Before we start, a reader warning. If you are a golfer, you must understand that the numbers described here may be offensive to some. No getting around it. They’re hideous. It would be advisable not to replicate them in any manner. They are for illustration purposes only. Anyone with an aversion to double or triple bogeys – even quads – may want to consider talking to your club pro – or your minister – after reading this piece.
To give you an idea how wretched those numbers are, how would you like to mark seven 7s on your scorecard? Yeah. That bad. Then along with that, add four 8s.
Those are horrific numbers marked on my scorecard at Chambers Bay, the monster, fescue-filled course that hosted the 2010 U.S. Amateur. It was the longest course in the USGA’s championship history, 7,842 yards. It drew the best amateur golfers in the world – and me.
They all played from the tips, in many cases on tee positions 150 yards behind where most of the average golfers tee off. And in some cases would hit the ball 150 farther than most of our tee shots. I had no business back there, not with my erratic ‘power fade.’
But how do you pass up for opportunity to compare yourself to the best in the game? Perhaps compare is poor choice of words. What you quickly learn is there is no comparison. About the only thing I had in common with those smooth-hitting folks was a beating heart. On this day, my version of golf was indeed a four-letter word.
Some of those competitors shot in the 60s but a handful couldn’t handle the course, even shooting in the 90s. My rather ambitious goal was around 100-ish. But not too much-ish? Would I have at least one par? How much humiliation could I withstand?
It was a shotgun start and my hole was No. 13, a 514-yard dogleg right par-4. That’s a 4! The problem was the bus carting the golfers around to the various holes could not handle my golf cart so I had to walk it. No. 13 is the farthest point out on the course and the highest point at well. I was breathless by the time I reached the tee while my two bus-riding partners were primed and ready to go. In fact, they already hit before I arrived and were walking to their drives.
They had no interest in playing from the tips, even though it’s hardly ever allowed at Chambers. They really didn’t have much interest in much of anything I did. They was a bit cynical, a tad arrogant and a good measure into themselves. I would find out later that they were golf writers, so it all made sense.
Most of my day was spent conversing with our fore caddy, Mike the Marine, a guy near my age, pleasant and quite patient chasing down my scattered shots.
With my heart still pounding from the walk and breathing heavy, my first tee shot would be the worst of the day. I never saw it because of the rising sun in our faces. That was probably a good thing. Mike saw it, telling me it disappeared to the right over a ridge. OMG did it.
When we walked to the ridge we looked down on the adjacent 14th fairway, and there it was – right in the middle of the wrong hole. You might have thought it traveled at a 90-degree angle. I couldn’t believe it was my ball. Then I had the embarrassing task of hitting back up the 14th fairway and into the foursome ahead of us coming from the tee. What they must have thought of me as we passed. Whatever it was, they were probably right.
My second shot somehow settled on a narrow bark pathway, just on the other side of a hill hiding the 13th green. I had actually cut off most of the distance to the green, leaving a blind 40-yard wedge over a hill to the pin. I used the far bank behind the hole but my ball rolled back too far and into the forward bunker. It took another five shots – four putts – to get out and in. Eight to start. Here we go. March of the Snowmen.
That was followed by the 512-yard No. 14 – another par-4! – with the tee position high up Chambers’ eastern slope. It probably affords the most expansive and spectacular view of the course. Unless you’re a golfer. Then it becomes a terrible beauty. The carry on the tee shot, to clear the vast waste area, was about 260 yards. I couldn’t hit that far if the fairway was a concrete path.
My tee shot sailed right again, into a fescue hill, smartly avoiding the waste area. It was still 400 yards-plus to the hole.
Whatever you rush to start a round, as I did, you also rush everything. I couldn’t find any rhythm. My search lasted at least four holes. I was in the fescue three times on the 14th, finishing with a 7.
That was followed by a 6 – on the par-3, 172-yard 15th – and another 8 on my least favorite Chambers hole, the seemingly easy par-4, 425-yard 16th. That miniscule green, protected by rows of bunkers, ate me up again. I used my sand wedge four times.
What my partners must have thought. I tried not to care, but I did. What I sensed from them, much better golfers than I am, was that they had little patience for me. Just another hack. Nothing I did ran contrary to that quick study – until the 17th. That par-3 with the two-tier green was playing 180 yards. It was also a hole that the keys to a new Lexus would be awarded for an ace.
I used my hybrid, giving it my usual left-to-right, it soared in the direction of the pin, landing several yards in front of it and rolling toward the pin. My Lexus moment? It gained momentum after the pin and finally settled about 25 feet down the back slope. My lag putt was within 18 inches and I had a par. Mike the Marine high-fived me and my partners finally fully addressed me.
Taking tee honors for the first time, I had a respectable drive on the par-5 18th but finished with a seven to put me 16-over par after just six holes. This had all the earmarks of a disaster.
The No. 1 hole, a 501-yard, par 4, actually settled me down a little. I got a 6 but one of my partners needed three strokes to get up the long slope to the left of the green. It actually gives you a warm feeling inside to see arrogance impaired. For one hole at least, he sucked like me. I kinda liked that.
That was followed by another 6, then serendipity. My tee shot on the par-3, 163-yard No. 3 hole was pin high, about 15 feet to the left. My partners complimented me, one even said he had watched this hole a lot during the Amateur and didn’t see anyone closer. Well. Maybe I misjudged these guys.
I missed the putt but earned my second legitimate par, two more than anticipated.
That was followed, however, by an 8, 7, 7, 8. Some of my tee positions were incredibly ridiculous. They were so far back, tough to reach even from where my partners teed off. But if you are going to be true to your intention, you have to walk the walk – back, way back.
The longest hole for the Amateur was the 604-yard, par-5 No. 8, with its slanting fairway west toward the water. As I stood at the tee, the naked eye could barely make out the flag. You needed Hubble.
After four decent and safe shots, to my surprise I found myself with a 15-foot downhill putt for a par. A par on the longest hole. How I wanted that ball to go it. It would have made my day. I choked. I hit it too hard, just missing the hole and rolling another eight feet past. I missed that one, too, for a 7. Instead of a par, it was a double bogey. Quite disappointing.
Then came the hole I had anticipated the most, the 212-yard, par-3 with the 100-foot drop to the green. The tee position is stunning. It’s so far down, with a slanting green that sweeps balls into the waste area to the right.
The other two guys walked to the lower tee. I looked up a hill to mine. Mike the Marine gave me some needed encouragement. I took my 3-wood and climbed like a mountain goat to a cut-out flat area on the hillside. Now I have to admit that I didn’t really play by the rules here. I took a mulligan. Hey, it’s not the Amateur and I’m no pro. I was distracted on my first swing and butchered it. But I had too much invested in my vision for this epic hole that I wasn’t going to let Royal & Ancient decrees stand in the way of a second attempt.
The next one was solid. The ball landed on the left side bank and rolled about 20 feet below the hole, somehow staying on the green. I two-putted for my mulligan par. Say what you want.
That was followed by a pair of 7s before finishing on the inviting par-4, 303-yard 12th hole. It’s a drivable green, just not for me. I hit safely short in the fairway while my partners went for it, one on the sand and one short. We all parred. Nice way to finish.
Now the numbers. You’ve been warned. Indeed, there were seven 7s and four 8s. On two holes, I had four sand shots. I four-putted twice and three-putted three times. I had one 1-putt green – and that was to save an 8.
I finished with 55-57 for 112. OK, fine. I’m an amateur, not an Amateur. I came away with four pars (one a mulligan). For a guy with no business hitting from the tips, it was unquestionably worth it. But there was one more tip – don’t try this again.