Posted by: Mike Cornelius | November 10, 2013

As The Season Winds Down, The Golfing Gods Smile

In New Hampshire, winter is uncomfortably close. Standard time has returned, and with it days of low sun and early darkness. The thermometer is falling and frost hardens the ground overnight with increasing frequency. The annual leafy riot of orange and yellow and red has given way as it always must to dull brown; and rain showers in the past week have in turn stripped most trees of their leaves. All of these facts mean that the too-short New England golf season is drawing to a close. As the air turns nippy, many casual duffers have already played their final round of the season and stored their clubs for the winter. But for those of us who are most avid, whose love of the game exceeds our ability to play it but is nonetheless lasting, there is seldom a year with a planned final round. We play as long as we can find an open course, and only realize that our season has ended when we awaken one morning to find the fairways covered with snow.

So as I make the short drive down Route 1 from downtown Portsmouth to nearby Greenland there is no expectation that it will be for the final time until next spring. Still, as I stand on the elevated first tee at Breakfast Hill Golf Club, about to play a quick nine, I am well aware that the number of rounds remaining this year can certainly be counted on one hand.

I have been fighting a bad slice with my tee balls of late, brought on by my decision to try a tip seen in a golf magazine. Having to do with the placement and angle of the hands on the backswing, the tip guaranteed more power and longer drives. I found the advice valuable when the driver is square at impact. Unfortunately, given the rest of my swing my adherence to the suggestion of what to do at its beginning usually resulted in the club face not squaring up and the ball sailing into an adjacent fairway.

While I have abandoned the tip, sadly the slice has not abandoned me and my initial drive lands off to my right on #10. By the time my Titleist reaches the putting surface of the par-4 first hole I have struck it three more times. The good news is that after a decent pitch shot from several yards short of the green the ball is resting only about three feet from the hole, and I am able to negotiate that distance with a single putt, limiting the damage to an opening bogey.

The tee shot on the second hole is again headed right, but this time the golfing gods take pity on the lone duffer out on a chilly November afternoon. One loud thwack is followed by a second as the drive pinballs off the upper reaches of the tall trees lining the fairway. The second carom is in the right direction, back down into the rough instead of off into the unplayable underbrush abutting the hole. Given a reprieve I advance the ball down the par-5 with a hybrid club. Finally, I am walking down the center of my own fairway toward my ball.

With 115 yards to the hole I pull a pitching wedge out of my bag, and the contact feels solid. The ball lands on the green and rolls up near the hole. It looks to be a good shot as I return the wedge to the bag and hoist the strap onto my shoulder. As the distance to the green shortens I gradually become aware that the result is actually very good, no make that outstanding. As I step onto the putting surface there can be no doubt; the ball is resting a mere two inches to the left of the cup. From a tee shot that was headed to oblivion, to a birdie 4! The fortuitous bounce on #2 propels me down the third fairway, where I have finally hit a decent drive. Another hybrid up the hill has my ball on the green in regulation, where two putts secure my par.

I drop a shot on each of the next two holes, but that is to be expected, given my handicap. What is surprising is to be standing on the tee of the par-3 6th hole just two over par. Without hesitation I pull a 9-iron, but can feel on impact that I’ve struck it thinly. As the ball hangs in the air I mentally urge it on, and it lands just on the front of the elevated green. But after walking up the hill I realize that the hole is much further back than I had thought, closer to the rear of the green than the middle. Even if contact had been flush the 9-iron was not enough club. As it is my ball is a good 35 feet from the hole.

I survey the putt, and as I get ready without realizing I am doing so I verbalize the thought running through my head. “Breaking left at the end, slow going up the hill. Give it a rap, Michael,” I say into the silence around me. One practice swing with the old Zing model Ping putter, and then I give it that rap. The yellow Titleist NXT-S rolls up the green, on a line to the right of the cup. But as slope and gravity exert their sway the ball slows and begins to curve to the left, its path now dead at the target. With its expiring roll the ball falls in the hole for an improbable two. I raise my putter in the air, though there is not so much as a wandering squirrel to cheer my feat. Still, I would be hard pressed to remember the last time I recorded two birdies in the space of five holes on my scorecard.

A bogey on #7 is followed by a par on #8, and as I make my way to the ninth tee I know that I am still just two over on the round. Even a bogey at the last would produce a score of less than 40. There was a time when I would expect nothing less from any nine, but those days are long past. Now it is an extremely rare event, made possible, if it is to be, by a bounce in the right direction off a tall tree more than ninety minutes ago.

My drive at the last feels solid, but when I get to my ball in the right rough I am surprised by the short distance the tee shot has traveled. My second is hit hopelessly fat, the ball stopping in thick grass above a fairway bunker. My intent from there is to punch a low shot using an 8-iron onto the green, but I take my eye off the ball and instead it advances less than ten yards. I make another attempt at the same type of shot, but the ball catches a slope in the fairway and veers left, coming to a stop in the rough, just short of the putting surface.

So I have made hash of the final hole. Even if I get up and down from the rough, a double bogey to finish will mean a score of 40. While that’s still a very, very good number for me at this stage of my golfing life, to have it come in such a fashion will make for a sour ending. In an attempt to calm myself as I walk up to my ball and pull out a lob wedge, I remind myself what every hacker knows. The golf gods giveth, and the golf gods taketh away.

And sometimes they giveth again. Sometimes on a chilly and quiet November afternoon they smile on the lone duffer. Obscured by an overcast sky the sun is setting and there is a dull half-light for the finish of the round. A short swing with the lob wedge and the ball pops out of the rough. It is in the air for no more than four or five feet, landing on the green and rolling toward the hole. Rolling straight towards the hole, as if on a rail. Disappearing into the cup, for a score of 39. A closing bogey to be sure, but oh what a bogey!

For those of us who are most avid, there is no planned final round. We play as long as the elements allow. Of course if I had half a brain I’d leave this season with the golf gods smiling broadly on my efforts, and put the clubs away. But when it comes to this game for life we who play it tend to leave our brains in the trunk of our car along with our street shoes, every time we tee it up. The long-range forecast for next weekend is for dry weather and temperatures in the 50s!


  1. Nice!

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