“Always make a total effort, even when the odds are against you.” -the late Arnold Palmer
It happened on St. Patrick’s Day, 2019. Using official golf metrics, on the chilly morning of Sunday, March 17, I opened my long awaited round at the legendary Pinehurst # 2 by 8-putting the first green en route to an opening hole 11 on the scorecard. If you want to know the proper definition of opening hole jitters, this would probably do the trick.
As an unofficial 14 handicapper who averaged a score of 93 or thereabouts per round, I shot a 109 that day, salvaging my only ounce of pride remaining by one-putting the 18th hole in true Payne Stewart fashion.
As I recounted the day in my mind as I drove out of this wonderful golf village, I was officially sick of not knowing how to actually play golf. I had waited 36+ years to play this jewel which was some two hours from my (now previous) home in Charlotte, NC. I forked over an exorbitant amount of money that, in retrospect, turned out to be a decent dollar to final score ratio. (Don’t get me wrong, the overall experience was fantastic.)
But as a former collegiate soccer All-American whose competition standards remained sky high, I shat the bed that day. And I had had enough.
I had already agreed to move with my family to the Mississippi Gulf Coast in five days. I had already offered my resignation from my commercial banking job in Charlotte. I had already sold my house and was living who knows where with who knows whom. So why wouldn’t I decide that after shooting the worst round of golf in recent memory, I was going to commit my life to getting good at golf for the foreseeable future? And not just getting better. Getting good. And not just getting good. Getting really good.
So five days later, I arrived in Mississippi homeless and jobless, and after a few weeks of rest and rehab for back soreness and fatigue, my dream officially began.
It is 26 months later, and I play golf every day. For all intents and purposes, I’ve played golf every day for the past 25 months. I’ve gotten better. A lot better. Some might say I’ve gotten good. Some even really good. I like to stick with I’ve gotten a lot better, because good is so hard to define.
I have a feeling, though, that it is going to be defined for me in 26 days as I tee it up for my first real tournament, the Mississippi State Amateur. I’m proud of myself for having the courage to play in it, to be honest. The field is loaded with ex college studs, big time amateur studs, and at least one wandering wannabe. By every metric available, I should get the shit kicked out of me. But then again, by every metric available, I shouldn’t be in southern Mississippi playing golf every day.
Currently, I’m playing to a 1.2 handicap with an average score of 75.5. To the average joe, that’s smoking. To a really, really good golfer, I need to shave five more strokes off. And you know what, I know that. And you know what else, I’ve tried. For nearly 600 days and 3,000 focused hours. But when you get down to that low to mid 70s range, the game gets really, really hard.
Especially for a knucklehead that only really started to get serious about and understand the game at the ripe old age of 37. I might as well be one of these kid’s grandpa.
The prize for winning this tournament is an automatic spot in the PGA Tour event that’s held in Jackson, Mississippi each year. I’m a massive dreamer, I’m a massive doer, and I have massive self-belief in certain things, but I’m also a realist. I don’t think I’m anywhere near ready to win.
But I’m ready to start, and I’m finally ready to compete. I need to know what all this looks and feels like. How my heart beats. How my forearms feel over an important putt. How nervous I might be on that opening tee shot.
I have my realistic sights set on 2024, so I have to keep that in perspective. That’s three more years to take five strokes off, body willing.
So for this tourney, I really only have a few things to tell myself. You’ve done the work. Do your best. Stay patient. Dial in. And for the love of God, don’t give up on yourself.
Have a great week.-Benj
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