When I started playing golf, it was a case of the earlier the better. If I could get started at 6am I’d have been the first to sign up because it meant I had the rest of the day free. The earlier you start a round of golf, the quicker you play but if your biggest concern is how quickly you get off the golf course then you’re unlikely to be troubling the prizes at the end of the round.
It’s not that you have to play slowly to do well but it takes time to get going in the morning and rolling out of bed to tee up a drive is hardly conducive to good driving.
The same would be true of a million other pursuits. In a previous life I spent six months working with a law firm in Dublin which meant a 7am wake-up call to get a train from Maynooth to Grand Canal Dock. For a college student, this was a major shock to the system. Some mornings I missed my stop because I was still asleep on the train. The Friday evening of my first week, I slept standing up in the carriage and only because there were so many people crowded around me, my fall was broken before I hit the deck.
At 10 each morning, my stomach would make weird noises as my body realised it hadn’t been fed since the previous evening. Three sausage rolls later I was ready to take on the world. You’d think I’d have known better than to take on a golf course at 7am.
But there I was last Saturday, out of the bed at 5.45am to pick up some sausage rolls and wipe the grit from my eyes as the ball rolled the dew off the greens. The night before I’d played quizmaster at a fundraiser in the GAA club and didn’t hit the hay until after 1am. The preparation of a true professional.
By the third hole, I was tired and emotional. I hit three horrendous chips and felt a tremendous desire to smash a club. I had been ’emotionally hijacked’ but was too tired to fight my way past the hijackers. There and then I should have walked off the golf course. Instead I zipped around as fast as I could, had 25 points and went home for a big breakfast and an even bigger kip. I felt like the biggest ejit on the planet.
Afterwards I met Tony O’Regan, Carton’s golf fitness coach and general font of wisdom.
“I don’t know about 7am golf,” he said to me, as he relayed my travails. “Beware of the golfer with low expectations,” he said, after listening to my tale of woe. He was spot on. You need to be able to play with a carefree attitude but I had gone out with a ‘don’t care’ mindset. I was a beaten docket before I hit my first drive.
Yesterday, I almost fell victim to the same kind of thinking. It was miserable on the first tee at O’Meara and by the end of the third hole, I was soaked through. After two bogeys, I’d made another sloppy bogey on three, scene of my emotional collapse on Saturday. This time I was all set to pack it in after 11. And I didn’t need to be stuck behind a fourball that moved like a glacier to make that decision.
On the fifth I hit a brilliant drive down the middle, stuck a sweet 9-iron out of a divot and over the flag, and left a long range putt for birdie a couple of feet beyond the hole. A sloppy putt cost me a par. I was livid.
“Three good shots and I end up with a bogey.”
“Have you a shot?” asked Alan, my playing partner.
“Well then, you’re grand.”
He’d had a bad day in work and he wasn’t going to entertain me moaning about a two-point bogey. In hindsight, it was just what I needed to hear. By that stage I had 9 points, which meant I was just one over my handicap. In bad conditions, that wasn’t bad scoring but if Alan hadn’t said what he did, I wouldn’t have been able to recognise that – I was too busy cursing myself for missing a par putt on five.
It wasn’t an instant cure. I topped my drive on six, hit two ropey 3-woods to leave me 100 yards short of the green and then I three-putted from 10 feet for a double bogey. On 7, I stuck my tee shot in the greenside bunker. On the short side.
If this was Saturday, I’d have been despairing for no good reason. Now, thanks to Alan’s no-nonsense approach, I was just ploughing away. I got it up and down from the bunker for a really satisfying par and cashed in one of my shots for another two-point bogey on eight. I hit the green in regulation on the ninth and two putts later I had my second par of the day and 16 points for the front. SSS on the O’Meara is 35 points and given the torrential downpour at the start of the round, I was in pretty healthy shape, even if I still had it in the back of my mind to pack it in when we reached the car park after 11.
“16 points isn’t bad,” I said, taking a more positive approach while inwardly telling myself that the next two holes would decide whether I played 18 or not.
Bunkered off the tee on 10, I left myself 30 yards short of the green but in heavy rough. A par would be a bonus but when I left my pitch pin high to the right of the hole, I was getting greedy for all three points. When I lipped out, I figured 11 would be my last hole.
It was only the beginning.
I split the fairway, got a bad bounce into a greenside bunker but got it up and down for another sweet par. The skies had cleared and so had the slow-moving fourball in front of us. We ploughed on.
110 yards out on 12, I did a little more ploughing from the fairway and around the green to make a one-point bogey. It was my last one-pointer of the round.
A birdie on 13 from 20 feet got me back into the round and with one good putt; I was raising my expectations and contemplating a good score.
14, 15 and 16, all over water and all magnificent will make or break your round. On the par three 14, we had the added pressure of having to play through the three-ball in front. It’s the toughest tee-shot in any round of golf, especially when the group ahead are waiting on the green. Not only do you have to worry about not making a balls of it off the tee, you don’t want to endanger anyone with a wild shot. Alan, kindly, took care of that, pulling his ball left into the hazard and roaring an extra loud FORE.
A solid six-iron left me putting up the hill for birdie and a narrow miss gave me a straightforward par. Another bunker off the tee made the par 5 15th treacherous. I gambled on a six-iron out of the bunker, taking a chance with the lip in front of me. It paid off but it still left over 160 yards of carry to the green. It was time to pull out a good one. With my 24 degree hybrid, my ball cut nicely in from the left and rolled up 12 feet short of the flag. Now I knew it was going to be my day and it didn’t matter that my putt lipped out. I had another three-pointer on the card. I added three more pars to finish and clocked up 39 points for the second time in two weeks on the O’Meara, which should be good enough to get me below 11 for the first time.
And all it took was a change of mindset.