What I Learned from my First Time Shooting Even Par

TPC Colorado Golf Course, Berthoud, Colorado,Syndication: FortCollins
TPC Colorado Golf Course, Berthoud, Colorado,Syndication: FortCollins /

Note: This is a journal entry I wrote on July 3rd, 2022 – the day I shot even par.  

I enjoy meditating on life’s big accomplishments.

To create a mood for reflection, I might lay on the couch listening to some mellow classic rock, go for a walk in nature, or simply sit idly in peace. Whether it’s the aftermath of getting a job I pursued or moving to a new city, I take time to appreciate the myriad variables responsible for getting me to this point.

Today, which happens to be the day before Independence Day, I’m carving out some time to reflect on a huge milestone that concluded three hours ago.

For the first time in my life, I completed an 18 hole round with a score of even par.

The milestone occurred at Saddleback Golf Course in Firestone, Colorado – a beautiful pastoral course with plenty of fescue, barrancas, creeks, and one looming lake.

Playing from the second-from-back tees at 6500 yards, I was accompanied by my good friend Brad. It was just the two of us for our tee time – no pairing with strangers. Great weather, great vibes.

And boy was it a glorious day.

Before delving into the round of my life, let me briefly describe my golf game.

I’m currently a 7 handicap, a figure which has improved from a 14 over the past two years. When I departed from New York City at the beginning of the pandemic, I moved to Denver for the access to hiking, biking, and skiing. But I quickly learned that golf was also a significant part of Colorado’s culture of outdoor recreation.

Due to the confines of social distancing, golf became an effective way for me to make new friends. I started to build a network of golf buddies, but found myself playing so often that I realized golf provided more than an outlet to be social. Golf was a platform to turn a passive hobby, in which I had previously just dabbled, into an active craft.

Contrasting my previous New York City life, where I whet my golf appetite with bi-monthly commutes to Connecticut, I was now immersed with Denver’s plethora of accessible courses, practice ranges, and overall resources to improve my game.

Within the last two years, I’ve been able to go to the range on average four times a week, mixing in a few lessons here and there. To ensure I got my reps in during the winter, I joined a center with indoor simulators.

Throughout this hustle to strengthen my game, my scores had gone from high 80s into the low 80s with some medium-rare rounds in the high 70s.

But today was the outlier.

Today was the culmination of potential.

Today was the moment where a string of superb shots and flawless putts conjoined long enough to guide me to the promised land.

Today I shot my first-ever round of even par.

Still in awe and slightly stunned to achieve a feat of golf excellence, I want to detail the lessons that I learned today. In other words, what can a B+ golfer infer from an A+ round of golf?

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Scoring is Boring

“Scoring is boring” is more than just a cute rhyme. It’s a philosophy that resounds with scratch golfers and elite amateurs, but whose foundation I didn’t comprehend until I stepped in their FootJoys.

The phrase conjures a conversation I had with my dad earlier this year. My dad, a mid-90s golfer, could easily score in the 80s if he wanted. He hasn’t gotten a lesson in a decade and if he devoted a tenth of the time at the range as he does playing, he could probably go from a 20 to 12 handicap within months. Since I believe in my dad’s potential, I had asked him why he shies away from lessons. His response: “I like my game. The unpredictability makes it fun!”

It’s interesting that my dad associates fun with sporadicity. From watching him play, I assumed this meant Cirque du Soleil-esque ball trajectories and scorecards which read like toll-free numbers. But while I don’t necessarily agree with his ideology on what makes golf fun, it was in my even par round that I understood where he was coming from.

To clarify, “boring” has a positive connotation in golf. It means pre-shot routines, mental approach, and shot-making decisions that don’t deviate. It means a golf strategy that’s consistent, calm, and conservative.

With regards to the actual scoring, the monotony of good play will make pars seem sterile. This makes sense considering the phrase “par for the course” refers to something that’s expected. And when things are expected, the lack of variety leads to boredom.

Given today’s round consisted of personal bests of 93% fairways hit and 78% greens in regulation, my golf game was indeed boring.  I would hit the fairway, knock my approach onto the green, two-putt, and move on. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Since I was taking the trees, hazards, and obstacles out of the way, I eliminated any risk and the strategy for each hole became predictable.

I wasn’t adjusting or adapting shots. I wasn’t keeping eyes open for wayward drives or ears peeled for the echo of houses hit. No miracle putts or escape shots.

Boring, indeed.

Focus on playing well, not the score

Even though “scoring was boring”, I was not thinking about my score per se. Unlike previous rounds where I was frequently tallying up numbers and scorecard watching, I was focused on hitting the best shots I could.

Whether it was tee to fairway or fairway to green, I consistently landed the ball where I wanted. This led to a flurry of pars, sprinkled in with a couple birdies; Instead of calculating my score after each hole or at the turn, I was enjoying golf for the feeling of playing well.

By not thinking about my score, I avoided getting ahead of myself. As a single-digit handicap, I’ve had plenty of rounds where I made the turn at E or +1…only to concentrate on my score and see me falter on the back.

But this round, I didn’t acknowledge my hot hand. I didn’t have persistent thoughts of “if I bogey this hole, I still have margin for error” or “if I shoot x on the next y holes, then my final score will be z”. My mindset honed in on a cycle of hitting a great shot followed by looking forward to each ensuing shot.

If you’re not concerned about your score, then there’s nothing to “mess up.” You’re just out there playing your game.

Only until the homestretch – the 17th hole – did the thought of the potential to shoot even par creep back in my head. Surprise, surprise… It was this hole I almost messed up my round.

After birdieing 16 – a risk-reward drivable dogleg Par 4 separated tee to green by a lake – I approached the 17th tee finally acknowledging my proximity to golf glory.

As I stood on the tee box addressing my ball, my mind became aflutter – thinking not just about the inevitability of shooting one of my best scores (previous best was 74), but also having a chance to reach a universal standard of golf mastery. I lost concentration on the shot at hand, blankly stared at the teed ball for what seemed like five minutes, only to ultimately yank it into a small greenside creek – en route to the round’s first and only double bogey.

I was a shade disappointed, yet not overly angry. I didn’t respond by slamming my club or acting discouraged. This wasn’t the last gasp for someone whose success of the round was predicated on shooting par. Yes I could make personal history, I thought. But then I corrected my attitude. The reason I’m in this excellent position is because I haven’t focused on my score or any resulting milestones. Play the final holes like you played the first 16. 

The 18th hole was a long uphill par 5. I didn’t overthink the next three shots, rather I just felt appreciation for the ride I’d be concluding shortly. I channeled that positive energy into a calm, but not unyielding focus. On the day’s final approach shot, I pitched my lob wedge to five feet of the pin. Tapped in for birdie and told Brad “I think I shot even par”.

I hustled to our cart to tally the scorecard and discovered that I had, in fact, finished with an even par 72.

Don’t validate it, enjoy it

When I realized this accomplishment, Brad and I celebrated with some version of a hug-jump-dance hybrid. He knew how much this feat meant to me.

As we rode our cart back to the cart barn, an ominous raincloud that had loomed over the final four holes finally opened up. With our round already over, the downpour had come at a perfect time. Brad and I shared a goodbye, hustled into our separate cars – both gearing up for a 45 minute drive back to Denver.

Before turning on the engine, I sat in my car. I held my brilliant scorecard and an even more brilliant smile.

I remained parked to call my dad with the news, followed by a call to my number one playing partner, Sandy. The rain picked up so I began the treacherous drive home, making a few more phone calls to others in my golf circle.

But after the lineup of phone calls ended, I had the remaining drive plus an empty afternoon to reminisce.

Once I got back to Denver and settled in my apartment, even greater tidal waves of reality hit me.

I did it! I shot even par!

This achievement was a long time coming- predicated by a consistent and deliberate effort to hone my game over the course of two years.

But amidst my self-congratulatory pat on the back, I also felt the humility involved with this achievement. Shooting an even par 72 doesn’t change anything moving forward, either about me as a person or about my game. Shooting par doesn’t unlock some secret about the game or take me to a golf checkpoint where I’ll never shoot over par again.

In fact, I could easily shoot 85 tomorrow.

I thought more deeply about this moment in time, this achievement that was right here…but felt fleeting. Today’s round could be chalked up to randomness, like an also-ran pitcher who throws a perfect game. My round today was merely a series of positive outcomes, occurring conjunctively and consecutively for the duration of the event’s limitations (or simply put, I played well for 18 holes).

You could describe it as the right place, right time, stars aligning, or God willing. Whatever cosmic or heaven-related cliche you use is fine.

But for me – I’m about to lay on the couch, listening to David Bowie and meditate on one particular song’s chorus.

“We can be heroes. Just for one day.”

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I’m going to celebrate this milestone now and commemorate it for the future. I’ll frame the scorecard, polish the game ball, and of course complete this journal entry.

I’ll take the next few hours to reflect on the dedicated practice that prepared me for this moment. The stormy days I drove to the isolated golf simulator. The late nights I practiced at the under-the-floodlights driving range. I’ll also think about what this commitment to improving means to me, using golf as a proxy to show that greatness is residue from dedication to the craft.

I’ve been a sports fan long enough to know there’s always a process that gets someone to their moment of glory, but there’s also a following endeavor to conquer.

A pitcher that throws a perfect game still has to perform in five days. A team that wins a championship will reload in the offseason to aim for a dynasty.

There’s always my next round of golf and within it, the yearning to build upon lessons that I learned today.

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I’m going to savor today’s round and implement what I did correctly with my swing, strategy, and mental approach towards each and every shot.

I can’t wait to play next.