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Immortal Dreams - Published Novel Part 9/10
‘Never lose sight of your dream being the most important thing in your life. When moments arrive that put you close to your dream, make sure you give yourself the best possible chance to grab it.’
Radio alarm woke me up, eventually I must have gone to sleep. Had set alarm to leave only enough time to get breakfast before heading to the club to have a shower and get ready to play at my 11:50 tee time. As much as I tried to convince myself that it was just another round of golf, I was really struggling to maintain my usual relaxed frame of mind before a round. Once I got to the club I kept feeling like people were looking at me, in a way that people hadn’t looked at me before. I couldn’t tell whether they were still just looking at me in a way that they didn’t recognise me and wondered why I was there, or whether they knew the score I’d had the previous day and were wondering how on earth I managed it. Whatever it was I wasn’t happy with it. I went around just like normal, if I made eye contact with anyone I greeted them with a brief but friendly, either ‘hi’, ‘hey’ or ‘all right’. I’ll never be sure how paranoid I was being but for one reason or another I was letting myself get distracted.
Made the walk to the practice ground, accompanied by a few murmurings and pointing from the crowd. Still no one asked for my autograph. When I started to hit shots the club felt like a foreign object in my hand, couldn’t get comfortable at all as I stood to hit a shot. Legs felt wooden, arms felt out of my control, my mind was dizzy and a million miles away from being focussed. After the first few shots clearly weren’t coming out right, I stuck with the wedges, as I figure if I swung badly with longer clubs then I’d start spraying it all over the practice range and everybody around would know it.
‘Jack; we don’t know how well you’re going to play today, but we’re going to have a lot of fun finding out.’
Sunny had detected a growing tension in me as soon as I had woken up that morning. She timed and judged her intervention perfectly. I smiled, danced around on my feet a little to get some feeling in my legs, loosened the shoulders and all of a sudden I was in a lot better frame of mind to manipulate that little white ball. Fired a few shots on the range with a pleasant loose and free feeling. The touch on the chips and putts still felt excellent, although I couldn’t begin to expect another putting performance of equal quality to the previous day. It was good to get to the first tee in a situation like that and be greeted by the same two guys as the previous days round. I’d never met either of these two young American players before that first round, but they were both friendly and good company. Both had scored in the mid seventies so needed a good round to make the cut. We wished each other well for that second round, then set about finding out how well we’d all do that day.
The crowd watching us that day was noticeable bigger than in the first round. Granted it was at the busy time of the day, but I knew that another reason for that increase was my score. Weather conditions were perfect, about seventy degrees Fahrenheit and hardly a breath of wind in the air. However the course itself was still very demanding and a score around par would have to be earned. My situation of leading the US Open, no matter how relaxed I tried to stay, definitely didn’t make scoring any easier.
I actually drove the ball better in the second round than the first, definitely hit the fairway more often. My strategy for the whole week was to be conservative with my approach shots to the green, aiming at what I considered to be the easiest area of green to hit, whether the flag was there or not. A couple of flags on the front nine did catch my eye a little and for a moment or two I was tempted by them, but after a little discussion with Sunny I decided to stick to my strategy. My swing felt under control and when needed my short game was sharp enough for me to par the first seven holes, which to be honest I was delighted with. On the very demanding par four eighth hole, I missed the fairway and in the end did reasonably well to drop only one shot. My first dropped shot of the tournament. Not many people play twenty-five holes in a row at the US Open without dropping a shot. Dropped shots are what the US Open is all about. More so than how many birdies and eagles you can make, to do well in the US Open the likelihood is that you’re going to have to make some “good” bogeys. Nobody in their right mind would expect to play seventy two holes in the US Open without ever doing worse than par. The key is to limit the damage, never doing worse than a bogey can be a critical factor if you want to be in with a chance of winning. One dropped shot itself doesn’t do too much damage to your chances. Any player in the field is capable of birdying any hole on the course, so a bogey should easily be treated with patience with the knowledge that one birdie will cancel that out. When you start making double and triple bogeys it becomes very difficult to cancel those out, as you need a sustained period of good scores. Another aspect to watch out for is getting on a “bogey train”, this often occurs if you get just a little too conservative and stop believing in yourself. Before you know it you can make three or four bogeys in a row, and you feel like you really haven’t done a lot wrong.
So my tee shot on the par three ninth was a critical one. I desperately wanted my bogey train to have a brief one stop journey. A six iron to the heart of the green and then a thirty foot putt to within tap in range, secured a par three and made it a lot easier for me to keep my patience and belief. A steady one over par for the first nine holes meant that I was still in an excellent position. Things got better on the par five tenth when a wedge shot put the ball within six feet of the hole. I putted well throughout this round, although the magic had gone from the previous day, I had a good judgement of pace and I wasn’t missing any short putts. Didn’t miss that putt, that birdie got me back to level par for the day. A slightly pulled iron shot on the twelfth left a very difficult chip shot and that in turn resulted in a bogey. Still by the time I was on the sixteenth tee I was only one over par for the day and five under for the tournament and was still in the lead. That was when the day took a severe turn for the worse. Sixteen is the toughest hole on the course, normally a par five, the USGA who run the US Open brought the tees forward ever so slightly and made it into a devilishly long par four. My worst drive of the day sent the ball into the rough to the right of the fairway. When I got there it was clearly the worst lie I’d had so far, the rough had grown to about eight inches and was thicker than treacle. Indeed without the help of the marshals on the course who saw it land, it may well have taken some finding. Even though I was only trying to hit a sand wedge down the fairway it was clear I was going to have to swing at maximum power to make sure the ball came out of that lie at all. My mind set with shots like that is to grip the club especially hard, have my usually steady wind up of power on the backswing then unleash all the hand speed I can on the way down whilst trying to produce a slightly steeper angle of attack for the club, so it gets to the ball after going through the least amount of grass possible. You’re never quite sure how the ball’s going to come out of a lie like that and it usually takes you a second or two to pick up the balls flight, if indeed it has much of a flight and doesn’t merely trickle a few feet through the grass. This time the ball came flying out as well as I could’ve hoped, coming to rest in the middle of the fairway about a hundred yards ahead of me. On this occasion the ball wasn’t my main concern. As the club made contact with the ball I felt a nasty jarring sensation in my right wrist, the same wrist that had been cracked by that swinging bar stool. A moment or so of numbness then at the completion of my follow through the pain hit me. Managed not to show any facial expression of pain apart from a slight wince and biting of the bottom lip. I’d always theorised that when playing sport, if you can help it at all, you should never let people know you’re hurt. Quite whether that particular psychological ploy was of much relevance to golf I’m not totally sure, but it appealed to the tough guy in me some where.
‘Wow that hurt,’ I whispered to Sunny as I handed her the club back.
‘Are you all right to carry on?’
I just gave her a look of quizzical disbelief.
‘I know stupid question. Promise me you will stop if it’s serious and if not then we’ll get it sorted as soon as we’ve finished.’
There only being three holes left was definitely a plus point as I could see myself crawling over the line and then sorting my wrist out. From then on in that round I played each shot very softly. Using that pace of swing I’d worked on to produce that shot I wanted that took the back spin off the ball. A nine iron shot got me to the front edge of the sixteenth green, where I could get my putter on the ball and managed to roll it within three feet and limit the damage on the scorecard to a bogey. By the time I got to the seventeenth tee the wrist was throbbing and the first signs of bruising were appearing. The yardage called for either a seven or six iron for me on a normal day, but due to my limitations I decided to hit a soft four iron. I didn’t commit to the shot at all and the strike was nothing like what I required and the ball came up some fifteen yards short. Even the subsequent delicate chip shot caused a shooting pain in the wrist and again the shot was under hit. The right hand came off the club after each of these shots. My playing companions for the day had noticed that something must be wrong with my right hand, but I was sure that most of the people in the crowd were just thinking that I was merely choking and that the situation and nerves had gotten to me. Actually there wasn’t much chance of me losing my composure, as all my mental energy was going into trying to block out the pain. Putting was the one aspect of my game that was virtually unaffected by the wrist injury. I managed to coax the forty footer up to within two or three inches of the hole, again limiting the damage to a bogey and hanging on to something of a score. Three over for the day and just one hole left to survive. Tried a variation to protect the wrist on the tee shot, this time swinging at near full power but taking the right hand off the club at the moment just before impact. I was glad for all those times over the years when for fun I had hit shots with only my left hand. Power wasn’t affected too much but lost a little control and the ball leaked to the right. Miss-direction meant rough and in this case rough would mean pain. Would’ve struggled to reach the green from that position even if fully fit. So playing the shot virtually one handed and only advancing it around fifty yards wasn’t in itself too much of a setback. Yet that still left me with a shot that taking into consideration the up slope to the green was a good two hundred yards. Took my four wood out and tried a soft, “dead handed” swing. Ball flew straight but hardly got up off the floor and ran up the hill and quickly pulled up about forty yards short of the green. By now I was closing my eyes briefly after every shot. Why do we do that when in pain? Do with think if we can’t see, we can’t feel? Believe it or not that thought went through my mind as I walked up the fairway. Surely now people would be suspecting something was wrong, certainly the TV announcers if not the public out on the course. That would bring further questions of just how bad it is and whether I might be exaggerating to give myself an excuse for sliding down the leader board. Such slights on my character would severely annoy me, although I couldn’t really take it personally as these people didn’t know me at all, and would only be surmising what somebody might do in my situation. I actually had no idea whether any of my trials and tribulations over the final three holes would have been covered on the television, but right then for the first time that day I felt as if the whole golfing world was looking down on me.
‘Okay let’s get this on the green, knock it in and then get out of here,’ Sunny knew I was in pain but just wanted to make sure I was up for one last effort. ‘Forty nine yards to the flag.’
I’ve rarely swung a club softer and the shot it produced wasn’t too bad, finishing about ten feet to the right of the hole. As I surveyed the line of the putt with Sunny the pain was actually beginning to give me a headache.
‘Right lip, dead weight,’ Sunny assured me and I wasn’t close to arguing.
Somehow I managed to will the ball into the hole and another damage limitation exercise had been successfully completed. Bogeying the last three holes for a four over par seventy four was obviously not good. Could’ve been a lot worse over those last three and those three bogeys had actually kept me in the tournament, easily could’ve shot myself out of contention in the space of three holes. At the finish of my round I was tied for the lead with an overall total of two under par.
‘I’m guessing you don’t want to shake hands,’ one of my playing companions said to me after we’d all finished on the eighteenth.
‘Good guess, nothing personal guys.’
‘Don’t worry about it, just make sure you do all you can to be able to play tomorrow.’
‘Yeah good luck for the weekend man.’
‘Thanks guys, I hope you make the cut. My little episode my have helped both of you there.’
The top seventy professionals and anybody tying for seventieth place make the cut to play for the weekend, amateurs can make the cut but they are not counted amongst the seventy, as they are not playing for the prize money. In the US Open there is a ten shot rule which states that anybody within ten shots of the leader after the two days will make the cut, whether they are in the top seventy or not. Both the guys playing with me had finished the two days eight over par and so were within ten of the lead when we finished our rounds and so had a chance of making the cut.
Once I’d finished signing my card, definitely good for me to be left handed, I knew the press would want to speak to me and that not doing so would been seen as not good conduct. Yet I also knew that I needed to get to a hospital quick and get my wrist looked at. I managed to find a press relations officer lady walking around outside the press tent. After explaining the situation and her peering at my swollen and bruised wrist she was most understanding to the point of demanding that I go straight to hospital. She told me not to worry about the journalists, I got the impression that she held them in a similarly low regard as I do.
Sunny drove me to the hospital and whilst I could keep my wrist still it was painful but just about bearable. I got to see a doctor without too much delay. He did the usual checks of “does this hurt” after making me do different movements, then did an x-ray and began to turn into another one of those Doctors that purely treats the symptoms and not the person. I’d told him I’d done the damage playing golf and that it was an old injury. He clearly didn’t know who I was and as he looked at the x-ray and spoke in an most uninterested way: ‘You won’t be playing any more golf for a while.’
‘Listen Doctor I just want you to provide me with the medical facts, I’m telling you that I’ll be the one who makes any decisions. I’m playing in the US Open, not hacking round some municipal track with my mates.’
‘I see, I’ll tell you the facts as I see them. One bone in there has cracked, whilst only slightly hindering your flexibility, the pain will still be extreme each time you hit a shot. You could strap it up and take a pain killing injection, which will take away most of the pain, even if you do that you will still be causing more damage to the bone by playing. You can’t take cortisone injections forever and if you play over the weekend you’ll have to rest for six months give or take. Whereas if you stop now you’ll be back in action in a couple of weeks, four at the most.’
‘Those are the facts?’
‘As I see them, you can ask for a second opinion but I promise you it’s a clear cut case and every Doctor will tell you the same thing.’
I lay back on the bed that I’d been sitting on throughout my discussions with the Doctor. A huge sigh of despondency. I’d just made my first cut as a professional, was tied for the lead in the US Open after two days and I’d been punished as if I’d done something unspeakably evil. How many times can I pick myself up and dust myself down? Is somebody trying to tell me that I’m not supposed to be a golfer?
‘Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody’s prepared to die to get there,’ I spoke whilst still lying on my back in a soft tone.
‘What does he mean?’
‘He means, get your needles ready and strap him up because we’re going to play some golf.’
‘Isn’t a miracle just another possibility?’
One good thing about being injured for the most important two rounds of my life was that it gave me something to occupy my mind. All the time I was worrying about whether my wrist would hold up, I wasn’t having any of the negative thoughts that I could have easily been having in such a big situation. For the rest of the second day only one player beat my overall score, finishing on three under and he would be my playing companion for the third day in the last group. Now I had no choice but to realise I was very much in the midst of the US Open. No longer could I sneak unnoticed into the lead as I had done on Thursday, the TV cameras would be following my every move. How many of my shots they actually aired to the public audience would depend largely on my performance that day. If I started badly and drifted down the leader board then they’d probably forget about me and show the shots of the more established stars. Other than us two in the last group there were only two players under par, both at one under. Four players had completed the first two rounds in level par. Saturday is known as moving day in professional tournaments. This name comes from the fact that the players a few shots off the lead have one more chance to move up the leader board and put themselves into genuine contention to win on Sunday. Poised for such a move was the number one player in the world, American Nick Benz and his nearest rival, my fellow Englishman Lee Walters, who both started the day just two over par. Lots of eyes would be on those two players with most golf fans expecting at least one of them to make a positive move.
The previous night the Doctor had strapped up my right wrist, the strapping was tight and came around the front of my thumb a little but would not interfere with my swing in anyway. A fitness and physiotherapy truck is always present at any top professional event, the hospital had told the tour Doctors to administer the pain killing cortisone injection to me before I went out. They told me that depending on the level of pain, the injection may wear off before the end of the round, so they gave me some spray to use myself if I felt the injection was wearing off. Not as strong as the injection but the spray should freeze and numb the wrist to hide the pain for a while without limiting the movement.
As I went through my usual preparations for the round I felt as if this was going to be the round that would establish myself as a genuine top class performer, and by overcoming the wrist injury, would be the first of two rounds that would create my own little legend. The pain didn’t completely go away, but it was bearable after the injection.
My playing companion was an American tour veteran, he’d be the first to admit that he was more of a journeyman than a great player, but he’d been around for a while and won plenty of prize money. Whilst he clearly knew how to handle a golf club, not too many golf fans were, at this stage at least, expecting him to win. Probably a lot more than were expecting me to win, but not many. Indeed most people were expecting us both to crumble a little in the intensity of a Saturday of a US Open and see a few more well known players pass us by. The two of us shook hands on the first tee and wished each other well on a day that meant virtually everything to both of us.
‘I don’t talk much out on the course Jack, so don’t take it personal if I don’t speak to you much today.’
‘Hey don’t worry about it at all, just do whatever you want to do. I’ve got my caddy to talk to.’
This was it; a pivotal crossroads in my golfing life. If I was going to push on to greatness and not shy away from it with low expectations, I had to play well today and keep myself in contention to win. Equally if I didn’t truly have the belief that I belonged at the very top echelon of the game then I could just as easily shoot a poor score and slide out of contention for the title but still be able to pick up a lucrative cheque tomorrow. Definitely would find out a lot about myself over the course of this round. Fully focussed and intent on doing well and pursuing that victory, the nerves and apprehension of yesterday had been replaced by a steely resolve to do well. I’d made the cut and now the serious prizes had to be decided.
Tingling with anticipation I hit my first tee shot and found the centre of the fairway. Now for me, more than any other player in the field, the need to hit fairways was absolutely paramount. Not only could missing fairways result in a dropped shot, but could also do even more damage to my wrist. I knew that swinging carefully and trying to put extra emphasis on control and steer the ball down the fairway was a recipe for disaster. No choice but to trust my swing and swing freely at the ball. Leader boards are all around the course at any big professional event, so players can, if they wish, keep up to date with their position in the field and how other players are doing. I’d decided to not take too much notice of them on Saturday, there would be plenty of time tomorrow for me to be looking and assessing my position. The wrist was creaking little on every swing but I managed to convince myself to commit to every shot no matter how it might hurt. Again in a way it was actually helping me, committing to the shot is one of my main key thoughts when I play well and the nagging pain in my wrist was helping to keep that thought uppermost in my mind.
Much like the previous day I got off to a steady start and eased my way into the round. The occasion seemed to be getting the better of my playing companion who bogeyed four of the first seven holes whilst I was making seven pars. I knew from the fact that I was now beating him there was a good chance that I would be in the lead, but I managed not to see a leader board, so I didn’t know. Treating this round as an individual round where my goal was to score as well as I could that day, I’d decided that scores other players might be shooting didn’t need to affect my strategy with there being a full round left tomorrow. Once again the tough eighth hole produced a dropped shot for me. A par on the ninth meant I had made the turn in one over par and was one under for the tournament. Not exactly stamping my authority on the proceedings, but still keeping myself in contention.
Whilst a player can choose to ignore leader boards (even that can be very difficult at times) another, more ambiguous, score indicator that is far more difficult to ignore, is the cheers from the crowds. Golf crowds are peculiar from most other sports in that they cheer for every player. Any player holing a putt or hitting a good shot will be applauded and cheered. However some get louder cheers than others. Essentially I’ve identified three categories of cheers. First there’s the polite cheer for players like me; this category goes right up to well-established tour players ranked comfortably inside the top fifty in the world. Then there’s players who generate louder cheers, these are the superstars of the modern game, the people even the average golf fan are familiar with and are often called by their first name. Also in the second group are the veterans, the great and nearly great players of days gone by who are still capable of competing at the highest level, but to an extent are living of former glories, and the fans still remember them from their hey day. Then there is the third category that only has one player in it and is louder still, that’s the Nick Benz roar. On this day Nick was playing with Lee Walters. Not only were they ranked numbers one and two in the world in terms of their performances but they were probably the two most popular players in America. Throughout that day they had by far the biggest crowd of people following them and during the course of the day between them they were getting the crowd to make some noise. Playing about forty-five minutes ahead of us, their crowd was never out of earshot and I could always just about detect the difference between a Nick roar and a Lee roar. The other thing about golf fans is that they only ever respond to poor play with respectful silence, save the odd slight gasp. So the roars can at times be misleading. A top player could make seven birdies and generate many big cheers, but if he also throws in two double bogeys and a triple bogey he’s round in level par just the same as the guys who has ground out eighteen pars. However anyone playing near the birdie machine would be thinking he must be at least five or six under par. Despite the possible misleading nature of the cheers, I got the feeling from the atmosphere of the place that at least one of those players was making their anticipated move. As I started the back nine I was feeling even more in the thick of it than I had at the first.
The tenth was a hole I always felt comfortable on. A long par five which was all but completely out of reach for me in two shots, but I felt confident of hitting the fairway with my first two shots then firing a wedge shot close to the flag. In that third round that was just the way it happened and when the eight footer for birdie dropped in, I was back to level par for the day and two under for the tournament. Even though I found a greenside bunker on the fourteenth and that resulted in a bogey I was still under par overall, and would be right up with the leaders. During the walk from the fourteenth tee to the fifteenth green all of a sudden I noticed the pain killer wearing off and my wrist was severely aching, if anything a little worse than it had been before the pain killing injection immediately prior to the round. It felt like the masking nature of the injection had meant I’d been making movements with the wrist that otherwise would have been causing severe pain. When I got to the tee I reached into to the bag and went straight for that spray. I just sprayed and sprayed until I notice the white cloud around my wrist was getting a little excessive.
‘How you doing?’ Sunny asked as I handed her the spray.
‘It’s more of an ache than a pain at the moment, we’ll have to see how it goes when I hit one. But I think I should be able to get to the house without too much trouble.’
Made a special effort to make myself commit to the five iron tee shot to the par three fifteenth. Hit a good shot to the heart of the green but my wrist didn’t enjoy it at all. Kept the reaction to a minimum but Sunny noticed it was obviously the most pain I’d felt all day.
‘Just hang in there the best you can, there’s a long way to go. Make sure you’ve got a chance tomorrow.’
A steady two putt took me to the sixteenth tee still at one over for the round. Just when I couldn’t afford to miss a fairway; I did, couldn’t help let my head go down as I saw the ball sink into the rough to the right of the fairway. Resultant lie wasn’t all that bad in normal circumstances but my wrist was hurting just looking at that thick grass. Decided to play it with the right hand coming off just before impact, with the aim being to get the ball safely back in the fairway. Instead the grass grabbed hold of the club head and rolled it in my hand and the ball came flying out to the left, across the fairway and into the rough on the opposite side. One of the louder episodes of gasps and murmurings you’ll hear on a golf course accompanied that shot. Seeing somebody who’s around the lead in the US Open towards the end of the third round, hit the ball further left than he did forward must have been quite a shock to many of the spectators. It’s amazing in golf when you’ve made a porridge of a certain shot, just how many times you are faced with a virtually identical shot soon after. In this case it was the next shot. This time in an effort to stop the ball going left again I made the same sort of swing only gripped much tighter with the left hand. Thankfully the ball popped out straight at the line I wanted it to, came out pretty high and didn’t go very far but it was in the fairway. After all that I still had 170 yards left uphill. A regulation five iron shot was called for. Alas my wrist was not in regulation condition and no matter how much I tried to convince myself to commit fully to the shot my right hand bailed out a little on the moment of impact and the ball came up short and right of the green into a large bunker. One handed bunker shots are far from my speciality. As I walked up towards the bunker I could feel my round slipping away. One thing in any sport that is immensely difficult to combat is a losing lead. When a football team is three nil up and gets pulled back to three two it’s near impossible for them to remain in that positive frame of mind they must have been in at three nil. A golfer can get that feeling in any round, when they have a good score going and all of a sudden things start going wrong, it can be difficult to stop the slide. I decided to grit my teeth and play the bunker shot as normal. The pain turned out to be manageable but my control over the distance the ball flew was definitely impaired and it came up twenty feet short of the hole. It would have been one of the best double bogeys of my life had I managed to hole that putt, but it slipped agonisingly by and a horrible seven was the result of all that hacking around.
Marching briskly to the next tee, it was a close contest between the pain in my wrist and the steam coming out of my ears, as to which one was uppermost in my mind. Sunny literally grabbed hold of me, tugging gently on my tee-shirt from behind, after she had managed to catch up with me just before I got to the tee. First she just motioned for me to stop walking and calm down then she began to speak.
‘It really is all right. Trust me every player will have at least one really bad hole this week. The guys who finish at the top of the leader board will probably be the ones who have no more than one. It’s not the bad hole that’s important, but how you react to it. You’ve dreamed about winning majors forever, well this is what it’s all about. Winning majors isn’t going to be always about playing great when everything feels easy and fun. There are going to be times when you are really tested. It is these times when you find out if you want it badly enough. Let me tell you that these two holes coming up is definitely one of those times. How much do you really want it?’
Decided that soft swings were the best way to get me to the clubhouse. A smooth, soft five iron from the par three seventeenth was struck straight at the target and was relatively pain free. However it came off the club face a little harder than I desired and ran off the back of the green, just hanging on before going right down a slope. An awkward chip shot with a few slopes to negotiate. Happy with how positively I played the shot, striking it with a good deal of assertiveness. Yet it still went about seven feet past the hole, leaving a tricky putt.
‘Hit it at the left lip at a good pace and it can’t miss,’ Sunny assured me, in a manner that every player should love to hear from their caddy.
It proved to not be merely a confidence boosting mind game, as I did exactly as she said and the ball rolled into the middle of the hole, as if that was its destiny. One down one to go.
Swinging soft with the driver doesn’t come as easy to me as with an iron club. Off the eighteenth tee I got a little bit too careful with the swing and that result in me pulling the ball slightly to the left and into the relatively light rough. After assessing the lie of the ball and the distance to the green Sunny and I agreed that it was not worth me attempting to get the ball to the green from there, especially with the added factor of my wrist.
‘Don’t really want to leave your full sand wedge distance, that could spin too much on that green. I suggest you get it to about a hundred yards away and that will allow you to play a softer shot with less spin.’
‘Like you were reading my mind.’
‘How do you know I wasn’t?’
‘Entering into a philosophical discussion on the eighteenth hole of a US Open, how relaxed are we?!’
To get it to that hundred yard distance, we decided on a smooth nine iron shot. That did the job just fine, putting the ball in the middle of the fairway and ninety one yards away from the hole. Bad wrist or not I would play that next shot softly anyway. The uphill nature of the shot meant it was playing like a shot of just over a hundred yards. I sent the ball high up into the air and as it came down it was homing in on the flag. Being uphill meant I couldn’t see the ball land or finish, but I knew it was accurate and would be landing softly so it couldn’t be that far away. The slight gasp then warm applause from the crowd did nothing to put me off from my belief that the shot was close. As it happened it had landed just inches from the hole and gone on just five feet by. I was left with a slippery, quick putt with a couple of inches break from left to right. This would be one of the best pars of my life, if I could somehow find the bottom of the hole with this putt. Smooth, delicate stroke and head still, felt good, waited for the noise. Crowd cheered and I heard Sunny and my playing companion for the day say, ‘Good putt, great four Jack,’ almost simultaneously, as if they’d rehearsed it.
It all added up to a second consecutive round of seventy-four, leaving me on two over par for the tournament and Thursdays sixty-four seemed a long way away. My playing companion for the day struggled to a seventy eight, leaving him at five over par and that was seven behind the leaders. Much to the delight of most golf fans the two leaders were Nick Benz and Lee Walters. Both had gone round in sixty six to get themselves to two under par for the tournament. One player on one over par was the only one between me and the two leaders. Sunny’s well worded and timed speech had helped me to focus fully on doing the best I could for the last two holes, but now that the round was over the emotions came to the fore and I was not at all happy with the fact that I had been four over par that day and lost eight shots to two players. The fact that three of those shots came on one hole, late in the round, made me even more uptight. After the compulsory trip to the scorer’s tent I headed to the locker room, I wanted some private time before facing the press.
In the locker room on my own gave me the chance to vent my feelings in a way that I didn’t have to be worried about being judged on. That turned out to involve hurling one of my golf shoes the full length of the locker room, then throwing the other one so that it smashed into almost exactly the same spot on the wall. Picked one of my regular shoes up in my left hand and proceeded to batter the bench with it until there was a crack in the wood. Slumped on the bench, head in hands for a while then leaned right back against the row of lockers and stared blankly ahead. Self-pitying questions were running through my head. Why when I keep my game going well in a massive tournament do I have an injury problem? First tour school now the US Open. Why did a bad hole come in just when I didn’t want it most? When will things ever start going right for me? Thankfully I didn’t need anybody to straighten me out this time. I managed to catch myself before I got too far down the road of; “my butler’s on holiday, my Ferrari won’t start and my pony isn’t well.” I was playing in the US Open and in fourth place with one round to go, it wasn’t too hard to find some positives.
I was the last player to go into the press room that evening. To me at least, it seemed like all the press people were still there this time. It certainly was a crowded room. First question set the tone for the whole session.
‘Were you aware of Nick and Lee’s play whilst you were out there?’
A little taken aback that the first question wasn’t even about me, but I hid it pretty well and switched into standard reply mode.
‘I wasn’t looking at leader boards today, but I heard plenty of roars and I figured they were probably from that group. Plus there definitely seemed to be an atmosphere around the place, as if something special was happening.’
‘Was it a privilege to be playing in the last group of the US Open on the day Benz and Walters went round in 66?’
‘It’s a privilege to be playing in the US Open, full stop.’
‘Can you imagine shooting sixty six around here?’
‘My visions of a sixty six are, I have to admit a little blurry. Visions of sixty four are clear because I just have to remember Thursday.’
‘Different game on Saturday though ain’t it?’
‘No, I’m pretty sure the holes are still the same size.’
‘Who do you think will win tomorrow out of Nick and Lee?’
‘I’m more concerned about my round,’ really making an effort to do some serious tongue biting.
‘But if you had to pick one of those two, which one do you think will come out on top?’
‘Really don’t care,’ façade of being polite and respecting sports journalist was being well and truly dropped. ‘Now who’s going to be brave enough to ask one more question about Nick and Lee?’ It was the journalists turn to be taken aback, they’d become so used to robotic answers. My wrist was aching, I’d just shot a seventy four in the third round of the US Open when in contention to win and could no longer make the effort to give them the answers they wanted to hear.
‘I’m going into the last day of the US Open only four shots off the lead and just three players in front of me. Not one of you has managed to come up with a question about me yet. Don’t you think that it’s actually quite a story and one worth writing about, a guy who has so far only made a living on mini tours is actually being in this situation? I know you so called golf experts haven’t heard of me and are just waiting for me to blow up and let the proper players go on to decide the tournament. Had any of you done any sort of research, have you heard of that word; research? I think it’s the basis of good journalism and report writing, although now you all seem to be happy to be merely gossip columnists so you never really feel obliged to check your facts. Had you done any research you might have found out that I was in a comfortable third place in the qualifying school tournament until I had to pull out injured. Without that injury, the way I was playing I would almost certainly have gone on to earn one of the highest tour cards and be exempt for virtually every tour event. If I could have taken that form out on tour with me, then I’d be looking at a possible rookie of the year accolade and people like you would have been tipping me as a lively outsider before the US Open started. At this stage you’d have been interested in how the young pretender can cope in the major league and your article would write itself. I know all of us have watched enough sport to know that upsets happen. Over the last few years I’ve read a lot of articles and heard a lot of people talk about Nick Benz and Lee Walters, saying how they are the best two players in the world right now and that they are two of the best of all time. I have to admit I agree with all of that,’ paused for a moment or two to make absolutely sure I had all their attention. ‘But they won’t be the best golfers in the world tomorrow,’ picked up my water bottle and got up out of my chair. ‘Thanks for you time ladies and gentlemen, oh and if any of you have any more questions about Nick and Lee you can log onto my website, www.dontgivashit.com.’
Usual loud murmurings at the end of a press conference and I think one or two of them called out my name but I walked straight through the door where Sunny was waiting with a delightful smile on her face.
I really wanted another pain killing injection but I knew I wasn’t suppose to have too many, so I had to leave it until just before the next day’s round. Applied a bit more spray then Sunny and I went to a diner we’d eaten at a few times over the last week or so. When I switched my phone on I had a message from both Wendell and Anya. Wendell was still in the area despite missing the cut, and just wanted to wish me luck for tomorrows round. I phoned him and told him where we’d be and invited him to join us, like any true Aussie he didn’t turn down the chance of food, beer and time with friends. Anya’s message was more surprising. Apparently Darla and her had flown out from California and were also in the area. She left a rambling message, involving congratulations, good luck, telling me which hotel they were at and offering to meet up whilst making it clear she wouldn’t mind if I thought seeing them might disrupt my preparations for the final day. I phoned her and told her that seeing them two couldn’t possibly ruin my preparations. Both of them liked the sound of a diner and so the five of us met up for a social meal, which was perfect for a relaxation session before the most important round of golf of my life. It was awesome to spend the evening with four people I get on with fantastically, too much time alone with my thoughts that night would have only been destructive to my chances of playing well the following day. All four of them were almost as nervous as I was, but with the five of us together we were able to keep each other relaxed and enjoy the sort of conversations we normally had. The ladies as usual at some point had to excuse Wendell and me for talking about Rugby League and Cricket. Anya and I had to take some banter about being English, as was virtually always the case, as ever we more than held our own in terms of responding with jovial stereotypes of countries and cultures. Darla was always on the safest ground there as none of us, even with our sharpened satirical skills and quicker than average wit, could come up with too many put downs for people from Belgium. After we’d all finished our big diner meals we went to the Hotel where Darla and Anya were staying and continued our discussions, first in the bar, then in Darla’s room well into the early hours of the morning. Darla told me there were rooms available in the hotel and suggested I should stay the night in the luxurious hotel as opposed to my tried and trusted motor home. The sports person in her totally understood when I replied in the negative. Most professional sports people like a routine, even if some of them don’t realise it.
All four of them knew just how much that next day would mean to me. Wendell had very similar dreams to me and could easily put himself in my position. Darla and I had often discussed our great ambitions and whilst her dream had been so cruelly shattered, she at least knew the extent of the emotions attached to such ambitions. Anya had for as long as I’d known her, dreamed of doing something great herself, but unfortunately for her she hadn’t found a particular way to strive for greatness. She didn’t realise that the job she was doing, helping all those kids have fun and develop socially, was a great thing. Sunny had been around me more than enough to know the extent of my golfing ambitions, and that I wasn’t playing the game just to make a bit of money.
There’s never any accounting for what might pop into my mind, and the night before the final round of the US Open was no different. I started to think about how quiet golf crowds were in relation to other sports. A small cough or a beep of a mobile phone can bring much scorn from other spectators and often a severely angry look from the player. Whereas in sports like Football and Rugby League, mass abuse hurled from the terraces is just a matter of course. Fans are free to chant whatever they want, whenever they want. The more important the moment and the more concentration needed, the more likely it is for the chants to ring out. Players have a wide variety of abuse hurled at them, from having the whereabouts and activities of their wife brought into question, to scornful comments about their physique to plain old ridiculing of their talent. Of course the general silence means that any one noise can be more off putting than a continued and expected mass noise. I just think it’s interesting how different sports evolve.
Something else that has often made me wonder is why people take offence from neutral comments. For example saying somebody is small or black or French or blonde is not a criticism, but merely a comment based on fact. People must have heard these words in the past in a derogatory manner and something in their mind is alerted to those words every time they hear them, and will seemingly forever associate them with criticism.
Of course I had plenty of other thoughts that night, all about the US Open in one shape or form, but eventually I did get to sleep. Last thought I remember having was wondering whether the next time I went to sleep it would be as the US Open Champion.
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