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Immortal Dreams Novel part 10 - the final part.
Final part of 'Immortal Dreams' Novel by Rob Watson
‘The most important thing you can ask of yourself is not whether you were victorious, but that you fought fairly and to the best of your ability.’
Before heading to the course I needed a little alone time. Having people around me at that time was great, but I still wanted some time to be alone with my thoughts. If nothing else it gave me the opportunity to make sure my mindset was exactly as I wanted it to be, without the worry of being influenced by anybody else. No matter how good intentioned they are, people can influence other people for the worse. I went for a walk and found a park bench to sit on. As a bit of relaxation and getting away from it all it was a very cliché way of doing it, but that didn’t bother me in the slightest. I tried to make sure I had the right balance in my mind, balance between letting myself enjoy the round of golf, whilst still focussing properly and giving myself the best chance to play well. Thirty minutes was all I needed, but without that time I would have run the risk of feeling hassled and obligated to behave the way people would expect me to. The night before I’d considered trying to treat this day as any other day and not do anything differently from what I would do normally on a tournament day. Quickly I decided against that, because it wasn’t just another day. It was the last day of the US Open and I still had a chance of winning, I acknowledged that I didn’t have the mind control capabilities to block out that fact for a whole day. Instead I decided to go along the lines of thanking my subconscious for reminding me that I’m challenging for the US Open and that could be a high pressure situation. After I’ve cleared that up then I can remind my subconscious that this is exactly the sort of situation I’ve wanted to be in for as long as I remember, whilst I expect to be a little nervous I do know how to handle that and therefore there is no problem. All this to manipulate a little white ball…..
Whilst acknowledging that I do like to stick to a routine to an extent, I am not so entrenched in the power of routine that I won’t go away from it if I think the particular circumstances of the day dictate that I would be better off doing something different. This day was one such day. With effects of the pain killing injection not lasting the full round last time and not being allowed to have more than one injection within twenty four hours, I decided to vary my pre-round routine. Normally I started by hitting full shots for twenty to thirty minutes, then working on the short game, this time I worked on the short game first. Knowing I could do that without any pain killers then I could have the injection just twenty minutes before my tee off time, hit only ten or twelve full shots – the last few with the driver and then go to play. I’d done plenty of stretching as always so I figured I should be loose enough and I just needed to feel the ball on the clubface a few times from a full swing for me to get to that first tee still feeling completely ready to play.
I was in the second to last group, playing with a good young American player, who good things were expected of in the future by most people in the know. So far though he hadn’t won a Major tournament and this was the closest he’d been after three days, so in that way he wasn’t anymore experienced than me. Upon greeting each other on the tee he told me he liked my press conference and we made a little pact that both of us were going to try absolutely all we could to upset that Nick and Lee bandwagon.
With my wrist giving me an extra reason to be wary of the rough, Sunny and I devised a plan to combat the rough that was so simple yet bordered on genius; the plan was to not hit the ball in the rough. If only the other players had such tactical savvy. In reality it boiled down to having belief in my ability with the driver, swinging within myself yet still positively and committed on each swing.
Playing in the penultimate group on the last day of a major, when the last group had two massive reputations in it, did have a feeling of playing in a curtain raiser. When our names were called out by the announcer on the tee to introduce us to the crowd they gave us both a warm round of applause but I detected a definite feeling that they were thinking it was a good experience for us but that we wouldn’t be able to play well.
Driver off the first tee all week and didn’t see any reason to change. Crunch time, show time, game on, defining moment or whatever you want to call it, the next four hours or so were about to be what my life was all about. As far as I was concerned and for everybody else still in with a chance of winning, that Sunday would be forever, however we played and whatever the outcome, we would remember and maybe be remembered forever. People often say life is a marathon not a sprint. To me a better metaphor would be the life of a sprinter. Hard work all year round, then it all comes down to relatively tiny periods of time when all the work has to come together to decide whether the sprinter will be successful and whether all the work was worthwhile. That Sunday was my Olympic final. Tempo is so important, that the importance cannot be overestimated. Not just the swing either, I need everything to be of the correct tempo. Need my breathing to be right, walk at the right pace, pre-shot routine needs to be unhurried but not superfluous and needed my mental state to be that of relaxed focus. Swing tempo clicked in right from the first tee shot, paradoxically gentle yet powerful sweeping of the ball off the tee and the ball found the middle of the fairway about two hundred and ninety yards out. Generally speaking the best receptions you’ll get all day when playing a top professional tournament will be walking off the first tee, and then walking onto the eighteenth green. Wishing you on your way and then welcoming you home. All sorts of things can have gone on in-between time.
‘How good is this?’ I asked my playing companion as we walked off the tee.
‘As good as it gets and what it’s all about.’
An equally smooth nine iron found the middle of the green, about twenty feet from the hole and I had my first birdie chance of the day, on a day when I hoped to have many. That familiar deathly hush when I settled over the ball, ready to take my putt. My stroke had been good all week and it still felt very much in the groove. The roll on the ball was perfect but it just looked a little bit too far right and on the high side all the way and just slid past the hole. Left me a two and a half footer, which should have been a matter of routine. Whether it was a lack of concentration, or an equally inexplicable lack of confidence I’m not sure but I made my first really poor putting stroke of the week and pulled the ball to the left. Those shocked gasps and groans from the crowd that no golfer wants to hear. Looked up at Sunny with a sort of phlegmatic disbelief and uttered an expletive. Tapped it in and managed to maintain my calm exterior as I walked to the next tee.
‘Don’t worry that’s your first bad miss all week, everybody’s allowed at least one,’ Sunny was quick with the reassuring words of wisdom.
All keyed up for the biggest round of my life then that happens. Oh well, I never said I was going to play a mistake free round, let’s just add them up at the end and see if it’s good enough. Nothing changes, I still hit fairways and greens, and stay positive and committed on every shot. The best news so far was that my swing felt great. Don’t need to get off to a good start in order to have a good round, but it’s always a good feeling to have your swing “click in” right from the first hole so you feel you can play positive shots straight away, rather than waiting for the “click”. Two more loose and free swings found the middle of the second green and I was all set to have another run at a birdie putt. This time it was more like a twenty-five footer and the result was almost a carbon copy, leaving me with about a three footer for par. Once again after a mistake I was left with the same challenge almost immediately afterwards. Liked my thought process on the putt, remained confident and didn’t let the previous putt affect me in a bad way, instead used it to make sure I was completely focussed. Firmly stroked the ball into the back of the hole, now I felt fully into the round and ready to go.
Four wood off the third tee found the middle of the fairway. Wedge shot to the green had just a little too much spin on it and ended up just off the front edge of the green. Still thinking birdie the chip was uphill and not that tricky. Tempo was excellent on the chip shot but it bounced a little to the left, so it never looked like going in but did only finish a foot away so par was saved. Still one over par for the day after three holes and I felt I needed to make a move soon. Par five fourth was one of the most likely birdies on the course. Another good tee shot got me to just about within range of the green if I flushed my four wood. Didn’t quite catch it perfect and the ball finish about twenty five yards short of the green, still a very good position for birdie. Struck the little pitch shot well but it went a little to the right and just got the wrong side of a ridge and the ball ended up about ten feet away. Studied the line of the putt with Sunny for a little longer than normal, but we were both happy with the line in the end. Hit what felt like a really good putt and looked up just in time to see the ball beginning to disappear into the right edge of the hole. Just before I started a little celebratory fist clench the ball reappeared again, one of those cruel big lip outs. If you play golf for long enough you’ll see plenty of balls seemingly defy gravity to stay out of the hole, but despite the familiarity it still amazes all golfers every time we see an incident of that type. Another expletive under the breath, before tapping in to remain one over for the day.
In professional golfing terms, eighteen holes is somewhat of a sprint, and on this day I needed a fast time and hadn’t gotten out of the blocks well. Very much a momentum player, I needed something to give me a kick start. At this stage I still believed I could win the tournament. The fifth hole is a tough par four, once again I hit a good drive and although the slope took my ball to the left edge of the fairway I was still in a good position. Weather wise it was a perfect day for golf, temperature in the seventies and hardly a breath of wind. I say hardly, one such breath caught me out a little bit with my second shot to the fifth. My four iron hit the ball a little higher than normal for me and a slight gust of wind was enough to result in the ball landing on the front edge of the green and rolling back off the green. The flag was well towards the back of the green so my intention had been to land the ball in the middle of the green and let it roll towards the flag. Anything past the flag would trickle down a slope and off the green. My third shot was a pitch shot of roughly thirty five yards, I felt I really couldn’t afford another bogey so needed to get it close. I knew that I risked going beyond the flag, the ball rolling off the green and making myself look foolish, but I wasn’t going to get any place I wanted to be today without taking a few risks. Again I struck the pitch shot well, played it positively and when I looked up to see it land I thought I’d got it just right. Second bounce was just a little bigger than I thought it would be and soon enough I realised it was going to trickle off the green. This course can make any player look like an amateur hacker, even the best players had to accept that from time to time. Now I was left with a hideously difficult chip shot, up a hill to get to the green then the last eight feet or so was down hill to the hole and seriously quick. Just as I was walking to the ball I heard a roar from the crowd and the fourth green, a Walters roar. After a little deliberation I decided to use my tried and trusted sand wedge for the chip shot, wanting one skidding bounce landing off the green up the hill then releasing down towards the flag. As I settled over the ball, more noise came from the fourth green this time a Benz roar. Backed of my shot and started my pre-shot routine again. The ball came off the club a fraction quicker than I wanted to and I knew instantly that it was travelling faster than desired. Only thing that was right was the line, I took a couple of steps up the hill so I could see the hole. Ball rolled smoothly and quickly and homed in on the flag; clatter, that wonderful clatter of ball on flag when the ball disappears down the hole. Produced a little Jack Summers roar from the crowd, this roar had quite a bit of surprise in it. Looked at Sunny and said:
‘Always better to be lucky than good.’
We slapped hands to celebrate and those close enough to hear me in the crowd appreciated my line.
Possible momentum change and I definitely marched to the next tee feeling like I’d dodged a bullet. Sixth hole is a par three and now my mind frame was as positive as I could’ve wished. The flag was one of those that was in a place where Sunny and I agreed I should be aiming, whether the flag was there or not, only adding to my positive vibes. Once we’d taken into account the downhill nature of the hole the yardage was perfect for a smooth five iron shot. Strike was pure, flight was straight at the flag and distance control was near perfect landing six feet short of the hole before taking one short hop and settling down quickly. American crowds love towering iron shots that show any signs of back spin and when my ball landed those around the green generated a huge cheer. Putt was tricky, downhill with a little turn from right to left, but any putt from four feet was an excellent birdie chance and especially so on such a course when birdies were so hard to come by. Smooth, short stroke did the job of putting the ball in the hole. Back to level par for the round and now I could go about making my move for the day.
Seventh hole is a medium length par four that goes at a ninety degree dog leg. All week I’d hit a three iron off the tee and there was no reason for me to go away from the game plan. Split the fairway, leaving a six iron shot up the hill to the green. Flag was on the edge of the green and although I was in a very attacking mood I managed to fend off any temptation to aim straight at the flag. Given the situation I was very tempted to go for that flag, but there was a little voice telling me not to, that voice belonged to Sunny as she confirmed what the sensible part of me knew was correct. Hit a good shot to my target of the middle of the green, ball landed on the front edge and skipped up so it was level with the flag and about twenty feet right. Sensible play always looks even better if you hole the putt and make birdie anyway. Sunny convinced me that the ball would only turn about two inches to the right, even if I hit it at the pace to just die into the hole. The stroke had been good all week, but even then some are outstandingly good. Plenty of those on the first day and another one here, felt so pure off the putter face and when I looked up the ball had about five feet to go and always looked in; felt pretty and looked pretty. Got to under par for the day and was now moving in the right direction. Playing partner followed me in to get himself to one under for the day. We were generating a few roars of our own and having a great time. It appeared that many people in the crowds were often going a hole or so ahead of Nick and Lee to make sure they got a glimpse of them on every other green, rather than trying to watch them all the way and risk seeing hardly anything. Whatever the reason, the crowd around each green was massive and had an intense focus about them.
The eighth hole had been one of the toughest all week and, even in attacking mode any player would be overjoyed with a par. My tee shot was pulled a little bit but managed to hang onto the edge of the fairway. Hit a good three iron shot from there that was a little unlucky to trickle just off the left edge of the green. Reasonably straight forward chip shot but I still needed maximum concentration. Nudged it to two feet and then nudged it in the hole for par.
Ninth hole was a par three with the flag on the front edge of the green, only just over the bunker. Conservative play would have been to aim for six to ten yards beyond the pin, but Sunny and I agreed that this was one risk worth taking. So I tried to hit a full out nine iron that we figured would get the exact distance to the flag. Knew as soon as I hit that I hadn’t produced the near perfect strike I required to get over the sand. Despite much verbal urging from myself and Sunny the ball came down in the sand. Wrist was feeling all right so the bunker shot didn’t hold any fears that way, but still it was a tough task to save par from there. Splashed the ball out of the sand well, but the ball still hopped about six feet past the flag. Tricky down hill putt left for par. Playing the front nine in one under would leave me feeling like at least I’d made some progress, even if it wasn’t what I had been really aiming for. Playing the front nine in level par would have been a big blow to my mental state in terms of mounting a challenge to win the tournament. Struck the putt just slightly worse than my usual serene sweetness during that week, but it was always on a good line and although it seemed like it was trying to wobble away the hole came just in time for it to gobble up the ball. Went for a birdie, didn’t get it but at least saved par, now on to the next hole and look for a birdie there.
An old saying goes that ‘major championships don’t start until the back nine on Sunday’. There I was about to start the back nine of a major, I knew I was at one over par myself and my first look at the leader board told me the I was only four shots behind one player, three behind another and I already knew I was one behind my playing companion for the day. I didn’t look which player was three under and which was two under, I figured it didn’t matter which player was at what score, just what score I had to beat. Tenth hole is a long par five, uphill virtually all the way, that I had played well all week. A long straight tee shot would put me in position to attack the hole and although I knew an extra snap in the swing could cause a twinge or two in the wrist I didn’t let that get near to stopping me going to rip a booming drive down there. I caught it completely flush, much to the delight of the crowd around the tee. Did get a twinge in the wrist but I shrugged that off without any worries. Smooth four-wood shot put me in position about twenty yards short of the green for a little uphill pitch shot to a reasonably accessible flag. Ball pulled up a little quicker than I’d anticipated, leaving me another six footer. This time it was uphill and Sunny and I were both confident that it was a dead straight putt. As is often the case a confident read lead to a good putting stroke, sending the ball firmly in the middle of the hole. My first taste of a final nine holes of a major championship, and I loved it. It felt great to be out there and so far I was enjoying every minute of it and was staying completely positive. As ever the positive state of mind and the physical control of my game was a classic chicken and egg scenario, especially in a situation as high profile as this one. But for now I wasn’t getting too tight.
Eleventh hole is a long par four, the second half of which is uphill. Now the swing was flowing with fantastic timing and rhythm and another middle of another fairway was hit. Despite the adrenalin flow and my ultra positive mindset I didn’t need too much persuading from Sunny to aim away from that particular flag. It was tucked away on the right edge of the green and any shot not at least extremely close to perfect could easily leave a devilishly awkward chip. Instead I aimed my five iron shot for the middle of the green and pulled it ever so slightly, leaving me a forty foot putt. The key word was putt, a good thought around this sort of course when you are thinking about your approach shot is “just make sure your next shot is a putt”. Patience is the key and seventy-two holes and around eighteen hours was a long time to stay patient. As with most putts on this course mine on the eleventh green that day had a slope to negotiate. Focussing almost entirely on two putting my first putt made that a formality by rolling the ball to a foot from the hole.
Three under par was still the lead as I checked the leader board going to the next tee. Benz roar just as I teed my ball up. Twelfth hole is a medium length par four to another elevated green. Smooth rhythm on the four wood shot from the tee meant that although I didn’t quite strike it right out of the middle of the club, the ball still came to rest on the fairway. Green is so elevated that the players can’t see their approach shots land or finish. My nine iron shot felt so good and looked to be homing in on the flag, a huge roar from the crowd added to my confidence about the result. That crowd noise can be a little ambiguous though, sometimes the cheer for a shot to ten feet is just the same as one to ten inches. Although I was confident in my putting stroke, I would still very much prefer a ten inch putt rather than one twelve times as long. In any round of golf there is always a degree of anxiousness to find out where exactly your ball has finished after playing a blind shot, being in contention on the last day of the US Open magnified by about a billion percent. I felt like running up that hill to shorten my wait, but managed to refrain and gave the impression of walking calmly up the hill as if out for an afternoon stroll. When I peered over the top of the hill my heart quickened a little as I saw the ball around seven feet away. I had a golden opportunity to get to one under par and within two shots of the lead. My playing companion had just missed the green but played a decent chip to about four feet, leaving his ball directly between mine and the hole. After marking the position of his ball with his usual coin, he asked me if the coin was in the way and I asked him to move it to my right. Just one of the little intricacies of a round of golf that can sometimes distract you, but if it’s done with the minimum of fuss, as it was on this occasion, it really shouldn’t have any effect. Standing over a seven foot putt to get within two of the lead in the US Open with six holes to go might just get a vampires heart beating. Sunny and I detected just a slight slope from right to left and the putt was clearly downhill and going to be seriously quick. Just about managed to minimise any thoughts of how far past it might go if it missed before setting the ball off rolling slowly on the line I’d chosen. Crowd urged it to go in as soon as I struck the ball and the noise got louder as the ball got nearer until they erupted with a lot of hooping and hollering when the ball disappeared. Instinctively clenched my right fist, then quickly remembered that hurt a little. Wondered if a lot of the crowd still thought I was American. Picked ball out of the hole and went to stand with Sunny, handed over the putter and gently taped hands for a moment of celebration and togetherness as we both kept up the façade of calmness. As I turned to watch the American putt I noticed he hadn’t put his marker back in its original spot as he putt the ball down and was already going through his routine.
‘Hang on mate, we don’t want any penalties here,’ failure to put the ball back in the correct position would have resulted in a two shot penalty.
‘Wow, great call, thanks Jack,’ he spoke in-between a couple of huge sighs of relief.
I’d just holed the most important putt of my life and I’d still managed to be aware of another player’s plight and not even considered not helping the guy out, even though he was one of three players who could stop me winning. Whatever happened over the closing six holes that was a reason to be proud.
Now one under par for the championship, level with my playing companion, and two shots behind the two legends. The closing holes were so tough that the thought occurred to me that if I played them in level par, it might just be good enough at least for a play-off. Ultimately though, with the way I was playing and feeling I was always going to be looking to improve my score. Right at the business end of a major championship, really felt like I was in the “pressure cooker” and that my actions over the next few holes would be discussed in professional shops and clubhouses at golf clubs around the world for the next week or so at least. Never mind a week or so, as I alluded to earlier now I was playing forever. Whatever happened I’d remember every single shot of this round till my dying day. Like starring in a massive movie, only even the cast didn’t know what was going to happen, no script, just people. Sunny was getting nervous herself but like me she was aware of the need to keep me relaxed, now I was in such an intense situation there was no chance of me not being focussed enough, I only had to guard against getting too tight. We kept cracking the odd joke, having a laugh about somebody in the crowd or pointing out a good looking lady behind the ropes, anything to make sure I wasn’t getting too stressed out by the situation.
Thirteenth hole is a short to medium length par four with a roller coaster of a fairway. A straight three iron shot off the tee left my ball in the part of the fairway that was just about the same height as the green. Valley between ball and flag made it deceptive when judging the distance. At times like that I had to trust the yardage that Sunny gave me and make a positive swing. Eight iron was the club of choice, but I didn’t make that good a swing and just pulled it a little left of the green. Left with one of those delicate chips off an upslope to the green slightly above me, I had to make sure my hands weren’t shaking at all on this one. Struck it crisply and it landed just on the green as I had desired and rolled to within three feet of the hole. From now on every shot would be a challenge. Knew I’d look very foolish if I missed that putt and people would be mentioning horrible words like “choked” and “bottle”. Head still, smooth and positive stroke worked just as well there as it would on the practice green with nobody watching. Still one under for the tournament.
So far I’d hit every fairway and considering the toughness of the course and everything that was at stake, I felt like I was almost having an easy time of it. On the fourteenth tee I just got a little quick with the downswing with the driver and pulled it into the left rough. Found a thick and clumpy lie and now it was definitely decision time. Without the wrist problem I would almost certainly have hit a sand wedge shot as hard as I could and tried to advance the ball so it was somewhere up near the green. Taking in the wrist factor the other option of gently pitching out virtually completely sideways and onto the fairway had to be taken into serious consideration.
‘Okay how’s the wrist holding up?’
‘It’s not that bad, still feeling numbed down by the painkillers. Do you think it’s worth the risk?’
‘This is one decision I’m not going to make. All I’ll say is that a pitch shot from about twenty-thirty yards short of the green will be a lot easier to get close to the hole than a full nine iron shot. My feeling is we just can’t afford the bogey right now so my gut tells me that you should take the risk of double bogey by smashing the sand wedge. But that’s not taking into account the wrist issue. So like I said this is your decision.’
‘Okay let’s not die wondering,’ my favourite comment any time I couldn’t think of any other way of making a decision.
Pulled out the sand wedge and gripped it as tight as I dare, took a big swing and committed to the impact. It hurt, but the sight of the ball flying exactly as I’d wanted it to helped ease the pain. Let go of the club with my right hand and almost with my left hand too. The crowd loved it, they always liked seeing someone hit it hard.
‘Go get um Jack!’ Somebody screamed from the crowd. I think that was the first time somebody I didn’t know had shouted my name from the crowd, got a little caught up in that fact as I walked down the fairway, a little distracting but not in a destructive way.
Like I’d said earlier any player wanting to win the US Open had to make sure his putter, driver and wedge play was more than up to scratch. I was faced with another testing little chip, although to be fair if I was playing the shot in the practice round it wouldn’t concern me too much. Clearly wasn’t playing a practice round and thanked my subconscious for letting me know that. Focussed clearly on the slow rhythm I liked to play those shots with, so difficult to convince yourself of in pressure situations. Clipped it nicely and once I’d finish my follow through I found myself trotting up the hill to get a glimpse of where the ball would finish. Cannot begin to express the relief I felt when I saw it come to rest three inches from the hole. Not only was it a certain par but it meant one less shot that would require energy sapping concentration. Wrist didn’t feel that bad, what was a cracked bone or two when the US Open was on the line?
Fifteenth hole is a par three and on the last day the flag was tucked away on the right edge of the green.
‘The yardage is 198, perfect for a hold with a five iron with the downhill taken into account,’ Sunny told me as soon as I got to the tee.
The hold shot with that little bit of left to right drift in the air was the perfect shot for that hole location. Made an effort to see the shot in my mind and could just about envisage it. Missing the flag to the right by any more than eight feet would result in a horribly awkward chip or bunker shot. Committed to the shot in my mind but it wasn’t natural. At the last moment before impact I lost my commitment and didn’t hold off the club enough to get any left to right ball flight. Instead it flew straight at the middle of the green and ended up at the back of the green and left me with a forty foot putt. Not disastrous by any means, but I was still disappointed with myself for slipping out of my positive mind set. My playing companion went for a similar shot only he over did it and ended up in the bunker, making me feel a little better about where my shot had finished by comparison.
Left himself a very difficult bunker shot to get close to the hole, to be fair to him didn’t shy away from the challenge and tried to land it just out of the bunker and let the ball trickle down to hole side. But he didn’t quite get it right and agonisingly left it in the sand. Believe it or not golfers don’t like to see competitors do badly – all right there maybe one or two that do – generally though you want to beat the guy, but you want that to happen by him playing well and you playing better. Made sure he got out of the bunker next time and the ball ran some ten feet past the hole. My forty-foot putt wasn’t really one of those that you really focussed on holing as such, I just wanted to set the ball rolling and let it wander down close to the hole. If it happened to drop in, I wouldn’t complain. A few slopes to take into account, Sunny and I took our time and I had a clear picture in my head of how I wanted the ball to roll before setting up to play. Rolled it beautifully and it hugged the surface all the way, up one slope, down one, round another, it headed for the hole and looked to be going at perfect speed. It couldn’t, it wouldn’t, could it? Eyes widened as it got closer. No it couldn’t. Teased me right until the last moment, then turned almost apologetically in front of the hole and stopped about six inches away. At least it was another concentration saving tap in, but a birdie there would have been such a massive bonus. Sadly my companion missed his putt and made a double bogey to go back to one over par and barring golfing miracles he was out of the running.
Just three holes to go in a US Open and I found myself just two shots off the lead and whether I dared think it or not I had a chance of winning. Walking to the sixteenth tee my mind was getting a little scrambled, focus wandering.
‘How you feeling?’ Sunny checked when we got to the tee.
‘Couldn’t be more nervous.’
‘Nerves are good, nerves mean you’re close to reaching your goals.’
Sixteenth hole, toughest on the course, I had to hit driver off the tee to be able to reach green in two shots, and equally had to hit the fairway. Difficult task at the best of times but when your hands are shaken and your knees are weak and you can’t seem to stand on your own two feet; it crosses your mind that it is impossible. Teed the ball up, stood ready to play but I clearly wasn’t ready to play. Somehow I managed to find the composure to back off the shot and walk away, back to Sunny and my bag. Sunny gave me a towel and I dried my gloveless right hand and wiped my face.
‘All right Jack here we go. Win the US Open, right now, on this hole, this shot, right now!’
Sunny’s words clarified the situation for me, I was supposed to be nervous but I had to deal with that. I wanted to win the US Open, to do that I had to play positively for three holes and play the best three holes of my life. Returned to the ball with my determined intensity back in tact. Focussed on the ball and let the swing take care of itself. Absolutely crunched one right down the middle and can’t begin to tell you how good that felt.
‘Great shot Jack,’ Sunny called out amongst the little bit of hooping and hollering.
It did nothing to calm my nerves, in fact they became stronger and the butterflies were going crazy. As soon as a got back to the bag and gave the driver back to Sunny, my stomach began to bubble and I could do nothing to stop myself from vomiting. Golfers have a saying out on tour when they get nervous and let that cost them a chance to win, that saying is; “I chucked up all over myself”. I managed to avoid getting any of it on myself, but I did literally chuck up all over the sixteenth tee on the final day of the US Open. A gasp came from the crowd, I stayed hunched over for a moment or two, then stood upright, wiped my mouth then said:
‘I knew that fourth pizza last night was one too many,’ chuckles from the crowd and it helped to lessen my embarrassment.
‘You all right Jack?’ My playing companion checked.
‘Yeah, now I am really ready to play.’
‘No stopping you now,’ I’d like to think I would have been able to be so light hearted after taking that double bogey.
Marching down that sixteenth fairway was a surreal experience, as always after vomiting I felt a little weak, but added to that was the nervous feeling and knowing that millions of people had just witnessed the events on the sixteenth tee. I was sure that the television people would have shown it all at least a couple of times. As I joked to Sunny during the walk it was one way of making sure I got on the television. Surprisingly when I got to my ball I felt completely ready to play my shot, knowing that everybody knew I was very nervous seemed to help me as I didn’t feel the need to present an image of being nerveless. Yardage I had left up the hill was just on my limit for a three iron. In the situation I was happy with that because when nervous the shots least affected were the ones where I could make a full swing.
‘Come on Jack this is it, win the US Open right now, on this hole, with this shot, right now.’
Sunny had a great influence over my mind state right at that time, so I stood over the shot with that aggressive confidence I needed. Swung well, struck it well and it wasn’t far off the line of the flag. Walked after it as soon as I clipped it off the turf and Sunny walked with me.
‘Get up there!’ I urged, the ball along verbally and by wafting my club.
‘Get going, be good,’ Sunny added.
Landed just short of the green and looked like it hopped up towards the flag. Applause from the crowd by the green wasn’t rapturous, but sounded good enough for the ball to be definitely on the green. Handed Sunny the three iron and she pulled putter out of the bag as she walked and handed that to me. Happiness is a long walk with a putter.
Strode up the hill and only when I got near the top did I become certain that the putter was indeed the club I required. Right on the edge of the green, about thirty five feet away, one big slope from right to left between ball and hole. Walked round the green, having a look at putt from all angles, as always. Deathly silence, felt like I was the only person on the course. Looked back down the hole and could make out the figure of Nick and Lee on the tee, stark reminder that I definitely wasn’t the only one out there.
‘Can you see it going in?’ Sunny checked my confidence.
‘Clear as day.’
‘Win the US Open with this putt.’
Even with slightly shaky hands, the putting stroke and touch was staying with me. Made special effort to keep head still because I knew that in this situation I would be extra anxious to look up and see where the ball was heading. Even with the delay in looking up, the ball still had ten feet between it and the hole when I first checked on its progress and it did look fantastic at that stage, homing in on the hole, never looked anywhere else, but because of the situation I couldn’t let myself count my chickens. Did start walking after it though and raised the putter with a foot of roll to go. Ball went in like a rat down a drain. Big roar, mainly of surprise, found out later that I was the only person to birdie that hole all day. Struggling to keep emotions in check I ran off in one direction or another, Sunny raced across the green in some other direction and soon enough we ran towards each other, hugged briefly then screamed into each others faces. Walked to get ball out of hole after calming down a little and got a little high five from playing companion on the way. Sadly he missed his par putt and his race was well and truly run.
I was at two under par with two holes to go, four under for the day and with all the momentum I could ask for. If you had to birdie a hole to save your life the sixteenth at Pinehurst No.2 would be one of the last you’d choose, my birdie there gave me a massive adrenalin rush. I was heading in the right direction and leaders were not going away from me. Leader board told me there was now two of us at two under and one player at three under. I felt like a jockey in the Gold Cup coming to the last fence in third place just behind two leaders, jumping that fence better than them and landing better with more of a spring in my step, like a tennis player who had lost the first two sets but just won the next two to take it into a decider, like a cricket team defending a low total but taken a few early wickets to send shivers down the batting sides spine, like a football team who was two nil down from the first leg of a cup tie but have just gone two up in the second leg, like a snooker player who was seventeen frames to thirteen down in the World Championship final but just reeled off four frames in a row to take it to a deciding frame. Did I mention there is no reasoning behind what can go on through my head at any time?
Had a wait on the seventeenth tee, par threes often cause back logs on golf courses. Gave me time to calm down, lower the heart rate a bit and replace the excitement with that aggressive confidence. Group in front finished and cleared the green, it was show time.
‘I think you can win the US Open with this shot right now,’ Sunny said with a hint of a smile.
‘You should have mentioned that before,’ returning the smile.
‘Full seven iron, knock the flag out.’
Taking into account the down hill element the yardage was just about perfect for a regular, full and smooth seven iron shot. Committed to the shot like never before and flushed it, arrowed in on the flag.
‘Be as good as you look honey!’ I pleaded as soon as I picked up the flight of the ball after looking up on the follow through.
‘Oh go in!’ Sunny joined in the pleading.
The crowd behind the green seemed to pick up that it was on target and the noise got louder as the ball got nearer to landing. It thudded down very close to the hole and for a second a few of us thought that Sunny’s prayer had been answered, but the ball had hopped on a few feet by. Crowd appreciated the quality and drama of the shot.
Putter in hand wandered onto the green, trying desperately to remain calm, when all I really wanted to do was run up there and have a go at that putt as soon as I could. Instead I had to stroll up there, mark the position of my ball and wait for my companion to putt first. He rolled his up well enough to tap in for a safe par. Stage clear, would I fluff my lines? The pitch mark on the green had shown that my ball had landed about a foot before the hole and it was a straight line between pitch mark, hole and ball. Could have gone in and what a moment that would have been. Instead after such a fantastic shot I still had a tricky seven footer down the hill to get my birdie. If anything I thought the putt would turn a little bit to my left, but Sunny assured me it would actually turn a little to my right. She told me to aim the ball just inside the left edge of the hole, roll it gently and let it fall in. Sounded so confident and she was still a better reader of greens than me. Most important putt of my life so far, and I was putting my faith in someone else. Another thing I had faith in was my putting stroke. Rolled it beautifully on exactly the line Sunny had told me. Looked up to see the last foot or so of the putt, still on that left edge but then as it was losing speed it turned, turned towards the middle of the hole and fell in delightfully. Crowd noise reacted in that wonderfully typical golfing way of urging the ball into the hole as soon as it was struck and that noise getting louder the nearer the ball got to the hole. Goose bumps were off the charts, felt like an electric shock. Took half a step forward with my left foot and punched the air with my right fist, still hurt a little but what the hell. Fist turned into a point to Sunny as she walked towards me with the flag and a wonderful smile.
‘Great read babe!’
Group behind were waiting on the tee, stared right back at them looking up the hill and gave them a little salute with my right hand. Not quite sure what that was for but it felt like a good idea at the time.
Walked through the avenue of spectators between seventy-first green and seventy-second tee. As soon as I got to the tee I could see a scoreboard, as if it was looking at me not the other way round. Leader was at three under, there was only one player at three under, the leader was me. I’d been chasing and playing catch up golf all day, with a wonderful amount of freedom and a “nothing to lose” feeling. Now in golfing terms I had it all to lose. I had a tough par four to negotiate and the two best players in the world were right behind me, both of whom had won numerous major championships already.
Stood on the tee and stared down the hole, took deep breaths somehow trying to get close to a calm state of mind. Teed my ball up then went over to Sunny and dried my hands on towel before getting the driver out of the bag. Went through my usual routine as best I could manage and then stood to the ball. My usual waggling of the club before swinging probably hid the fact that my hands were shaking and the club would have been waggling whether I wanted it to or not. Stood over the ball for a good few moments longer than normal, I was close to freezing as if I’d forgotten how to take the club back.
‘Back away Jack,’ Sunny told me, taking a huge risk as a caddy, interrupting a player can be the right thing to do but if the player makes a mess of the shot in the end then, the caddy could be in a lot of trouble. Best thing about having a friend on the bag is the knowledge that they will always be trying to help you. I walked over to Sunny and got the towel and wiped my hands and my face and took some more deep breaths. Murmurs from the crowd as my nerves were there for all to see and they’d got used to the poker faces of professional sports players, golfers especially.
‘Jack remember you’re just hitting a ball with a stick and nobody does that better,’ Sunny chose her words wisely again. ‘So let’s go win the US Open.’
‘Nothing else to do I suppose.’
Went through routine again only this time a lot quicker and freer. Stood over the ball and as soon as I felt at all comfortable I set about using my stick to hit that ball. The swing was a blur to me and I don’t remember the feeling of it, I just know I hit it pretty well and looked up to see it flying down the right side of the fairway. Crowd seemed pleased as soon as I hit it, but I watched it all the way to make sure it finished on the fairway.
It’s amazing how many thoughts you can have between golf shots during a walk of no more than three hundred yards. I was walking down the final hole of the US Open with a one shot lead and suddenly it hit me that over the last few holes I’d finally found that sense of belonging I’d found so elusive. That sense of belonging that other people seem to get from their drunken nights out. I’d never truly felt like I completely belonged anywhere, no matter how much fun I’d had I’d never felt like I was where I was supposed to be, until I marched down that final hole. Journey to get there had not been straight forward. Thoughts of my two contrasting failures at tour school, missing the cut at the Honda and last year’s US Open, scrapping away in mini tours, doubting whether I could even do well on mini tours, that chip-in in the Open qualifiers when I started to think the golfing Gods were trying to tell me something. All those people I’d met on my journey, most of them complete doubters of my dream. Those defiant speeches I’d reeled off countless times to doubters and believers alike. Believers who would be watching me right now, parents, Anya, Will, Darla, Wendell and of course Sunny. Darla’s drive more than matched mine and she’d had her dream cruelly shattered, life clearly not near fair. Constant setbacks had thoughts of quitting reverberating in my head, sometimes in stereo. That speech of bravado I’d given when nobody wanted my autograph, wonder how many of those people were watching right now and recognising me. All those long distance runs when I’d felt like stopping and I goaded myself to keep going by telling myself I’d win a major championship if I finished the run. Through it all Sunny remained a permanent perspective check, if she could keep going with her life and make something of it, there was certainly no need for me to be worried about playing a game. I worried whether any of the attention I would get would be diverted onto her and how I was sure she wouldn’t like being in the spotlight at all, in case somebody asked the wrong questions. All of these thoughts on top of the usual ones along the lines of seeing myself holding the trophy, my victory speech, winning a ridiculous amount of money, sponsorship and more importantly than all of that, my name on the US Open roll of honour alongside the great, the world class, the exceptional and the world class for the right four days in the year. Images appeared in my head, of the hours spent practicing –sometimes when I really didn’t want to, images of all the setbacks, image of Sunny with a gun in her mouth, image of Darla lying stricken on the Roland Garros centre court.
In my dizzy daze of hectic thoughts I just about managed to stop myself before walking past my ball.
‘181 to the flag, don’t want to go past it,’ Sunny kept it simple.
‘With that slope it’s perfect for a full four iron don’t you think?’
There was no roars coming from the seventeenth green, neither player could have hit their tee shot close to the hole. US Open almost there for the taking, one more par should do it. Was I good enough to win the US Open, a guy who has never made a cut in a professional event until this week? A guy whose biggest win so far was $5,000 for winning some three day mini tour event in Florida, never even won any sort of amateur title to speak of. Questions of whether somebody is good enough to win this or win that have always confused me, and I wasn’t going to work them out in the moments before hitting the most important golf shot of my life. What I did know for a physical fact was that I was more than capable of getting that little white ball into that hole at the top of the hill in three more hits.
‘Could win the US Open here Jack . Let’s have some fun finding out.’
My catchphrases had eventually rubbed off on Sunny, well some of them.
‘No where else I’d rather be than right here right now,’ I was talking myself into a state of somewhere near relaxation.
Heart was still pounding, palms a little sweaty, mouth dry and hands shaking but these were merely symptoms of nerves, and I wasn’t letting them worry me into thinking they would effect my ability to play golf shots. Made a lovely smooth swing and the ball and my golfing destiny headed towards the green.
‘Great rhythm, great strike!’ Sunny enthused.
Ball was heading just a little right and in danger of catching the wrong side of a ridge and being taken away from the flag, leaving a long treacherous putt.
‘Turn over honey, get left,’ I pleaded as I walked after the ball, club still in hand.
My request fell on deaf ears and although the ball finished safely on the green I would have a big job on to get down in two putts.
Eighteenth green felt like a massive theatre, and I was playing the main part in front of a packed house. Getting the putt to the hole wouldn’t be much of a problem but getting it to stop nearby would be, from where I was coming the last eight feet before the hole was downhill and the next two feet after the hole was a continuation of that slope. If the ball was still rolling at all by the time it got to the hole then it would go at the very least four feet past and leave a putt that you didn’t really want when your hands are shaking. Sunny and I
observed the putt from all angles, until we had a clear picture of exactly how we wanted the ball to travel and what sort of speed we wanted it to be going at each stage of its journey to the hole. Wanted to get it to those last eight feet with virtually it’s last roll, but of course that meant a risk of under hitting it and leaving a wickedly difficult down hill putt from eight feet or more. Thoughts of a four putt double bogey had to be forcibly ejected from my mind.
Absolute deathly hush as I settled to hit the putt. There had been no roars from seventeen and they had already hit their tee-shots on eighteen. I knew that if I two-putted it would mean one of them would have to birdie the last hole to tie my score. Great players or not that would be a massive feat, there had only been three birdies on this hole so far that day.
Just managed to stop my hands shaking for enough time to make the putting stroke, somehow I produced one of my smoothest strokes and the ball rolled beautifully as it hugged the surface all the way, just had we had pictured it. Sunny pulled the flag out when the ball got half way and looked very interested in the path the ball was taking and definitely happy with it, when it got to the last eight feet she looked very, very interested. American TV commentator was similarly engrossed:
‘If he holes it it’s over, if he holes it is over…….’
If you’ve capture the spirit of my story at all you’ll know that it didn’t matter whether the ball went in the hole or not; I was living the dream.
‘If the deed is your motivating factor then you have a better chance of achieving the glory, if glory is all you seek then the deed is almost certain to prove elusive.’
The first day of the year after I hit that putt I was sat in California on a comfortable chair on the patio area at the back of Darla’s house. Sunny, Anya, Wendell, Will and Darla herself were there sitting around the table musing over the events of the past year and the most immediate past evening.
‘I didn’t have you down as much of a dancer Will,’ Wendell commented with more than a hint of cheek.
‘I get better the drunker I get.’
‘No, no. You dance more, the drunker you get. If anything the quality goes down, and there’s not much lower it can go,’ I couldn’t resist the easy opportunity to have some fun at Will’s expense.
‘I just never thought of you as an overtly fun person,’ Wendell went on.
‘You seem to have got the image of me as being miserable by nature, help me out here guys,’ Will looked to Anya and I for help.
The two of us looked at each other then Anya gestured for me to reply verbally to Will.
‘What can I say, Will. How can I put this; you are naturally let’s say downhearted.’
‘Yeah you do tend to look on the down side a lot, I thought you knew that,’ Anya backed me up.
‘Put it this way Will,’ I set about summing it up. ‘If someone asked you if a comedian was any good, you’re the sort of guy who might say something like; “he’s alright if you like laughing”.’
‘As long as I was entertaining last night.’
‘Oh you were,’ Anya assured him.
‘So were you honey,’ I eagerly said. ‘That rendition of “Son of a Preacher Man” was something else, the way you dispensed with the tried and trusted melody and created a version all of your own.’
‘I’m not going to take any crap from you about singing!’
‘Are you saying I’m a bad singer? You could have broke that to me more gently, I’m shocked, stunned and it’s going to take a while to recover from that.’
‘I’m just glad everybody had such fun at my house,’ Darla announced.
‘It’s so good to be able to spend these sort of times with a bunch of people who get on so well. This past eighteen months could have been a total nightmare if it wasn’t for you guys. Now you all know I’m not one for getting emotional,’ she went on.
‘I for one have never seen you showing any signs of being emotional,’ I interrupted.
‘Me being emotional and you being sarcastic at the same time, wow what are the odds of that?’
‘Great comeback Darla,’ Sunny thought the quip was worth a high five.
‘Anyway as I was saying. I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank you guys for being around and all in your own way helping me through the toughest period in my life. The good news is and I’ve kept this quiet so far because I didn’t want to jinx it, but for the past month or so I’ve been going to the gym and exercising something like what I was before…. well you know before what. Not expecting too much just yet but it does look like at least I’ll be able to play tennis again.’
‘I’ll drink to that, without the merest hint of any sarcasm,’ I managed to hug Darla just before Sunny did, so strong was Darla’s joy it was infectious and I was ecstatic to hear that her dream was still clinging to life.
The others all got what was left of the Champagne from the previous night to celebrate Darla’s news. I of course opted out of the Champagne but I still drank with more style than any of them, because whatever I drank that day I was drinking it out of the US Open trophy.
‘I’d like to make one more toast,’ I stood up from my seat whilst all the others were still sat around the table. ‘I don’t know where you are mate and to be honest I can’t even remember your name, but somewhere out there is a young American amateur player who missed a three foot putt without which I’d never have won the US Open. Here’s to you and the fickle finger of fate.’
Everybody charge their glasses for that one, each clanking into the trophy.
Will had won £6000 on me after staking £10 each way on me at 500-1. He took great amusement from refusing to buy the guys back home as much as an extra round of drinks, because they didn’t deserve it for not having faith in me.
My wrist had been in such a state that I had to take a six month lay off from all golf. During that break at least I found time to travel round Europe for a couple of months, something I’d always wanted to do and Sunny was more than happy to come along. Also it meant I had plenty of time to follow England’s amazing Ashes cricket win over Australia, the winnings from the US Open just about covered the costs of the texts and phone calls to Wendell.
Second of January that year was the first time I hit a golf shot since that miracle putt had found the hole. That day I went to the nearest course to Darla’s house to hit some balls on the driving range. As before there was the slightly rusty feeling and that big amount of apprehension before hitting the first shot of the day. Hoping my wrist would stand up to it. The first couple were a little tentative but the third one was hit with the sort of commitment I desire and from then on it was like I’d never been away. It was great fun to just stand there on my own smashing golf balls. After about twenty or so shots I noticed an old guy was watching me.
‘Wow you look a real good player, are you a professional?’ He asked when he noticed me noticing him.
‘Yes Sir, are you a golf fan?’
‘Oh yeah a massive one, I watch it all the time on the TV. Where you from?’
‘Oh right. Whatever happened to that English guy who won our Open last year?’
‘Oh I’m sure he’s out there somewhere, practising away, still gloriously striving for the unattainable perfection.’
It’s good I wasn’t in this to be famous.
After fifty or so shots I went to join Sunny sitting outside the clubhouse bar. I’d been sitting down for about five minutes when I noticed out of the corner of my eye a lady with a young boy who looked about ten years old.
‘I’m telling you it’s him,’ she said quietly trying not to be heard by me.
‘Mom are you sure?’
‘Just go ask him.’
His mother shoved him a little and the boy nervously approached me.
‘Excuse me are you Jack Summers?’
‘I certainly am.’
‘Could you sign this for me?’
He produced a golf magazine that had a section in it called pictures of the year. One picture was of me on the eighteenth green just as the ball was dropping into the hole, taken from behind me I was standing with both arms held aloft, facing back down the fairway with putter in my left hand, you could see Sunny what looked like about ten feet off the ground with the flag still in her hands, the green was in a spectacular mix of sunshine and shadow, in the far back ground you could just about make out the two players behind me, both standing with two hands on their hips, or as we might say back home in the “double teapot” pose.
‘Wow what a great picture. What’s your name mate?’
‘Everybody calls me Woody.’
I signed it “Jack Summers, picture of dreams. Thanks for asking Woody”. Hoped I’d never get tired of signing autographs.
Dear reader that seems like a good point to sign off. Already had one little piece of golfing immortality and all set to go after some more, and my good friend Darla was about to go chase after her dream all over again. I’d been unable to play golf for five months, my wrist would hurt for the rest of my life, I’d put myself through incredible self torture and self doubt, I’d alienated myself from a lot of people, some of whom I liked, I’d suffered much derision from weaker souls and now I’d had one moment of glory and one trophy to show for it. Had it really all been worth it? Trust me, the agonising despair is far outweighed by the ecstatic joy.
Novels by Rob Watson
Taunted By Dreams
Mightier than the Sword
Searching for Scarlet
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