I am convinced that if you play the game of golf long enough, you are going to have some very strange rounds. Some rounds will frustrate, some will dazzle, but some will leave you scratching your head and wondering "what the heck just happened?"
I had one of the latter a couple of days ago. Maybe it was the proximity to Halloween, maybe it was the fact that it was a full moon, I don't know. But I certainly heard the theme from Twilight Zone going in my head a few times.
Admittedly, I was getting a late start--3:30 on a Friday with sunset at around 7pm is pushing it for playing 18 holes, even on the executive course at Green Tree (it's a pitch&putt course, no sand, par 29 for nine holes. To play 18, you just go around twice.). But it was a gorgeous day, and I figured I would just play till I couldn't see anymore.
The front nine was fairly uneventful, but aside from some uneven results from my driver and long irons (I was slicing a bit), I did pretty well. In fact, I shot a 35 for that front nine, which was my best to date on that course. I did have a David Copperfield moment with a ball I hit to the right of the green on the 4th hole, but I could see it come to rest. As I walked toward it, it disappeared. I mean, one minute I'm looking at it, I look over at a heron standing on the shore of the lake, I look back and it's gone. There was nobody else around. I had nobody behind me, so I spent a good ten minutes looking for that ball. I just didn't want to give up on it, cuz there was no freaking way that ball should have been lost. It was flat ground, no water, just a few leaves, all fairway grass...it's as if it had slipped into another dimension. But I finally had to give up and play another. Very strange.
I guess the incident unsettled me. The next hole is a par three that is mostly lake between the tee and the green. I put my ball in the ball washer to "clean off the sins of the previous hole". (Golfers are every bit as superstitious as baseball players--don't let anyone ever tell you otherwise.) When I pulled my ball out of the washer, it had changed brands, and there was someone else's initials marked on it. Great Jumpin' Houdinis, I exclaimed--there IS magic in the air! Then I realized that mine was still in the washer, and that somebody must have left their ball in there by mistake. But still I heard that Twilight Zone refrain...
Well, it must have distracted me, because I topped my tee shot and it flew low and fast right at the lake. I saw it skip once, twice, and not again. Could it be I hit a peanut butter shot, as my sister calls them? (Skippy!!)
Could it have made a landing on the far shore? I hit a provisional, then went searching for the first ball. When I got to the far shore, I could find no sign of my first shot. However, I did find a nice Precept ball partially buried in the muddy lake bottom. I figured nobody was going to claim that one, so I fished it out and pocketed it. Put one in, pull one out--it seemed fair. Well, on a whim I teed up that Precept ball on the next hole. You see, it is a par 4 coming right back the other way, so if you slice you can put the ball right back in the same lake. I figured that ball might have an aversion to the water (since I had just rescued it from there), so it might fight to stay out.
Sure enough, I hit the longest, straightest drive I'd ever hit on that hole! It set me up for an easy par for the hole. I played with that ball for the rest of the game, and it performed beautifully. I figure that maybe it was grateful to me for saving it from its watery grave. So that became the Grateful Ball.
I finished that front nine feeling pretty good. The sun was getting low in the sky, but I figured that if I played quickly, I should be able to get it in. Unfortunately, a group of three guys teed off ahead of me, and though they weren't painfully slow, it was enough to have me waiting a couple minutes to tee off at each hole (but not enough to warrant pressing them to have them let me play through). But the remarkable thing that happened on that back nine was the wind--it stopped. I mean, I usually have more breeze in my office (read, NONE). The air got still and deathly quiet. You could hear an earthworm pass gas, it was so quiet. And about that time, I went into the zone with my swing. It was amazing--I would just select the club for distance, point it right at the flagstick, and the ball would go there. I put four of my nine tee shots on the green, and on the two par 4 holes, I got on in two. And the ones that weren't on the green were just off the fringe. I'd never hit that well in my life...it was like I was Phil Mickelson for a day!
As I made the turn on the 6th hole (dogleg right around a lake, first of two par 4s), the sun set. I looked over at a field to my left and saw a family of burrowing owls--one adult and two fledglings. They were the cutest things! I guess they were coming out for the evening's hunting. It was getting dark fast. As I went to tee off on the 7th, the marshall was sitting beside the fairway--he was pulling the flags behind me! When I hit my tee shot, he yelled something at me. Was he admonishing me for for almost hitting him with my ball? Did he see my ball hit somebody in the group ahead of me, and he was saying I should have yelled "fore"? I had no idea, because I lost the ball in the dark once it came down out of the sky. I had no idea where it was, except I thought it felt like it was heading toward the green. Well, as I walked toward the green I kept trying to replay what the guy had yelled over and over in my head. I came to the conclusion that he'd yelled "NICE SHOT". Sure enough, as I got up closer I could finally see my ball--about ten feet from the hole.
By the time I got up to the 8th tee, it was simply too dark to see anything. I looked toward the green (about 160 yards away), and I could see the guys in the group ahead of me silhouetted against the full moon, which was just rising (the image at the top of this entry is my attempt at drawing that from memory). That's the only way I could see that they had cleared the green.
At that point I contemplated heading back to the parking lot. It was just friggin dark. But then I decided that I was hitting so well and so predictably, that I could just hit my tee shot and walk toward the green, and maybe I would get lucky and find the ball. I'd played that course so much...I knew where the greens were from memory. So that's what I did. I hit my tee shot on 8 and it felt like a clean strike. I took off walking toward the green and sure enough--the ball was about five feet off the green on the right fringe. (The dark did cost me a stroke right then though. I could see the ball fairly well, but I could not see the ground it was sitting on. My chip got a bit too much Earth, and it barely made it onto the green.)
The last hole is a par 4 back to the parking lot. I pulled out my driver, then put it back. I figured that if I sliced at all with the driver, I'd never find the ball. However, I knew I was hitting very straight with my irons, so I pulled out my 4-iron. I hit the ball with everything I had, and the strike felt good. So I took off walking. When I made it to around the distance I usually hit, there was no sign of the ball. I began to figure that my luck had run out. Darn--I was sitting at 29 strokes through the first eight holes...I probably would have posted my best ever for that course! So I gave up and started walking to the parking lot.
Then to my right, I caught a glint of white in the grass. I figured it had to be a stray rangeball, but I went over and checked it out. I just about laughed myself silly when I got to it and found out it was mine! Well, I couldn't see the green, but judging how far I had walked, I knew it had to be close. So I pulled out my 8-iron and hit it a bit softly towards where I remembered the pin was from the first time around. Again, the strike felt clean. I just walked up to the green, and there it was--about a foot from the edge of the green, leaving me about a 25 foot putt. I couldn't see the hole (the flag had been pulled and was laying on the green), so I walked over and found it. I darn near made the putt! It went about a foot right of the hole, which left me with a tap-in for par.
Then I got the giggles. I just couldn't believe I had par'd that last hole in total darkness. I thought that maybe I should buy a blindfold--it might improve my game! I giggled all the way back to the car. Then I laughed for the entire drive home.
And it still makes me smile as I'm thinking about it now. I guess that's the aspect of golf that really gets under your skin. Mark Twain once said that "golf is a good walk spoiled." Well, obviously he never played a round like I had that night. I will forever remember the owls, the moon, the David Copperfield balls, the Grateful Ball, and those miracle shots under the cover of darkness... and those memories will fuel my love for the game that I hope to feel and be playing with for the rest of my days (and nights)!