Golfing Alone

25 July 2016 (Pasadena) I didn’t see it coming as I stood on the 1st tee at Royal Aberdeen last week. Overlooking the North Sea, oil tankers and derricks, fescue, gorse and pot bunkers I would strike my first shot of a successive 72 holes that I would play completely by myself. 18 at Royal Aberdeen, 18 at Crail Balcomie, 18 at Crail Craighead, and 18 at the Golf House at Elie. Alone. 6,000 miles from home, alone. I was my usual uneasy solo golf-self playing that first 18 at Royal Aberdeen–a majestic beast sitting at the precipice of the Scottish Highlands. I am so accustomed to golf being a collaborative game with familiar faces stalking familiar fairways with me. Conversations about work, families and sports are the typical conversation starters. But now I was alone, wind howling, rain falling, chasing the white ball around the ancient links. WTH? Surely there had to be a Malaysian tourist or aspiring pro from down-under looking for a match with a lad devoted to the game. But no. Four successive rounds where I was told, you are on your own today Mr. Sanchez, enjoy your game. And this is what happened…The first 18 I put a number in my head that I tried to beat. The number was 90 (The slope at RA is 138 and I am an 11 so I thought 90 reasonable for a first go round). I shot a 92 and talked a lot to myself imagining my father walking this hallowed course with me. “What do you think dad, 7 iron?” The seagulls surely must have thought me mad. It was a great opportunity to recollect about the man who gave me the game. The next 18 at Balcomie also found me copiously score-keeping. This time the game was to break 80 and I would do so overpowering the course. But the course pushed back as did the elements and I was no better than playing bogey golf after 9. Then my links game kicked in and I began to hit penetrating long irons that flew, at best, 10 yards above the surface of the turf, came back to earth and negotiated the jigsaw puzzle that is a links course. I dropped a 77 with a pretty spectacular back 9. The third round of 18 brought memories of my dad back and I decided to keep a rough score in my head. That day I would concentrate on the palette that is Craighead Links score be damned. Golfing for the love of the game. Studying the contours of the course, the designers intention, the best chosen path became the game. Golf in Scotland is/was not so much a game to be conquered in the air, but rather engaged on the ground. It was a revelatory experience. By the time I reached the Golf House at Elie score was the last thing on my mind. I wanted to study the palette. Where did the designer coax me to go? What hidden traps would await me if I trusted too much? Exhilarating. No pressure to score, just a desire to reminisce about family history and parse the game as it was meant to be played. A transformative golfing experience, albeit alone.

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