One Year Later: The Handicap and the Ego (Part I)

TPC Sawgrass,(Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
TPC Sawgrass,(Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) /

The Unfortunate Co-Dependence Of The Golf Handicap And The Ego

This essay (split into two parts) is a follow-up to my previous article, which detailed my first time shooting an even par round.

That round occurred in July of 2022, giving me a whole revolution around the sun to comprehend the context and build on the lessons from that magical day. 

So here I am to share with you the whirlwind that was my most recent year of golf. 

Part I

Coming off the best round of my life, there was a mutual understanding between me and the golf gods about there being no guarantee I would ever repeat this golf greatness. The round was more allegorical than literal – posing as a symbol of potential.

Yet I still wanted to harness the enlightenment from my round and use the momentum to become an even greater player. Succumbing to the itch any golfer would have after shooting a personal best, I practiced at the range even more diligently and astutely than before. Much to my delight, months of continued great golf followed.

I encourage you to imagine a prototypical romcom montage. The different snippets convey the progression of a couple’s relationship evolving across sunny, summer settings – perhaps with a gleeful Beach Boys ditty playing in the background. This spirited passage of time best represents my ensuing two months – a spree of good vibrations spread throughout many beautiful courses across the country.

I ventured to courses in Western Colorado, Utah, Ohio, and Pennsylvania – all while playing the best golf of my life.

Like a traveling showman mesmerizing my friends I visited, I continued my mastery on their home turf. In a total of 26 rounds, I shot in the 70s 21 times – dwindling my handicap down to a 4.

The final vestige of this scene was in late September. I was in Pittsburgh for a work trip and my boss invited me to the gorgeous Pittsburgh Field Club – the first private club and best maintained course I had played throughout this run.

With fairway contours and intricate hazards, unlike the public courses I had played, not to mention greens as fast as Augusta, I had one of my most complete rounds ever – shooting a pristine 77. Before the first tee, I had talked a big game to my boss and all the way through the final putt, I backed up my word. I remember walking into the clubhouse absolutely beaming – I had indeed become a great golfer.

Montage fades out …

Read. Golf is Absurd. That Is Why We Love It. light

When I returned to Denver, the changing autumn weather brought an excessive amount of wind. Not necessarily one to enjoy golf in 20 mph gusts, I only played once in the next two weeks – pretty sparse for someone who was just on a bender.

Later in October, my dad flew out for the Jets-Broncos game and we kicked off our weekend with a beautiful sunny day of 45-degree Front Range mountain golf. (Because of the elevation, a sunny 45 feels closer to 60).

I was excited to play with my dad for the first time during this heater, but after playing a few holes, something about my game felt amiss. I was playing fine – as in the tepid response when someone in passing asks “How you doing?”. In other words, no six-footers were trickling in and I was missing greens en route to frequent 2 putt bogeys.

I shot an 82, but within that adequate score, I failed to string great holes together. There was no heat check or getting in the zone; I never got comfortable with my swing and hence I played par-bogey golf.

It’s easy to let go of one mediocre round, but this type of play soon became a concern. Come early November, I had already played a few more discouraging rounds, as my scores trickled from the low 80s towards the mid 80s. I felt like something negative was percolating.

No panic button yet. It must be something benign – an issue that required a tune-up, not a tear-down.

Over the next two weeks, I took three golf lessons.

The first two addressed my iron play – which had been affecting my approach game and making me utterly hopeless on Par 3s. The third lesson addressed a now more burgeoning problem of the driver yips.

In the previous two rounds, I had duck-hooked some tee balls – leading to penalties that raised my score. My once faithful draw off the tee had become so erratic, I was now ready to accept the reluctant dive for a new driver swing all together. As if pursuing a new haircut, I requested the new high, tight fade – the one the cool kids, aka the Tour Pros, have. My instructor advised me to tee the ball higher, open my stance, and center my club face at impact. What could go wrong!

Given some early snowfall in mid-November, I was relegated to practicing this swing indoors – using only Trackman data and “feel” as barometers for this new swing’s progress. But soon enough I’d be able to take this swing on the course, as I was headed to Florida for Thanksgiving to see my folks…and obviously to golf.

Also. Wyndham Clark, The Maestro of my $5 Bet. light

I flew out of Denver International Airport Tuesday night before Thanksgiving, eagerly anticipating the tee time my dad had booked for tomorrow. What I was slightly apprehensive about was the tee time itself – 6:45 a.m. Aka 4:45 a.m. my time.

Barely conscious because of the jet lag, my dad woke me up for golf with my body thinking it was 3:30 am.

He and I paired up with two of his friends, both of whom had already heard about my golf skills. I was ready to put on a good show and exceed their expectations, but I first had to focus on this new driver swing. Ready to finally put it in action, I step up to the first tee – new tee height, open stance, the whole kitchen sink. And wouldn’t you know it…. the ball went 50 feet.

Insert another montage. The one where the Benny Hill music follows me throughout the round – one senseless tee shot after another. Hooks, dribbles, popups to the infield – I was physically everywhere and existentially nowhere at the same time.

When the agony finally culminated in a score of 84, I initially felt fortunate that some of the generous football-field wide fairways prevented that number from being a lot worse.

Towards the end of the round and through post-round drinks, I battled this internal dissonance golfers face when they’re working on a new swing, but still have pride to uphold on the golf course. I know I need reps with this new swing, but I also expect to score well. I couldn’t separate the “work in progress” self from the “work is completed” self.

For the first time, I thought about my ego and how it was fumbling this juxtaposition.

In the car ride back to my parents ’ place, my mind tried comprehending everything. First, a dabble in short-sighted ruminations about today’s round; Followed by an immersion into overarching concerns about the plunge that had transpired over the previous six weeks. I then took a birds-eye view about this whole golf endeavor – what’s the point of working hard to play well if it eventually becomes sound and fury?

I walked into my parents’ place with this negativity silently simmering. All of a sudden, with a trigger stemming from a thwack of sleep deprivation, I snapped.

My delirious mind morphed into that of an angsty teen – the confusion surrounding my golf game had manifested into rage. I huffed to my bedroom to wallow in darkness, but even with shades drawn, it was too bright. I opted for the windowless closet and sat isolated – blasting heavy thrash metal in my AirPods for 45 minutes.

I wish I could tell you that this overly dramatic action was rock bottom and the “man in the hole” story arc begins to bend upward here. And yes, it was rock bottom….but only for my juvenile behavior.

My golf game continued to hit new lows.

After Thanksgiving I flew back to Denver but, almost masochistically, I returned to Florida a month later for Christmas break, read to try this golf-thing again. The situation got even worse. My golf swing had lost all semblance of coordination, tempo, or rhythm. I carded a 91 at my parent’s local course and at a few more luxurious courses I shot the classic score of I’m done keeping score – which means I would have scored over 100.

With those rounds early enough in the week of vacation, I figured that was enough punishment. To hell with this sport! Time to focus on family, beaches, and other non-soul-sucking activities.

Let me enjoy the warm weather, because soon enough I’ll be back in cold Colorado – which mercifully means no golf anytime soon.

Next. Local Historian Likes Matthew Jordan at Royal Liverpool. dark

Part II next week….