I meet one of my playing partners for the round: a tall, bearded man, we’ll call Justin. Seemingly in his mid-thirties with a genial personality, I came to learn that Justin and I went to the same college, sixteen years apart. Justin mentions meeting a fellow graduate of our college on the range at PGA West back around Thanksgiving. That player is my current roommate and close friend. What a strange, small world. Justin sends his drive down the hill, settling in the middle of the fairway—a proper golf shot.
The next player up, who we’ll call Greg, came to be the subject of this story. Average in stature, with a slightly rounded beer gut that seems to inevitably appear once a fella hits 40, and is decked out in Under Armour golf apparel. Greg is noticeably nervous, feverishly mumbling to himself as he tees up his ball. With a strong grip, an equally strong forward press, and a swing that harkened to that of Charles Barkley when he was featured on the Haney Project, Greg is set.
Greg lifts up the driver high in the air and lashes at the ball. Thwack!
I look up, scanning the sky for the ball, in the usual window you’d expect a good player to launch it into. Except, it wasn’t there. Then a harrowing realization set it: the ball didn’t go more than 150 yards. As is often the case in social settings with professionals or high-level amateurs, everyone is too polite to say something. We just get in our carts and carry on. I drive down the fairway trying to pretend what I subconsciously know to be true: this will be a long round. I find mine and Justin’s balls about sixty-five yards from the green. Greg, however, is now hitting his third from 10 yards behind us, and his eventual fourth about 40 yards ahead.
Despite this turbulent beginning, I give Greg the benefit of the doubt.
“Maybe he’s nervous, or his back is stiff,” I think to myself. I would soon be proven wrong.
With all three of us on the green now, Greg is away, putting for bogey. He slams his 20-or-so-footer about eight feet past and marks with a tee. Justin plays next, lagging a similar putt to tap in range for an easy opening par. I line up my 12-footer for birdie and drain it right in the heart.
“Shit, maybe this will go my way today.” (Narrator: It did not.)
Last to putt out is Greg, hoping to salvage a double-bogey six. He places his ball, hunches down to a near crouched position, addresses the ball, mumbles to himself, and angles the putter face 45 degrees open to his target line. The putter sweeps back in a jolting, jabby motion akin to how players putted in the 1960s.
The ball didn’t hit the hole and settled a foot past. As most players do, Greg decries this opening catastrophe with a few expletives and saunters up clean up for seven. However, unlike most players trying to qualify for a PGA TOUR event, Greg did the unthinkable: A one-hand, backhand rake on the 12-inch putt that also misses. To which he scoops up the four-inch putt remaining for eight.
For a moment, it felt like time had stopped. I lock eyes with Justin and share a brief, almost telepathic look of, "how the fuck do we handle this?”
I snap back to reality and instinctively say, “Greg, we’re hitting 18 cups today. I need you to putt everything out.”
“Oh yeah, really, okay, sure,” Greg says.
However, the next part is equally confusing, as instead of moving on, he returns to the scene of the crime, drops his ball some four feet from the hole (nowhere near where he picked it up from), and misses that, too.
Bewildered, Justin and I walk off the green and say, “We had you with seven, Greg.”
“Okay, yeah, sure, aw, shit, okay,” he replies.
The next 17 holes can be surmised fairly succinctly. Justin hops on the par train for eight straight holes, with a bogey on 18 (or ninth hole), souring his chances of making it through without a barn-burner of a second nine. In the end, he cards 73.
My rust shows, and despite that opening birdie, I turn in 39. I post another 39 due to fatigue and a quadruple bogey eight, my only blemish on the closing nine.
Greg, on the other hand, continued to amaze. Never once did he abide by the rules of golf. The offenses are as follows: 1) Repeatedly teeing off in front of the tee markers. 2) Taking egregious, illegal drops. 3) A severe aversion to hitting provisionals. 4) Marking his ball with a tee, then remarking it by dropping it in the general vicinity of said tee, and playing from there (something you would see in a midweek beer league at your local muni). This behavior became the norm with Greg, including playing with what appeared to be a broken driver. After spending 18 holes with him, I don’t believe he committed these actions with malicious intent but rather a general unawareness of how the game is played in an official, competitive setting.
The chef’s kiss coming on our 17th hole.
A pop fly to a short right field, beeling for a set of bushes. Despite skepticism that his ball might be lost from Justin and me, Greg is adamant that he is in play. He hops in his cart solo, as Justin has decided to walk the back nine at this point, and races off to locate his “Kirkland four.” Shockingly, it cannot be found. We search the bushes for a few minutes before he decides to drop. I say this, knowing full well that this is a lost ball penalty and, technically, he should head back to the tee.
But with the group behind us already on the box, I concede and say, “Sure, Greg, anywhere over here is good.”
He proceeded to drop about 20 yards ahead of the area I pointed to and nowhere near where his ball most likely entered the bushes.
I would be remiss not to mention Greg’s most unique tactic, the 8-iron putter. With no given rhyme or reason, Greg would frequently putt with an 8-iron, to little success (several times, this resulted in four or five putts from inside of six feet). However, I must give him his due when he buried a 15-footer from just off the green with an 8-iron, resulting in his lowest aggregate score of the day: a double bogey five.
After we added up all the ones and twos, Greg signed for a 127. He hit zero greens in regulation, made zero pars, and two 10s.
Despite this performance, Greg was quite enjoyable to be around. An army veteran of 20-plus years with two tours in Iraq, Greg’s love of golf is aspirational. He played earnestly today, expressing genuine disappointment whenever he carded yet another triple bogey, or poor shot; this didn’t strike me as a guy who finished dead last in his fantasy football league and was serving his punishment. This was further apparent when he expressed his intention to play events on the Minor League Golf Tour in Florida, hoping to better his game down there and hone his craft amongst top talent.
It was these conversations that left a lasting impression on me more than his score. It’s clear and obvious that Greg (and players like him) shouldn’t be allowed to play in one of these events, or at least, until he can prove he is no longer at risk of posting a score above 90.
Who does that burden fall on? The easy answer is the section’s responsibility, and while it’s not logistically feasible to vet all 600 or so players across six pre-qualifying locations, checking scores at the turn is an easy, practical solution to prevent situations such as this from continuing past nine holes. After all, Greg did turn in 60.
Some might call on me or Justin to speak up and get him disqualified. I’ll be the first to say I have no problem getting in asses when the time is right, but I am also a realist, and today, there was little to gain by throwing a flag on the play and calling for Greg’s ejection, so I went with the devil I knew, I suppose.
I knew by the time I made bogey six on my fifth hole of the day, it would take a herculean effort to get through to the Monday. I took the time to get to know Greg and try to understand what he was doing out here, what he was searching for, and challenge myself to keep things in perspective.
Greg kept mentioning his excitement about practicing after the round, itching to refine his skills and to teach his son the game, too. While his barometer for his ability may be skewed, there is no quivering in his quest to improve. When golf turns into a business, it’s easy to forget what got us into the game and why we keep chasing the dream. And to the best of my knowledge, it seems, Greg simply plays for the love of the game.