now, nine years since the sequel, I find the notebook filling again. So I come to “The Shots I’ve Seen III,” recognizing that threequels are more likely to flop than flourish. So here’s hoping this one is better than Jaws 3-D. but recognizing that at some point this column will have jumped the shark.

Amateur-ish

The city amateur in my town is a big event. It draws players from several states and has one of the strongest fields in the area. Just because there are no slouches in the field doesn’t mean there aren’t any hilariously bad shots.

Take my friend Snapple. Prone to the slap hook, he never likes the opening tee shot in the city am because there is water left. For this tournament only, the club moves the championship tee box on the first hole back 40 yards so players actually tee off from the putting green, which brings the water into play even for big hitters like Snapple.

The two-day tournament being a big happening in a little suburb, there are always players, caddies, players’ girlfriends or parents and a few spectators milling about on the clubhouse veranda, watching players tee off just a few feet away. Snapple, who is 6-feet-4 with a long flowing swing, admits he’s always a bit nervous facing this shot, and the sizeable crowd gathered around for the first day adds to the pressure.

Snapple is a tournament-tested player accustomed to pressure in situations, but, as Bobby Jones said, “There is golf and there is tournament golf.” On his first swing a few years ago, he pulled out a little early and his driver caught the ball above the equator, sending it screaming forward just a couple of feet off the ground. It flew cleanly through a short hedgerow that normally just adorns the area between the back of the first tee and the putting green.

It would have been a serviceable, though somewhat embarrassing, opening shot had its flight path not been redirected by a rock lining a water feature, again normally only an adornment to the area around the first tee. With a loud crack, the ball rocketed backwards and soared upward toward the clubhouse, sort of like a towering foul ball behind the catcher. The entire crowd is now looking skyward, watching the ball fly back over the putting green/tee box where the club’s American flag, blowing gently in a light August breeze, momentarily catches the ball then drops it straight down into the flowerbed at the foot of the flagpole with an indignant thud and an “oooh” from the crowd clearly unsure of how to react. The local rule affords a free drop for any ball coming to rest in a flowerbed, though the club’s founders certainly didn’t have this particular flowerbed in mind.

Snapple’s drop is on the edge of the putting green, 20 yards right and several paces behind where he had just teed off. Unfortunately for Snapple, his propensity for the hook is not confined to the driver. His second shot this time becomes the culprit and finds the water. Snapple is staggered, as is the crowd that is now even more unsure how to react and starts looking at their feet to avoid eye contact with Snapple.


Wayward

News Radio is a good friend and a long-time playing partner. His long and occasionally errant tee balls have made fodder for this column in the past. I once saw him hit a tee ball so high and so far right that it sailed over the trees dividing two adjacent fairways, across the other fairway and into thick rough on the other side of that hole near the driving range. And you thought only Jordan Spieth had that shot?

And by way of explanation, I call him News Radio because if you hang out with him for more than 20 minutes at the 19th hole, he starts repeating the same stories about his round.

Mulligan

T he driving range at my club is a beautiful three-tiered grass facility where at any given time during the season you’re likely to find an impromptu group of members practicing and telling tall tales of golfing exploits. We have no practice mats, and I suppose like many green superintendents, ours doesn’t like to let members chew up his nicely groomed and meticulously striped grass, until the growing season is going full bore. Until then, there is “The Ditch,” an area in front of the lowest tier where the crew puts the guide ropes any day in the off-season that there is a chance someone might want to hit balls.

On a particularly glorious late-winter day, I set up shop at a pyramid of balls in this unkempt area and was working into my loose practice routine when a guy with a twelve-piece swing at the next pyramid over caught my eye. He was working at it hard, trying to dig the secret out of the dirt, but was clearly getting more dirt than secrets. I watched him launch a few scuds that endangered several unsuspecting groundhogs poking their noses out to enjoy the unusually temperate air.

My club uses square, solid-wood, striped poles in 25-yard increments down the center of the range flanked by target greens, so with the off-season practice area way up front, the 50-yard pole is probably only 20 yards from the temporary practice tee. The swing of Mr. Twelve Piece mesmerized me, so I continued to stretch and warm up and tried not to appear overly inquisitive or burst out laughing, warranted as it might have been. He chopped away, dirt flew, but no secrets appeared forthcoming, so I went about the business of my wedge game.

A few shots into my session, I hear what sounds like a ball coming off the blade almost instantly followed by the unmistakable crack of surlyn hitting lumber. I look up to see that Twelve Piece had just nailed the 50-yard barber pole with a low liner, and the ball was bouncing straight back toward him. It hopped along the ground and came to rest in the divot from which it had just been scudded. Without thinking and totally out of frustration, Twelve Piece takes a swing at the indignant ball and launches a beautiful, high arching shot that I swear had a PGA Tour quality draw to it. It flew majestically toward the 125-yard green, bounced once and checked up next to the flagstick.

He turned in disgust and caught me staring at him. Normally not at a loss for a quick-witted response, I had nothing, and the moment sat there awkwardly until I pried my eyes from this and just went back to work.

Playing Hooky

Q uick Draw rarely keeps score and when he does he often takes mulligans on four-foot putts that he hurriedly hits as if it doesn’t matter, then after everyone else has finished, holes his second effort as if to tell everyone that he could have made the putt if he had been trying so he’s actually scored eight instead of nine. But that doesn’t matter because he plays simply for the fun of it – although I’m not sure how much fun a 127 could be. There’s never any money on the line and the guy has never kept an official handicap, so who cares?

I call him Quick Draw because that’s exactly what about 70 percent of his driver shots do, but also because he’s so fast on the provo that he can gracefully pull another ball from his back pocket and have it on the tee before his first one is finished rattling in the trees.

If his swings were as smooth, he would be a fine player.

Hat’s Off

S lash is struggling in the high winds, rain and occasional sleet that Ireland’s Ballybunion has delivered to us yet again. The course is essentially unplayable, but we soldier on because there is honor in finishing what you start. We get to the wonderful par-3 15th playing out to the ocean and into an air stream blowing so hard and bouncing around among the towering dunes so erratically that it has no discernable direction.

Slash gauges the gale as into us and a little left to right, or maybe a little right to left, or maybe its helping and off the left shoulder, or maybe it’s a down draft or an uprising. Who knows? Who cares at this point? This is war and we are determined not to beat Ballybunion – an impossibility on any day as horrendous as this – but to survive it, to march her full unbridled, unrelenting unplayability. In our defense, we began this round in what was merely an unusually strong wind. The fine ocean mist, the kind that can soak the unprepared to the bone, didn’t start until the eighth hole. The real rain didn’t start until the 11th green, the hail not until the 13th fairway. By then we were invested; more determined with each passing moment, each additional ounce of Mother Nature’s intolerability, to conquer the day, however significant the casualties might be.
Slash, a newbie to Irish golf, wouldn’t believe our coaxing to bring a rainsuit more substantial than something one might throw on while doing some light gardening in a gentle spring shower. We pleaded before leaving the states: “Slash, you don’t understand. There are hoses that can’t throw as much water at you as the southwest coast of Ireland.”

“I’ll be all right,” he insisted. “This keeps me dry walking from the subway to my office.”

So, obviously, Slash is now ruing the day. But he has settled on driver for his attempt at the satanic 15th. At this point it is impossible to get settled over the ball to make a swing. The wind wobbles Slash’s ball on the tee and a gust knocks it off. This happens a couple more times. Finally, Slash re-tees, holds the ball with his left finger as if one of us were about to attempt an extra point while he grips the club with his right hand. He steps away, puts his left hand on the club, quickly settles as best he can and makes his slash. The ensuing confluence of physical actions defies the laws of probability and probably physics. As Slash delivers the clubface to the ball, a gust teeters the ball off the tee and blows his bucket hat off his shaved head. Way too far into his swing to stop, some part of Slash’s club manages to connect with the toppling ball for a weak pop up to the right. Just a few yards off the tee the ball vectors in with Slash’s violently sailing hat, and, the two connect with a surprisingly loud thwack. Both bumble to the ground in the high heather and deep grass just off the tee box.

It was one of those moments that so dumbfounds those who witness it that their mouths gape open and all have to take a few seconds to process the sequence, to make that mental double-check to be certain they really saw what they just saw. It must have been five seconds of exchanging silent glances between all four of us before the expected jocularity commenced. [END]