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  • Writer's pictureIan Hyde-Lay

Career Change

I am 11 years old. Golf becomes a new passion. Initially, just to practice, I have to improvise. I wear out my trusty 7 iron, launching thousands of pine cones from atop a grassy ledge in the nearby forest.

Graduation comes in the form of a junior membership at the local club. For the next five summers, I arrive early in the mornings, often staying until dusk. Spend hours on the range, even longer chipping and putting. Then play 18, 27 or even 36 holes.

I develop an addiction. To feeling the “click” of a perfect swing and trying to repeat it. To watching the ball in flight, arcing gracefully towards the green, landing softly, then magically braking to a halt near the hole. To tracking a long putt as it hugs an invisible line, halfway there and knowing, just knowing it is going in.

Before long I am playing in actual competitions. I gain experience, then, growing in confidence, start to contend. My first opportunity to win involves a three-way playoff at a U15 tournament.

I join Joey and Rob. A reasonable crowd, fellow players, parents and other hangers on, surrounds the tee. The first extra hole is a medium range par 5, a definite scoring chance. A churning stomach and sweaty palms see my tee shot flare weakly to the right, coming to rest behind a tree. I punch out towards the green, then gouge a wedge to the front fringe. From there, I register a very unconvincing par. Yet, I escape, as my opponents' ten-foot birdie putts both lip out.

On to the second. This is a big boy par 4. 455 yards from the tips. Towering trees frame a narrow chute, while, in the landing area, a stream runs diagonally across the fairway. On the right, the terrain then drops away dramatically, at least a hundred feet to the valley below. The green is but a speck on the horizon.

Joey, a big hitter, absolutely smashes his drive. In perfect position, miles up the left side. Rob and I are some ways back, with no way to reach in two. We lay up, then watch Joey hit a glorious approach. It skids to a stop no more than fifteen feet from the pin.

My pitch looks good in the air but carries too far. Rob’s does the same. Two putts later, bogey 5s for both of us. We wait for Joey to complete the formalities. To lag his ball to the hole, tap in, then accept the trophy.

Yet, in sport, nothing is ever a guarantee. Joey, bold as always, aims to finish with a flourish. But looks on in dismay as his putt skirts the hole before sliding well past.

Four feet for victory. Joey again strikes the ball firmly, watches in horror as it spins out of the cup. Three feet now remain, implausibly for bogey, just to stay alive.

The three-footer never has a chance. Weak and wide. Four putts result in a 6 and elimination.

Joey is stunned. He staggers away, lets out a blood curdling wail. Then, in disgust, hurls his putter. Perhaps not ideal sportsmanship, though I can appreciate his honesty. I watch transfixed as the blade wop-wop-wops high in the sky, like an attack helicopter, before dipping over the edge and plummeting out of sight.

Back to business. The third hole has little to recommend it, other than a deep bunker which guards the left-hand corner of the green. The hazard seems to act as a magnet for Rob’s ball. He is stymied under the lip. I play percentages, find the back third of the putting surface and capture the title with a par.

The victory spurs me on. I practice even harder, fare quite well the next two seasons. Win again, then a third time. Thoughts of university scholarships, of one day even playing for a living, dance in my head.

Then, a very rude awakening. At a Pacific Northwest Invitational event, I see what actual top flight golf looks like. As demonstrated by a "no name" teen from Seattle, sporting floppy hair and baggy trousers. Playing in tennis shoes. He has an impossibly long, languid swing, but still hammers the ball prodigious distances. Lasers every iron shot. Seems to hole every putt.

By way of comparison, I am forced to admit my game is nothing but an extremely pale imitation. “No name” already performs at a level I cannot even dream of reaching. It is such a dose of reality, clearly time I consider a career change!

As a postscript, “no name” goes on to win 64 professional tournaments, including The Masters and two Players Championship. He plays in Ryder Cups, Presidents Cups, enters the World Golf Hall of Fame. Now in his sixties, he is still going strong.

At least I do learn his name. It is Fred Couples.

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