Thursday, March 5, 2015

Sliding Home

The first stomach cramp hit me as I knelt in the on-deck circle. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it wasn’t good

“Oh man … not now!” I thought to myself as I took a deep breath, hoping it would pass.

It was our first Little League game of the season, school was finally out, the sun was shining down, and all was right with the world. And why wouldn’t it be? I was 11-years old and I had life by the short hairs. I didn’t care a lick about girls (yet) and I didn’t have to worry about stupid shit like work, bills, the gas crisis, or trouble in the Middle East.

My life was very simple in the summer, wake up, eat a bowl of Super Sugar Crisp, and then head down the street to my cousin John’s house to play baseball for the rest of the day.  Sure, we’d take breaks for lunch, and maybe dinner, and occasionally a trip to the dime store to buy a few packs of baseball cards (a quarter a pack with that nasty-ass stick of stale gum that was always stuck to the last card). If it rained, we’d begrudgingly head inside and act like a couple of heroin addicts going through withdrawal until the sun came out again. Our lives were set.

We both had summer birthdays, the best kind really, mine in the middle of July, his, the first week of August, because it meant we were never in school, and we always got super-cool stuff, like ball gloves, or bats, or maybe a swim mask and snorkel. The summer of 1976, my mother decided to give me an early birthday present once school let out, and it was, by far, the best present I’d ever received up to that point in my life - a genuine, red, white, and blue, Reggie Jackson-signature Rawlings baseball glove.

Since it was the Bicentennial year, damn near everything from Maine to California was draped in some combination of red, white, and blue, that summer, almost to point of ad nauseam, but I’d never seen a baseball glove in any color other than brown, nor had anyone else, so my glove soon became the envy of every kid on my Little League team. It truly was a beauty. One of the first fastback models I’d ever seen. It looked more like my dad’s 1967 Ford Mustang, than a baseball glove, all sleek and cool. 

The outside of the glove was deep blue with white lacing, the inside - bright red, and the web was a checkerboard pattern of all three colors. It also had a hole to put your index finger on the outside, which, every kid knew, was extremely important if you wanted to look like a real major leaguer.

For two solid weeks I slept like crap every night with my new  glove under my mattress, trying to break it in before the season started. Now my glove was plenty broken in, but instead of snaring hot smashes down the third base line with my new Reggie Jackson signature model, I was groaning in pain just outside the dugout, afraid to take even one practice swing because I’d finally put my finger on just what those stomach cramps meant … impending doom!

Yep, there was no mistaking it, the dreaded diarrhea, and probably a pretty bad case of it, was on my doorstep, or in this case, the on-deck circle.

Sweat began beading up on my skin and pouring down my face, but it had nothing to do with the sun, or the fact that it was really warm. In fact, I was actually feeling rather cold as I prayed for the second cramp to pass before I strolled up to the plate and potentially soiled myself in front of all those kids and their adoring parents. 

If I were lucky, maybe Timmy Miller would strike out to end the inning and I wouldn’t have to bat at all. Then I could ask the coach to pull me from the game so I could go to the bathroom.

But the next pitch pummeled poor Timmy Miller in the middle of the back, and I knew my luck had run out. Now, I not only had to worry about having a misfortunate accident in the batter’s box, but  also being killed by a wild pitch!

Slowly, I trudged my way to the plate, making sure to keep my butt cheeks clenched as tightly as possible to try and avoid any unnecessary spillage. The pitcher, a 12-year-old behemoth named Glenn Fields, looked like he might need to start shaving at any moment. I'm not sure what his birth certificate said, but it looked like someone had added wrong, because he sure as hell didn't look 12. 

Glenn stared in at me and sneered. He easily was the biggest kid in town - so big he couldn’t even button up his jersey, let alone tuck it in. He even ripped out the sleeves so he could fit his massive pipes through the armholes! He obviously wasn’t very happy about drilling poor Timmy with two outs on an 0-2 count. I could tell he quickly wanted to make mince meat out of me and get out of the inning. 

Glenn didn’t like me all that much, probably dating back to the previous season when my coach instructed me to intentionally walk him with the bases loaded. Extremely frustrated after the third intentional ball, Glenn stepped over the plate on my fourth pitch and launched a missile off Genie Daniels' roof, a good 20-yards past the right field fence. He flipped his bat aside like a used cigarette, and then stood there admiring his titanic blast. Hell, we all turned to watch the flight of the ball. None of us had ever seen a ball hit so far before. I began to wonder if it would ever land, or just burn up on re-entry. That’s why we all were completely shocked when we heard the ump yell, “Yer out!” Apparently, stepping out of the box to hit the ball wasn’t allowed, so rather than hitting a grand slam, Glenn had made the last out of the inning, and he wasn’t very happy.

So, here it was, a year later, and Glenn’s nullified homer still hung heavy on his mind as he pumped in what must have been about an 82 mph fastball just under my chin. That's when cramp number three hit me.

“Ball one.” Cried the ump.

The catcher tossed the ball back to Glenn, but the throw was wild, allowing Timmy to scurry down to second base. Glenn seethed as he picked the ball up out of the dirt. He muttered something under his breath, but I couldn’t tell what, nor did I care, because I knew my time was running out.

In my somewhat short history of bouts with diarrhea, I knew one thing was certain; I had a very predictable series of events before I was in true danger mode. Not unlike a women about to give birth experiencing contractions, my first cramp was always a mere warning shot fired across the bow, sort of a “you might want to start thinking about locating the nearest toilet” type of thing. Cramp number two, was more of the same, but a little more nerve-wracking, as in, “you better have found that toilet!” Cramp number three, however, was a full-out five-alarm fire, as in “you’ve got about 60-seconds max to survive this thing!”

That’s the state I was in as Glenn dug in and got ready to fire the next pitch. I knew I couldn’t last the entire at bat, so I hoped and prayed that Glenn would give me something I could put in play for an easy out so I could leave the field with my dignity still intact.

The ball exploded out of Glenn’s meaty hand and bore right down the middle of the plate. My lower intestines gurgled like a witch’s cauldron as I weakly swung the bat off my shoulder in the general direction of the ball. Somehow, I connected, but the force of the pitch was so great, it knocked the bat clean out of my hands. The result: a weak dribbler down the first base line. I gritted my teeth and began awkwardly trotting toward first base, hoping my intestinal tract wouldn't turn inside out. Somewhere along the way, I passed the ball, which was clinging to the first base line. Glenn charged off the mound to field my swinging bunt, but he tripped over the pitching rubber and fell flat on his face as the ball came to rest just inside the foul line about 30-feet from home plate. Somehow I had managed to hit an infield single.

This was not at all what I wanted, and yet, while running to first base, I must have expelled a great deal of gas along the way, because my cramp had passed and my stomach was feeling a little better. That was a hard sell for the kids in the first base dugout, who were none too pleased by the cloud of sulfur I had left behind.

“Hmm.” I thought to myself. “Maybe that’s it. Maybe I just needed to fart.”

Turns out, that wasn’t it at all. An unprecedented fourth cramp began to bubble up. This one was so close to the exit chute, that I knew I was in unchartered territory. Once again, the sweat began pouring out of me as the skin on my arms turned into a minefield of goose pimples.

Now I was really stuck. To make matters worse, my coach, John’s older brother Brad, started flashing me the steal sign from the third base coach's box. Much to his surprise, I shook my head “NO!” Again, he gave me the sign to steal, and again, I shook him off. Glenn was talking to his catcher while all this was going on, so he hadn’t even thrown a pitch to the next batter yet. After shaking Brad off for the third time, he asked the umpire for time out and waved me over. Again, I shook him off. Now he was mad, so I gestured for him to come over to first base instead.

Halfway to first, his anger turned to concern. He could tell something was wrong with his little cousin. Glenn’s infielders had gathered around him on the mound during the time out, so when Brad got to first, we had the area all to ourselves.

“What’s going on buddy? Why won’t you steal?"  He asked. "Are you afraid of Glenn?"

“Well, yeah ... but, ... no ... Brad, I can’t steal because if I slide into second, I’m afraid I’m going to shit in my pants!” I said.


“I’m going to have really bad diarrhea Brad ... you gotta put in a pinch runner for me … PLEASE!!!” I pleaded.

One look at my sweaty face and my goose-pimpled arms was all it took. He knew I wasn’t joking.

“Ump, I’m pulling my four hitter for a pinch runner.” He shouted.

This created a head-scratching moment for the umpire, and my teammates, given the fact it was only the first inning and I was one of the faster runners on my team, but I wasn’t waiting around to explain anything to anyone. Before Brad had picked my replacement, I was in a full-out sprint, heading for the bathroom at the playground behind the first base dugout.

I’m not sure if any feeling in the human experience can compare to the feeling of relief upon finding a toilet when you’re on the dastardly doorstep of a potential diarrhea dilemma. I already was having  that feeling of relief before I even got to the bathroom - a smile may have even crossed my face when ... HORROR! ... and I mean horror in the absolute sense. The bathroom door was inexplicably locked. Not only locked, but padlocked - the women’s restroom too! I had already relaxed my bowels in anticipation of a fruitful ending, and now I was doomed. A half-mile from home, no bathroom in sight and already past the point of no return, my life was about to become a living hell. That's when I caught sight of my bike parked against the back of the dugout.

Ah, the bicycle – every kid’s mode of pre-pubescent transportation back in the day, even Glenn’s, and my bike was a true beauty. Purple from stem to stern, right down to the handle bar grips, with an awesome foam-rubber metallic banana seat, a racing stripe, and tires that were always pumped up well past their recommended p.s.i., which, as any kid could tell you, makes it go way faster, and leaves a much longer skid mark on the sidewalk when you stomp on the coaster brakes.  At this point, I didn’t care about how cool my bike was, I just knew that it was my ticket to freedom from embarrassment, because even if I didn’t make it home before I shit myself, at the very least, I would be safely away from everyone at the field, if, and when it happened.

I can’t be sure if anyone was even paying attention to me the entire time I was sprinting to the bathroom and hopelessly yanking on the locked doors, and I don't know if anyone saw me jumping on my bike and riding like hellfire down the street. I didn’t really care. I was just happy to have the wind in my face and a downhill ride to my house, because if it had been uphill, I never would have made it.

If anyone had ever thought of charting the land-speed record for the half-mile by an 11-year-old boy on a bicycle, I’m pretty sure I would have set it that day. I was going so fast, I nearly wiped out in the driveway as I slammed on the brakes and threw a hailstorm of stones into the garage door. From there, I dashed into the house and ran upstairs to our bathroom ready to begin my whole new, better life.

I was so intent on reaching my final destination, I hadn’t even noticed my mom was in the kitchen when I sprinted past her.

“What are you doing? She shouted up the stairs. “I thought you had a ballgame?”

I had no time to answer (or shut the bathroom door). I just needed to get my pants down, and fast! That was a problem, since both my legs were all sweaty, and I was wearing a belt. Rather than mess with the belt, I untucked my jersey and yanked my pants down as hard as I could until they were below my waist. This, of course, scraped up my hips and caused my wet underwear to roll up thick as a rope.

“Are you alright?” My mom asked as she began making her way up the stairwell.

I didn’t answer; instead, I looked down at my scraped-up hips and rolled-up underwear and noticed I'd left some collateral damage behind. Finally, I got my bare ass onto the toilet seat - pretty much the only thing I’d been thinking of since I’d entered the on-deck circle nearly 20 minutes earlier - and totally let loose.

The ensuing explosion can only be described as slightly frightening, and yet, somehow euphoric. My mother, of course, didn’t feel quite the same way, knowing full well she would be left to clean up any residual fallout. At this point, she didn’t need me to answer; she didn’t need me to say anything really. My initial eruption, and the several after shocks that followed, pretty much said it all. She simply retreated back to the kitchen to fetch some cleaning supplies muttering,  "Holy Christ, what the hell did he eat?” or something along those lines.

As for me, well, as each wave of liquid hell poured out of me, the sweat slowly evaporated from my skin, and my goose pimples began melting away.

“Man, what the hell did I eat?” I wondered to myself.

It didn’t really matter. I was feeling much better. So much so, I flushed away my troubles, tossed my soiled underwear into the clothes hamper, put on a fresh, dry pair, slipped my pants back on, said goodbye to my mother as we crossed paths in the stairwell, then jumped on my bike and headed back to the ball diamond.

I arrived at the field without much fanfare. No one even seemed to notice I was gone. In fact, the inning wasn’t even over yet. My pinch runner was still on third base because Glenn had walked the two batters after me. When Brad saw me ride up on my bike, he asked the ump for another timeout and came over to the dugout to see if I was okay. I told him I was good to go, so he re-entered me back in the game. As luck would have it, Glenn threw the very next pitch over the catcher’s head to the backstop.

Feeling much better, and lighter on my feet, I broke for home. The catcher hustled back to get the ball as Glenn and I both sprinted toward the plate. I didn’t care if I beat the throw or not, I was just relieved I could slide into home without incident.

The catcher grabbed the ball and reeled around to snap a throw to Glenn as we reached the plate at the same time. With one last burst of speed, I slid foot-first toward the back corner of the plate, throwing up a cloud of dust, but thankfully nothing else. The throw was on time, but I slid under Glenn’s tag.

“SAFE!” The home plate ump barked.

"What?" Glenn complained. Then Glenn's coach ran out of the their dugout and he, Glenn and the ump got into a shouting match.

“Yup … I'm safe, alright.” I laughed to myself as I walked back to our dugout. “But just barely!”

I don’t really remember much else from that day. It was 38-years ago, after all. I’m not sure if I made any great snatches at the hot corner with my new Reggie Jackson Rawlings glove, or not. I don’t know if I got any more hits off Glenn that day, I don’t even know if we won or lost. In fact, that glove, my bike, and even my mother, all are long gone now. I miss all of them dearly, but I’ll never forget the first inning of that first game in the summer of 1976. That, I know for sure!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

This Actually Happened - A Golf Story

Sweat dripped off the tip of my nose and began free falling toward Mother Earth. It was like watching in slow motion as gravity took hold of the salty droplet, slowly hurtling it toward the Titleist golf ball perched between my feet. In a perfect collision of fate, the bead of sweat splashed on top of the ball at the exact same moment my putter sent it on its way toward the pin from just off the back fringe of the 18th green at Leslie Park Golf Course yesterday afternoon. The ball never left its line the entire 40-foot journey toward the cup, and when it plunked dead center into the hole for an unexpected par and a final score of 76, I could only chuckle to myself.

It had been that kind of day, so dropping a 40-footer for par on a hole I almost never par, seemed to be … well, for lack of a better term … “par for the course.” It was the topper on the strangest round of golf I have ever played in my entire life. Not the final score of 76, that’s pretty much the norm for me. It was the way I got to that number that was strange, so strange, I thought I might actually meet my maker and drop dead on the course. I was by myself, after all, in the one place I actually feel a connection to some higher power, so it had crossed my mind more than once that I was being sent several warning shots across the bow from the man upstairs that maybe this would be my final day on the planet.

First of all, it was 96 degrees on September 10th - a record high temperature for Ann Arbor – and it’s not like I’m in extraordinary shape or anything, and even if I was, most doctors would probably say if you’re going to go out in the heat in the middle of the day to play golf, it might be in your best interest to take a cart. Phooey on that. I always walk when I play golf, and yesterday was no exception.

To be honest, I was excited to play in the heat. I was excited to even play at all. At the fairly young age of 48, my body has been turning on me lately and I’m starting to sound like some grandmother rattling off a list of ailments anytime someone asks me how I’m doing.

“Me? Well, okay I guess, except for the arthritis in my big toe on my right foot, the tendinitis in my right elbow, the torn labrum in my left shoulder and lately, I can’t seem to grip anything in my left hand. I think I broke my hamate bone catching one of my son’s fastballs a couple weeks ago.”

So naturally, I thought a good 90+ degree day would make it a lot easier on all my aching joints, so why not give it a shot? Not only that, as with most of my golfing forays, I try and hit the course when I know it will be empty, and I was right on that count, the parking lot looked like a barren dessert when I pulled in just before 11 am. The thought of having the course all to myself only peaked my excitement. Then I opened the car door and the first wave of oven-like heat rolling off the blacktopped parking lot hit me square in the face.

“Holy shit, it’s hot.” Was all I could say.

I nearly climbed back in my air conditioned car and drove away, as I’m sure most sane folks would have, but then a gust of wind hit me, and I thought, “Hmm, as long as the wind blows, it won’t be that bad.” And with that, I grabbed my clubs and headed for the clubhouse where I bought a brand-new sleeve of Titleists and told the club house attendant I wanted to walk 18.

He looked at me as if I made some kind of mistake.

“I’m sorry, did you say you wanted to walk?”

“Yup.” I said, “Why not?”

He didn’t answer, but the look on his face definitely said, “Well, because I don’t particularly want to have to go out and search for your dumbass -scorched carcass somewhere on the hills of the back nine in about three hours.”

I smiled at him, took my change and my sleeve of balls and trudged out to the first tee to start loosening up. Right away I realized my “extreme-heat-equals-looser-body-parts” plan wasn’t exactly going to take effect with any sort of suddenness. Either that, or the 600 mg of naproxen I popped that morning wasn’t doing the trick, because the moment I started to warm up by swinging a couple clubs around my head like a batter in the on-deck circle, several parts of my body immediately began to take offense.

My left hand, mostly, was telling me, “WTF?” To which I replied, “WTF to you?” ‘How can you go and desert me like this – what the hell have I ever done to you? I wash you, trim your nails, even get married so I can put a nice gold band on one of your fingers, and this is how you repay me?”

My hand either didn’t care, or it wasn’t listening, because it still hurt like hell, and for the second time in less than 10 minutes, I contemplated getting back into my car and driving home before I even started. But it’s not like me to give up that easily, so I figured I would play the first three holes (#3 at Leslie comes right back to the clubhouse) and if it hurt too much, I’d abandon ship and head home after the third hole, but at least I would have given it the old college try.

With all the pain I was experiencing in my hand, I hadn’t really paid much attention to the fact that my body was suddenly moistening up at a fairly rapid rate. This was a little strange, given the fact I had only been outside for less than five minutes, and I wasn’t sure if it was the heat, me being out of shape, or simply condensation on my skin since I had been in air conditioning all morning (probably a combination of all three). I took the towel off my golf bag and realized I would be using it a lot more wiping off me than my clubs for most of the day.

I also realized that if I were to actually play all 18 holes on foot, I would have to seriously slow things down and pace myself – conserve as much energy as possible, swing easy, maybe 75% of max, walk slowly, drink a lot of water, and not worry about my score.

So I teed up the ball for my first drive of the day on the 543-yard par 5 first hole, took an easy swipe at it, and then cringed at impact as my left hand shot a stinger of pain up my arm. But the swing was a good one, sending a beautiful, high draw up the right center of the fairway that caught a tail wind and left the ball 285 yards away from where I was standing. 

“Hmm, where the hell did that come from?” I thought as I slowly and methodically made my way up the fairway to my ball. The ground was still wet with dew, even though it was 11 am, it was so humid, the dew wasn’t going anywhere soon, but the ground underneath the wet grass was firm and fast, and my tee shot benefitted from the firm terrain with an additional 30 yards of roll.

To stay with my saving-energy plan, I skipped any pre-shot routine for my second shot and just pulled out my 3-wood, walked up to the ball, and without so much as a waggle, sent my second shot on its way. Another beautiful, high draw that didn’t hurt as much as my tee shot, and once again rolled out a good 20-yards or so, coming to rest about 15-yards short of the green.

“Damn, two in a row - how bout that?” I muttered to myself.

I hadn’t planned on being that close to the green in two shots, didn’t really want to be, quite frankly. Normally I like to be out around 100-yards or so where I can hit some kind of full wedge to the hole since I never practice any touch shots (hell, I never practice any full shots either, come to think of it), but there I was, a tricky little pitch shot over a bunker to a front pin, and to make matters worse, I was sitting on a tight lie – a chilly-dip special to be sure. This time I figured I better take a few practice swings, and oddly enough, my practice swings felt really good; I was nipping the grass perfectly. When I hit my actual shot, it was even better. The ball clicked precisely off the face of my sand wedge, landed just over the bunker on the fringe of the green, took one hop, then began rolling toward the cup, before … plunk!  Eagle!

“Well, I’ll be damned.” 

I’d hit three perfect shots and now I was two-under par after one hole. Never one to look ahead, I already started thinking about the 64 I was about to shoot!

I walked to the second tee with a smile on my face. Already, sweat was starting to soak my golf glove. The second hole is a 190-yard par-3, and it was into the wind, but the wind felt really good in the heat and I was two-under par. The pin was back, so I hit my 16-degree hybrid club while promptly forgetting about my 75% motto. Instead, I tried to smoke one hard into the wind to get it back to the pin. What I got was a smoking duck hook that crashed headlong into the woods about 20-yards left of the green.

“You dumbass!”

I took out a 3-iron, teed up another ball, and this time hit it safely onto the middle of the green. Two putts later, I was back to reality with a double bogey 5.

Easy come. Easy go.

Normally, I would have been pissed about throwing away two shots like that, but for some reason I was pretty relaxed, and the wind was making the heat somewhat bearable, so I decided I would at least play the front nine instead of stopping after three, and If I did have any doubts about walking in early, the birdie I made on the third hole erased them.

Back to one under par – and this time I was thinking, “Maybe a 68?”

I quickly readjusted that number after I rolled in a 20-footer for birdie on #4. I was back to two under after four holes and I had yet to even make a par. On top of the that, the pain in my hand had been minimal because I was hitting the ball on the sweet spot nearly every shot, and I had just dropped two longish putts, something I never seem to do when I’m hitting the ball well.

 “Hmm, perhaps a 66?”  I thought.

After my drive on the fifth hole, I caught up to a threesome of women golfers who were putting on the green. This surprised me since I thought I was the only one on the course, but it also gave me a chance to think about my next shot. I was 130-yards from the uphill green, but stuck behind one of two giant oak trees that guard the left side of the fairway.

“Should I try and go over the tree with a 9-iron from a downhill lie?” I thought. “Or maybe punch-hook a 6-iron around the tree and run it up to the green? Or maybe I should just hit a high drawing 8-iron that does a little of both?”

I chose number three, and I chose poorly.

I bladed the shot and it really hurt my left hand. The ball went screaming under the tree and over the green. Luckily, it came to rest not far from the back pin placement and I easily chipped it up a foot from the hole and saved par – my first par of the day! On #6, I made it two pars in a row after another high, downwind draw off the tee, followed by a 7-iron approach that landed 20-feet from the pin for an easy two-putt.

The women in front of me let me play through on the seventh hole, a 149-yard par 3, that I bogeyed by missing a three-footer for par. Now I was back to one under, but I quickly erased my blemish on #7, by making another birdie on #8. Back to two under!

To keep up the theme of my Jekyll and Hide round, I severely hooked my tee shot into the woods on ninth hole and feared the worst, but I actually found the ball, punched out of the woods, and then hit my third shot 6-feet from the pin! The way things were going, I was confident I would make a great save for a par, so confident, in fact, that I three-putted the damn thing for another double bogey!

“Are you f****g kidding me?”

On the one hand, I was really pissed off at myself for tossing away what could have been a truly amazing round of golf … on the other hand, I had made only two pars on the front nine and somehow I still shot an even par 36!

At this point I was on the fence about continuing my round. I had plenty of work to do back home and I was dripping sweat from every pore of my body. So I did the only thing I could think of … I checked my pulse.

My heart rate seemed normal and I had to pee, so I knew I wasn’t dehydrated. Figuring I wasn’t going to die anytime soon, and, what the hell, the round had been pretty interesting so far and my hand was still hanging in there, I decided to keep playing.

I headed off for the long walk to the 10th tee.

The 10th hole at Leslie is a long par 4 with a narrow fairway and a second shot that must carry Traver Creek, which wraps around and cozies up to the front of the long, sloping green. I’ve made me some big numbers on this hole in the past, but it was playing straight downwind, and I shortened it even more by once again booming a high draw off into space to a spot where I had a very comfortable second shot - 145 yards, to be exact, my favorite distance. I struck a perfect 8-iron 6-feet from the pin for birdie, but with thoughts of the three-putt on the ninth hole still fresh in my head, I never gave my birdie putt a chance, wimping out and leaving it short.

It was an easy par, only my third for the round, but it was the biggest disappointment of the day. It was golf how I always play, safe and cautious, and up to that point, I hadn’t really engaged my brain for anything other than trying to stay hydrated and not die before the kids got home from school. The results on the scorecard were a total roller coaster, but it was fun not giving a shit, and the one time I did, I totally blew it, even more than any of my screw ups on the front nine. I had a birdie by the throat and I had wussed out!

For the first time all day, I started feeling tired - my legs mostly, but also mentally.  Thoughts of anything other than golf started taking over as I teed up the ball on the 11th hole, a winding, hilly par-5 that snakes its way through the woods. The 11th hole was once a pushover, easily reachable in two for long hitters, and even for short hitters like me if I really got ahold of one. But those days were gone for me. A new tee box had been built adding another 40-yards to the hole, and the left side of the fairway, once nothing but rough, now had a wide expanse of an overgrown natural area with Traver Creek running through it. And that’s exactly where I sent my next duck-hook of a drive!

I looked for the ball for a while among the prickers and brush, but it was really hot in the tall thistle and weeds, and I didn’t want to waste any more time than necessary (or leave my rotting corpse somewhere where it might take more than a day or two to find me) so I climbed the banks of the overgrown creek bed, pulled the last ball from my new sleeve of Titleists, and took a penalty drop.

As penalty drops go, it wasn’t a good one. I sulked when I saw it nestle deep into the rough. A normal person would just bump the ball and improve their lie (what the hell, it’s not like we’re playing in the US. Open or anything, right?) but I always play it by the book, so I left the ball as it was and tried to slash it out of the rough, knowing full well it was going to hurt my hand like hell. I was right, but the pain was only half as bad as the shot, which I skulled thirty yards deeper into the rough behind a bunch of trees. From there; I punched out sideways, and then hit the worst approach shot of my day into even deeper rough, left and short of the green.

Because the 11th hole runs through the woods, there is little to no circulation of fresh air, and now the sweat was really poring out of me. My glove had become useless as I tried my best to gouge one onto the putting surface. Instead, I bladed the ball over the green, off the cart path and deep into the woods. I had to stop for a second and figure out what the hell I was going to do. I had just spent my last bullet from that new sleeve of Titleists, and I didn’t even know if I had any more balls in my bag. Turns out I did, a few Titleist Pro V-1’s left over from a some scramble I played in over a year ago. I prepared to take my second penalty drop on the hole, but before I did, I had to figure out, just exactly, how many strokes I had taken up to that point!

“Let’s see, one in the shit … drop … hit three into the trees … chopped four into the fairway … crapped five up to here … bladed six into the Deep Woods Off … another drop … hitting eight! Holy crap, I’m already on a snowman and I’m not even on the fricking green yet?”

I wasn’t mad, just slightly amused at how quickly my once-promising round had evaporated into the September heat.

Not that it could get much worse, but I chopped my eighth shot on the green and then three-putted from 12 feet for an 11!!! They don’t even have word for that kind of score in golf. Quadruple bogey is as high as they go, after that they just call it “other.”

That pretty much sealed the deal for me. My round was gone … shot to hell in less than five minutes. The 12th hole, a 174-yard par 3 would be the last hole I would play. Like #3, it also finished by the clubhouse, so I would play #12, and then walk in and get out of the heat.

The sweat was stinging my eyes now, and no amount of toweling off seemed to do anything other than spread more sweat all over my wet hands and arms. Luckily, after walking off the 11th green, I also was walking out of the woods and into the wind once again. It was a welcome relief. I looked at the green before walking back to the tee. Normally I pull a few clubs out of the bag and then decide which one to hit once I get to the tee box and size up the pin location and the tee placement, but after making an 11, I really didn’t much give a shit about either, so I pulled a 4-iron out of my bag, right club or not, and starting digging in my pocket for a tee.

At that point that I realized I could no longer continue playing with the golf glove I had been wearing, it was a nothing more than a leather dishrag now, so I dug deep into my bag to see if I could find a suitable substitute. And find one I did - a tattered, old specimen that must have been in my bag for 10-years and was crispy as a potato chip, but at least it was dry! The glove was toasty warm, like I had just pulled it out of an oven, but it felt good to have something dry on my hand.

I walked back to the tee knowing this would be my last full shot of the day.  The 12th hole is one of my favorites, the tee shot must carry both a pond and that nasty old Traver Creek, but it’s framed really well and it always seems to suit my eye … even after a sextuple bogey!

 I teed up my ball and told myself to just “stand tall and put one more good swing on it,” which I did. The ball came off the club like butter and sailed high into the air about 20 feet right of the pin with a slight draw. When the ball was halfway to the hole I bent down, picked up my tee and started walking toward my bag, but the flight of the ball was so pure, I stopped and watched as it landed just short of the pin in the back of the green and I thought, “That should be pretty tight.”

I kept watching as the ball rolled closer and then … plop... it disappeared!

I just made a hole-in-one.

“Are you f****g kidding me?” Was all I could say.

All sorts of things ran through my head, but none of it was what I would call excitement. It was more like, “Shit, now I have to finish this round.” Or “Shit, where did that threesome of ladies go? (I needed some witnesses, after all).

For a minute, I didn’t do anything. I looked around. No one was anywhere in sight. Sure I made a hole-in-one, but I made it right after I made a fricking 11! Who does that? And just think of the damn scorecard. Even in Putt Putt you rarely see the number one three times in a row.

I’ve played Leslie Park for 17-years, and made damn near every number you could think of on every single hole on the course, but in one smoking-hot September afternoon, I’d just made my third score on a hole that I had never, ever, made before.
An eagle 3 on #1, an 11 on #11, and now an ace on #12! What the hell was next?

I looked at the sky to see if any thunderclouds were on the horizon. On this day, it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that I might get struck by lightning, after all.

The sky was a clear, if not hazy shade of blue - as clear as can be. The only witness to my improbable feet was God, a memorial plaque for Don Yost just off the tee box, and me. (I’d played with Don many times before he died several years ago. He was a great guy. I was glad he got to see it too).

“Did you see that shit?” I asked Don, as I walked by his plaque. “And I’m not even talking about the ace … I'm talking about the 11 on 11!”

As I walked toward the green, I instinctively reached for my putter until I realized I didn’t actually need it. And then it dawned on me that maybe someone from the clubhouse could meet me down at the green and verify my ace before I got there. I called up the clubhouse and a girl named Leah answered. She agreed to drive a cart down to the green where she did, indeed, wait for me and verify my ace, even though she didn’t actually see it go in the hole. (I guess my word and the ball mark on the green were proof enough.)

Now things got really interesting. I was still hotter than fire, but I couldn’t just quit now. Not like I had planned on doing before I dunked my tee shot into the cup. The problem was, I didn’t really want to tell people I made a hole in one and then hope they didn’t ask what I shot for the round. How embarrassing would it be to have to tell them I shot about 100 with two eagles and three birdies? So I trudged off to the 13th tee and tried to figure out where I actually stood score-wise. Did I even have a chance at breaking 80? Maybe the heat was warping my brain, because I wrongly figured I was 5 over par at that point, (I had counted the ace as a birdie and not an eagle) when in reality I was only four over par, but I still knew I better bear down if I wanted to post a halfway decent score, if for nothing else, at least for my pride.

With that in mind, I did the only thing I could do; I sent a drive screaming toward Traver Creek for like the 20th time on the back nine. Luckily, I heard it hit a big willow tree by the water, so I thought I might have a fighting chance to find it. Walking up the fairway, I was never so relieved to see a bright, white shining golf ball in the sun 50-yards from the tree. “Wow, that was one hell of a carom.” I thought. Then I got to the ball and realized it wasn’t my ball at all … or was it? It was a Titleist all right, a Titleist NXT Tour #1 … the same ball I hit off the 11th tee. The damn thing must have hit some rocks in the bed of Traver Creek and bounced into the adjacent 13th fairway.

For the second time in less than 10 minutes, all I could say was, “Are you f*****g kidding me?”

Once again I looked to the sky for thunderclouds.

Still clear.

I threw down a tee to mark the ball and continued to look for my actual drive. If nothing else, at least I got one of my new balls back. I did find my tee shot at the base of the willow tree, it wasn’t sitting pretty, but at least it was dry. I bogeyed the hole and then marched on, trying to make pars and trying even harder to stay hydrated.

As luck would have it, I managed to do a good job at both. Despite only making three pars in the 13 previous holes, I rattled off two in a row on numbers 14 and 15, and then I birdied #16.  It was after the birdie when I realized I had been adding up my score wrong I actually was only 4 four over par instead of 5 over.

That was when it dawned on me that I could still post a palatable score despite my “other.”

“Wow, if I par in I’ll safely avoid looking like an idiot.” I thought to myself as I pegged the tee in the ground on # 17, a par three over the huge pond that feeds, you guessed it, Traver Creek.

I hit a good tee shot safely over the water onto the green for a routine two putt for par, but #18 has always been anything but routine for me, a real ass-kicker if ever there was one. At 436-yards and bone straight, it’s not much to look at. It’s a long hole for me if I don’t hit the ball in the fairway, and the strong headwind I was facing made it play even longer. When I hit a complete piece of crap off the tee well into the deep rough 20-yards right of the fairway, it got longer even still.

After the tee shot, I safely conceded the fact that making par was out of the question. I just wanted to avoid something much higher. I wasn’t even going to try to hit the ball out of the 8-inch rough with anything other than a short iron to try and save my aching left hand further aggravation.

I chopped an 8-iron 100 yards out of the rough, but over the fairway and into the deep rough on the left side of the fairway, still 100 yards short of the green. From there I gouged the ball out of the deep grass with a wedge and watched with delight as it rolled just off the back of the green.

“Good,” I said to myself. “I shouldn’t be able to screw this up too badly from there.”

For whatever reason, I was feeling a bit fresher now. It was my third straight hole walking into the wind, so the sweat that had been running off my body like a faucet; slowed to a trickle as I lined up what would be my last putt of the day. As I sent that sweat-coated Titleist on its 40-foot journey to the bottom of the cup for an improbable par to conclude the most memorable … hell, the greatest round of my entire life … all I could do was chuckle and say.

“Are you f*****g kidding me?”

Then I looked up to see if there were any thunderclouds overhead. 

The sky was still clear.

(P.S. Just for fun, I went back to where I found my original tee shot from #11 in the 13th fairway and played it out to see if I could have done better than the 11 I made the first time around. I made a bogey 6 for what should have been a 71 – a better score, but nowhere near as memorable.)