Retirement’s Comic Relief: Feeling above par with Mr. ND Nice

We teed off at 10 a.m. sharp on Tuesday despite the 25-mph wind that had discouraged much of the usual crowd. It was clear sailing through eight holes. My cart-mate’s son, Steve, joined up with us on the 9th tee, claiming he had to work before coming out.

I had played with Steve during a scramble tournament several years earlier. What a treat to watch and participate on a team with someone of such talent – a handicap near zero. In addition, Steve was always generous with compliments about my comparatively pathetic efforts and never mentioned the disparity between our abilities. My game has long been described as “glimmers of brilliance within a sea of mediocrity.” Embarrassing myself with a chunked chip or a missed tap-in putt with my usual four-some is tolerable. Revealing my ineptitude around a player with Steve’s gifts might be humiliating.

Such insecurities aren’t limited to the golf course. Playing violin with the Symphony, I’ve sometimes feared mashing a triple-forte rather than the pianissimo volume the music calls for. Worse yet might be to come in two beats early within earshot of the orchestra’s concertmaster, Dr. Jon Rumney, after 12 measures of rest. Fortunately for me, both Steve and Dr. Rumney are consummate gentlemen, offering persistent encouragement and compliments to those with lesser talent.

My drive off the par-4 ninth tee was sufficient to reach beyond the sharp bend of the fairway and provide a chance to reach the green in two. With a strong breeze blowing left to right, it looked best to send the next shot as close as possible toward the tallest evergreen at the bend in the dog-leg, hoping the wind might coax it right, back toward the green. With a firm grip on the five-iron, my glutes fired like Tiger Woods,’ I miraculously sent the sphere on a path that missed the tree by inches, sailed past, then drifted toward the target.

Standing close by and watching, Steve talked to my ball. “Stay right there,” he ordered, preventing the sphere from rolling too far. It came to rest leaving an easy four-foot putt. The opportunity for a rare birdie witnessed by the likes of Steve would be special.

It was no surprise when Steve’s second shot floated gently onto the green and stopped midway between my ball and the hole. “At least I got inside Dennis,” he announced to the rest, feigning any need to brag. I smiled inside. The odds of shooting better than me are comparable to the chance of piloting the Exxon Valdez better than Captain Hazelwood. I was excited for the opportunity to tie Steve at one-under-par on a rather difficult hole.

When my turn to putt arrived, I sent the ball on a perfect line toward the cup. But as it neared the intended destination, the wind threw some brakes on the orb, causing it to stop three inches short. A lousy par I thought. To send us on to the back nine, Steve stood over his ball for a certain birdie, giving the downhill two-footer a measured rap into the breeze. I was surprised at the pace Steve chose for his putt. His line was identical to mine, and he must have noticed how straight my ball rolled. I’ve seen him putt enough to know he seldom misses from such short range. With a tap, his ball rolled straight but stopped shy, just peaking over the edge of the cup. My eyebrows raised skyward. We tied after all. Had he missed on purpose?

When the round finished, we entered the clubhouse for a sandwich. Soon someone from Steve’s usual golf group sat down and listened as he told an embellished version of my near birdie on the ninth hole. It is difficult to describe the feeling when someone with such exceptional talent is compelled to spin a yarn about the rare accomplishment of a player like me. It’s as special and welcome as when Dr. Rumney says, “Well done,” backstage after Beethoven’s 5th.


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