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First Day Back — The Pain and the Pleasure of a Return to Golf

[photopress:angus.jpg,full,alignleft]On Monday I jumped in the car, dropped my daughter off at her daycare, and jetted (well, let’s be honest, sort of plodded) up the DVP to Major Mackenzie. Hung a right there and 5 minutes later I entered the front gates to Angus Glen. With not a cloud in the sky, and the temperature reaching the low 20s, golf season had finally officially kicked off for me.

I parked my car in the half-empty lot, slung my clubs over my shoulder and proceeded to walk down to the clubhouse. Of course, as is policy at Angus, someone approached me to carry my clubs the last 40 feet. I said thanks but no thanks, dropped the bag in the club holder near the carts and wandered into the clubhouse for a coffee. After a quick catch up with friends who double as the director of golf and associate pro of the club, as well as a chance encounter with the effervescent Kevin Thistle, I hit the range.

Hitting balls for the first time in a season is always a bit of an awkward process for me. I’m not a natural player, having really only embraced the game during graduate school 12 years ago. Sure I’d played prior to that, but I wouldn’t have referred to it as golfing. I hit some long drives, often in vicinities that in no way resembled a fairway, and chunked the occasional wedge. These days I’m not a bad player — I won’t embarrass myself, and after rebuilding my swing last year, I finished as a 4-handicap.

But none of that means I’m consistent on the practice tee in my first time out during the year. Despite having numerous offers to head south over the course of the winter, including trips to the Dominican, California and Mexico, I turned all of them down. That meant for the first time in a decade I didn’t pick up a club for nearly five months. I didn’t hit balls indoors, and the closest I came to working on my grip was to pick up one of the hickory shafted marvels in my office and ponder how hard it would be to make solid contact with the club.

All of which left me more than a bit rusty. They say the golf swing, for some, is like riding a bicycle. It surely appears that way for some of my friends who were good players as teenagers. They can pick up the club after weeks away and simply put it on plane and make effortless, sharp swings. Sure their short games are a bit out of sorts, but you know that’ll come around in time. With me, it isn’t that clear. In fact, I often feel like I’ve never played at all. That isn’t to say I didn’t hit the occasional solid shot; I did. But I also hozzled a couple, sliced one or three, and generally felt my swing was pretty ugly. The only exception was my driver, which went long and high with a slight draw. Remarkable considering the struggles I’ve had with it in recent years.

Anyway, after rapping out a small bucket, I drove past a struggling threesome on the 10th tee at Angus, and wondered up to the 11th, a long, relatively straight par-4 guarded by a large bunker on the left corner. The goal of this tour around the course wasn’t to post a score — I knew that would be a wasted effort. Instead it was to get a chance to hit balls off of surprisingly green grass and work out the kinks. And the kinks were there — I hammered a high fade into the right rough, and wedged another semi-slice to the right of the popped-up green. A half-flubbed chip and a couple of putts later I’d make my first bogey of the year. A par on the 12th tee followed after I managed to hit a nice high 4-iron 210 to the front of the difficult green and make two putts. One hole later I hit a worm burner off the tee and realized that locating my game would take time.

Now I’m not going to take you shot by shot through my round. That would have all the excitement of listening to Stephen Harper defend his environmental policy. No. Won’t go there. But I will say that after not longing to play golf for a few months, the bug was still there. I plowed through 16 more holes, dropping a second ball whenever the first didn’t work out, and carding a few straight pars, and a couple of terrifically awful holes. I might not have been playing a game, but it felt like golf.

The course itself was surprisingly green after its lengthy hibernation under mounds of snow. I’m hearing this of most courses in the GTA, though many of the city’s private tracks have yet to open. Sure there was some snow mold in spots, and the front of one of the greens was patchy, but with the warm weather you could almost sense the course was alive, that the grass was greening and growing.

On the 9th hole — my final of the day, I smashed three high draws off the gold decks, each carrying all of the bunkers and coming to rest in a 10 yard radius. My approach to the par-5 from 215 came out hot, flying the green and leaving me an awkward flop over the left bunker. As had been the case with most of my day, I was too caustious with my recovery, leaving it in the bunker and finishing with another bogey. Oh well, the possibility was there.

Which is really what fascinates me about playing the game. It is the possibility. The chance that I might pull off something that catches my imagination. To me, that’s way golf draws you in and pulls you to return time and again.

As I pulled my cart into the staging area, one of the club’s pros was standing chatting in the sun.

“How was it?” he asked.

“There was enough there to get me to play again,” I replied.

“That’s why I hate this game,” he said, smiling.

Indeed. It is a frustrating game. It is perplexing. It is overly challenging. And it remains the greatest game in the world.

I’ll be back — on Friday in fact.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

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