A wonderful day of golf!
(Originally written on November 25, 2020.)
I had a great day today. But before I explain why it was so great, a little background:
Although I was always athletic (I played wide receiver and center field in high school, and a lot of tennis and bowling in college), I took up golf rather late in life. After a quarter-century of a desk job, I'd gotten out of shape and put on some weight. My amazing wife gave me four golf lessons as an early 50th birthday present, and I took the lessons three weeks before my 50th birthday. Four lessons were just enough to get me started. I didn't have the money for more lessons at the time, so I taught myself (using golf magazines, online videos, and the various tutorial shows on the Golf Channel) most of the skills required to play well.
Like most golfers, I started out with a terrible slice. But after a year or so, I cured the slice and taught myself how to draw the ball instead. After two years I was routinely scoring in the upper 70s and low 80s. But time (and, in my case, Parkinson's Disease) takes its toll. I was still scoring in the mid to upper 80s, with forays into the low 80s and an occasional round in the 70s by the time I reached age 56, but little did I know things were about to change dramatically.
Somewhere around Christmas of 2011 I suddenly went from falling asleep quickly and sleeping soundly to having chronic insomnia and sleeping fitfully. At the time I had no idea it was an early symptom of Parkinson's. I tried melatonin and the other usual sleep aids, but nothing over-the-counter helped. Eventually, I went to see my doctor. After trying a few other medications we eventually settled on Trazodone, which was originally designed as an anti-depression drug, but it didn't work very well for that. It did, however, have the side effect of making people really sleepy. It turned out to be a great non-narcotic, not habit-forming sleep aid. I've been using it nightly ever since with no issues.
But then, a year later, literally from one day to the next, I found my golf shots coming up 30-50 yards shorter than usual. At first I attributed the loss of distance to the cold weather (right after Christmas, and into early January). But when the weather warmed up (we always have a week or two in the 60s and 70s in the middle of winter here in North Caroline) my distance failed to return to normal.
At that point, i assumed that I must have picked up some bad habit that was causing a change to my swing that was robbing my shots of power. I spent months working on my swing and managed to regain most of the lost distance, but not all. What I didn't know was that I was experiencing another early effect of Parkinson's--loss of muscular strength. The signature symptom of Parkinson's (the tremor) didn't appear for another year or so.
I noticed an occasional twitch in my left leg around April of 2014, but assumed it was merely the result of tired, overworked muscles. It lasted only a few minutes each time, and stopped after several days. A month or so later, the returned (still intermittent) and lasted longer each time than before. Eventually, I became concerned enough to go online and look up Parkinson's and other conditions that can cause tremor (various palsies, heavy-metal poisoning, etc.). I was pretty sure it was Parkinson's by the time I finally went to see to my doctor. She didn't want to commit to a diagnosis without having a specialist check me out.
In July of 2014, I got the official diagnosis. I had ben anticipating the diagnosis for weeks, so at that point it was anticlimactic. As bad as the news was, at least now I knew what I was dealing with.
Don't worry, I won't bore you (any more than I already have) with a long sob story about living with Parkinson's. I was diagnosed early and have been on medications since September 2014 that (most of the time) control the tremor, and one that supposedly slows or halts the progression of the disease. It must be working, because after 6 1/2 years, the tremor is still confined to my lower left leg.
But this is a golf story, so with that backstory for context, let's return to golf:
Although my golf game was on the decline due to age and Parkinson's, I mostly still scored in the mid-80s, with the occasional round in the 70s. And on May 1, 2013, the day I joined the Kerr Lake Country Club in Henderson, NC, I made my first-ever hole-in-one, on the very first par 3 I played as a member. (I had been playing there regularly as a guest for the previous 5 years, however, so I knew the course well.) I joked to friends that had I known I would score an ace the day I joined, I would have joined years earlier!
That day had been dreary, overcast with occasional drizzle, damp grass, soft greens, and mushy fairways. As a result of the crummy weather, I was playing alone. Because the ground was so sodden that day, I knew I wouldn't be able to bounce the ball onto the green; it had to land on the green or it wouldn't get there. So I used a longer club than I usually would to make sure I could reach the green. I hit the ball just where I aimed it: at the front edge of the green, about 12 feet short and to the right of the pin. It landed softly, and took a hop in the direction of the hole. Then a second hop, and I thought, "Great shot. It should end up within three feet of the hole." Another hop and I thought, "Wow, I could get within a foot or so."
And then the ball disappeared!
Was it in the hole? It seemed probable, but I couldn't be absolutely sure it wasn't just behind the hole and perhaps the white pin and the gloom were hiding it from my view. (After all, I was 157 yards away at the time.) I looked around to see if anyone had witnessed my great shot, ace or not, and could tell me if it was in the hole. Alas, the only other person on the front 9 at the time was on the green of the next hole, invisible behind a stand of trees.
So I began the three minute trudge to the green looking for any trace of my ball as I walked. By the time I pushed my (manual) cart all the way around the pond separating me from the green and got close enough to determine that the ball was nowhere on the green and therefore must be in the hole, all of what should have been intense excitement over making my first ace had evaporated. My first-ever ace, and it was an anticlimax. Very frustrating.
And that brings me--at long last--to why today was such a great day.
I was playing with two of my regular golfing buddies. It was a beautiful, sunny day, in the upper 50s. I had just made par on the previous hole and felt good when I walked up to the tee on #3, the very hole where I had made ace 7 1/2 years ago. This time the pin was on the far right middle, rather than front-left. and I was hitting from the gold senior tees, rather than the whie general men's tees. I hit the shot right at the pin and--you guessed it--I made another hole-in-one on the same hole--but this time with witnesses. Priceless. I finally felt the excitement I had missed out on the first time.
And--even better--I played extremely well for the whole round, shooting an 83. To put that in context, after playing terribly for the past 2-3 years (with scores in the 90s and even a few 100+ rounds), I have finally started playing better the past three weeks, due to a few minor changes I 've made in my swing that seem to be helping.
If not for a lost ball on the front nine (which should have been right beside the green but we never found) I would have shot a 39, which would have been my first sub-40 front-9 since the Spring. And by the time I got to the 17th hole, I had a chance to break 80 for the first time in two years.--if I could par the last two holes. Unfortunately, because I had left a couple of par putts short on the previous two holes, I overcompensated and hit the putt on 17 much too hard and ended up three-putting for double-bogey. Then I three-putted again on 18 when I left a long uphill putt much too short and then missed the follow-up putt--my only two three-putts of the round.
So, I had my second-ever ace (and 7th eagle) today, in front of witnesses/friends, and my best 18-hole round in a year or two. As I said, a great day of golf!
If you liked this story, leave a comment and let me know. Maybe I'll write more about golf later--or Parkinson's--or both.
Remember, GOLF spelled backwards is FLOG, and that's what most of us golfers do!