Breaking 80 is a big deal for golfers. Dozens of books have been written on the subject. Golf magazines survive on breaking 80 articles. Google says there are almost 42 million web pages about breaking 80. I knew sooner or later, barring any injuries, I would break 80. I'm playing the best golf of my life, coming close in early June until a back nine meltdown. But frankly, I didn't think it would happen so soon.
I've shot in the high 70s before, but they were at dinky 5,600 yard, par 70 courses. And I certainly gave myself a 2 footer here and there. But today's round was legit. TPC Harding Park, putted everything out, USGA rules. The amazing thing, I did it with a splitting headache. Still have a headache as I write this blog.
Woke up with a nasty hangover from too much sun and beer yesterday but wanted to get a round in to stretch the legs (been sitting too much last 2 weeks). In the proshop, Scott checked me in. Haven't seen him in a while. Nice guy, got me out early a few times. He asked how's my game and I told him I'm playing some of the best golf of my life. I'm all about the positive energy.
Ordered a big cup of coffee in the clubhouse. Why am I telling you about my cup of coffee? I'm reading this book, Caffeinated, and apparently caffeine is a scientifically verified performance enhancing drug. Gives on average a 5 percent boost in muscle performance. I don't know how this translates in golf but it may well have been the difference between a 78 and a 80. I would have another big cup of coffee at the turn. Thank you Murray Carpenter for helping me break 80.
I check in with the starter, Larry, at around 8:20. We chitchatted about his love for fishing, trout and fly. 8:33, go time! I would play with an investment banker and two Irish blokes. Luck of the Irish! It was meant to be.
A low stinger put me on the left side of the fairway. Good approach shot came up a little short. Pretty good chip left me with about a 5 footer for par. Made the putt. One of the big changes in my game is I expect to make these 5 footers to save par. Will the ball in.
Poor drive left me in the rightside rough, 190 yards out. This would be my only fairway miss of the day. My awesome Ping G20 5-wood came up short but then my even awesomer Vokey SM5 S-Grind 60 wedge bailed me out with a nice pitch to 3 feet. Made the putt for par.
Thin a 7 iron and ball ended up behind the green. The SM5 60 saves me again, this time to 6 inches. Three holes, three pars.
Great drive, great 2nd but pulled my approach shot. This time my SM5 60 let me down. Was too tentative, left with a 10 footer for par. Drained it. Four holes, four 1-putts.
Textbook. Fairway, GIR, 2 putt.
Another great drive. Ball was sitting down just a tad, never felt comfortable and topped the ball about 60 yards. Still had about 110 yards to the hole. Nice wedge to about 6-7 feet. Made the putt for my 6th straight par. Putter is hot!
Awesome drive left me 62 yards in. Birdie time. But as I'm about to hit the investment banker starts walking and his irons are clanking. I freaking almost shank my shot. The guy was a little annoying. Slow, always moving around. I was fuming. Ended up makng bogey.
Beautiful 4 iron was just a tad long. Got too cute with the wedge, would end up making another bogey.
Easiest hole at Harding, IMO. Played it perfectly. Fairway, layup, wedge to about 5 feet. Made the putt for birdie. Got one back!
37 out with 12 putts. 6 out of 7 fairways. Only 2 greens but a couple of them (like 1 and 8) were very close, just off. At this point the thought of breaking 80 did cross my mind. But last time I shot a front 38 I had a meltdown on the back nine, so I didn't want to get ahead of myself. Just play one hole, one shot at a time.
My layup shot was horrible (topped it like I did on 6), left me with almost 200 yards in. But then I hit the 5-wood of my life (under the circumsyances) to about 20 feet. 2 putted for par to keep momentum going.
Good 6 iron, two putted for par.
Bad wedge in but good chip and putt saves par.
Fairway, green, 2 putt. Four pars to start the back nine. At this point, I couldn't ignore it anymore. Breaking 80 was a real possibility. Last time I had a strong round going the 13th derailed me with a 3 putt double. Not today.
Tough hole. Hit a pretty good approach shot but pulled it a tad into the bunker. Horrible lie against the lip. Salvaged bogey.
Pressure and nerves definitely kicking in. Pretty routine chip and I blast it by. Par save was way off. Bogey. Back to back bogeys.
Three holes left. 16 and 17 are relatively easy. I expected to go par, par or birdie, par. I could end up making triple on 18 and still break 80 was the thinking. Perfect little fade left me with nice angle in. Just 52 easy yards to a front pin location. My ball ends up near this little sprinkler head/ditch. It was wet, soggy and muddy. When I address the ball I must have sank an inch or two into the ground. At this point I thought about taking relief. There was the sprinkler head and the unusual soggy mud ground felt unfair. But I didn't know the official rules. And I didn't want to break 80 with an asterisk.
So I played it. Worried about the mud splashing every where, I hit a very delicate shot only 40 yards. No big deal, I can still get up an down from 30 feet. But nerves got me. Horrible chip left me with 10 feet for par. Miss the par putt and still had about 2 feet downhill for bogey. Pressure. Barely made the putt.
Okay, just two holes to go. Par three, ball is on a tee, no problem. Nice 6 iron to about 15-20 feet. Two putt for par means I can double the difficult 18 for a 79. I was so nervous my first putt went about 10 feet and I still had about 7 feet for par! Would end up 3 putting for bogey. My first three putt of the day. That's 4 straight bogeys, the last two all because of nerves!
My incorrect math had me needing bogey for a 79. The 18th hole is a 420 yard, 2-handicap blowup waiting to happen. First you need to clear some nasty stuff. Second, you need to avoid going left into the lake. Third, you need to avoid those deep greenside bunkers on the left. Fourth, the green is tricky!
I couldn't be too aggressive so kept it right but this meant I had about 180+ yards to the back pin position. I needed to carry all 180 because anything short means I'm in those big deep bunkers. I hit a really nice 5 wood probably 195 above the hole. But at least I'm safe. Get it on, two putt for bogey. But I flub my pitch and now I'm left with a chip from about 12 feet. Very good chip to about 1.5-2 feet.
I'll be honest, I thought about just giving myself that 1.5-2 footer. Under any other circumstances I would just had gone over and tapped it in without care or just picked it up. But this was for 79 and it was downhill. And no putt on the tricky 18 green is a gimme. Made it.
79!!! No, wait, my math is wrong. 78!!! WTF, I could have doubled the 18th and still break 80?!?! I suppose it all worked out. I might have played too conservatively and ended up with a triple.
What an incredible round. I was playing so well. My putter was hot. My chipping was good. My driver was on fire, 13 out of 14 fairways! 16 and 17 I bogeyed because of nerves, played them so well.
After 4+ years playing Harding Park, I finally did it, shot a legit round in the 70s. No mulligans, no gimmes, USGA rules. I didn't even take practice chips or putts because I was worried about the asterisk. That's it, I can stop playing golf now.
Why today? Luck of the Irish? The caffeine? The new wedges? The new 5-wood? The SR balls? The Spanish Bay caddy who reminded me that I was taking the club too inside? The new, lighter weight pull cart? The powerful feeling I get from the white cat? All of the above?
My game has definitely taken off. I just have so much confidence in all my shots these days. I'm longer and straighter, my short game is so much better. And putting has gone from a C to a B (A today). It's taken 8 years of hacking around to legitimately break 80. Eight long years. Eight years of trial-and-error. But the stars finally aligned today.