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My Last State Championship & Despair Unleashed - Part 2
[Editor's Note: This is the second installment in a three-part series by Peter Black, an English student at Western Washington University. While his first article explored golf's mental approaches and attitudes, his second continues to explore issues of confidence on the golf course, using the story of his last state championship as a backdrop.]
I have a "negative" confidence story. "Negative" meaning that my confidence quickly and completely disintegrated during an important tournament, and the results were horrific.
The first day of my high school state championship was unquestionably the most painful round of golf I've ever experienced. It was 18 holes of ceaseless self-destruction, devastation, despair and disgust. My final state championship was the perfect example of what happens when you lose all faith in your ability to hit a golf shot. It was the perfect example of what happens when you care too much and when you don't care at all. It was the perfect example of desperately wanting but never believing. Although my last state championship brings back terrible memories, I will tell its story as a warning - but more importantly as a lesson - to those who find themselves in similar desperate circumstances. Never give up. Stay focused. Don't hope; believe.
Spring quarter senior of high school. Nice weather, easy classes, parties, college excitement and my last chance for glory in the 1A state golf championship.
My coach, Gates, and my teammate, Jordan, headed up to Bellingham, Wash. Like the year before (where I had made the cut and finished somewhere in the middle), state was being held at North Bellingham Golf Course.
North Bellingham is a decent course. It's not long but not pathetically short. It has a links feel; there are no trees and wind is usually a factor. The greens are medium to large, smooth, very fast in certain areas and annoyingly deceptive. Sometimes putts break a lot; sometimes they don't break at all. The course is fairly flat but there are some mild slopes and dips here and here. There's water on a few holes that primarily enters play on the back.
There are no trees to punish errant drives, but in their place is something much worse: long, thick, muddy straw grass. If your drive finds the straw grass when the course is wet, immediately re-tee. Looking for it is pointless - you'll just get your pants dirty for the effort. When the course is dry there's a slight chance of finding it. But, even if you do, it's unlikely it'll be playable.
We played a practice round Thursday. I hit the ball great: 290-yard drives, solid irons, a few birdies, no big blow-ups. Putting was sub-par (as usual), but (as usual) I didn't pay much attention to it.
I felt good when I got to the course for the first round. Nervous but excited. I hit some balls and some putts and joked around with my coach. My parents showed up and wished me luck. I scooped my balls off the practice green, cleaned my irons and headed to the first tee.
"Next up, from the Bush School in Seattle, Peter Black."
I yanked a 4-iron out of my bag. The first hole is a short and simple par-4, around 320 yards. A large trap runs along the right side of the fairway 200 yards out, and there's a pronounced dip directly in front of one of the smallest and flattest greens on the course. Most people hit 3-wood or driver to take the trap out of play. I elected to a hit 4-iron for two reasons. First, it would leave me with a full wedge in. I tend to chunk partial sand wedges, especially when nervous. Second, and more importantly, I would avoid blasting my driver out-of-bounds on the first hole.
My knees were shaking. Sweat dripped from my neck and my palms. I took a few quick practice swings, stepped up, and hit it down the middle with a little draw. Thank God.
I was confident as I walked down the first fairway. The other guys in my group were scrambling all over the place - chunking wedges, blading irons, hacking through the straw grass. I decided, as I surveyed my remaining 100 yards, that I would put on a clinic for these guys today. They would wonder why such an extraordinary player was in their group; they would tell their friends they played with the state champion.
I hit a terrible wedge that ended up in the greenside rough. A decent chip and a bad putt later, I walked off the first hole with bogey. Not ideal, but not a disaster. Most players would commend themselves for avoiding a first-hole catastrophe. My confidence, however, was extremely fragile. It had been punctured - and like a sheet of thin ice - would shatter and melt from a few quick taps.
An iron wasn't an option off the second tee. It's a fairly long par-4by North Bellingham standards - probably about 440 yards, and its second half is significantly uphill. The green is heavily countered and extremely quick. It behooves one to drive it out there as far as possible, preferably in the fairway. Trouble directly behind the green - and the hole's uphill slope - make long approach shots difficult. Up-and-downs are brutal given the undulating green, so if looking for a par finding this putting surface is vital.
I felt even more nervous on the second tee than I had on the first, probably because I now had a driver in hand. I did not want to block it into the straw grass or hook it into the marsh. Ironically, given my playing style and strengths, I should have been excited. My driver was my best club; in the practice round I was hitting it straighter than my wedges. My distance was a huge advantage - particularly on longer par-4s such as this one, and this was a chance to capitalize on that. If my playing competitors hit good drives they'd have a 6-, 7- or 8-iron. If I hit a good drive I'd have a wedge.
It's hard to hit a good drive if you don't expect to. I did not, and thus I did not. I watched in a horror as a high slice soared through the air, sailing over the rough and the cart path before plunging into the straw grass.
I groaned, threw my hands in the air, and reached in my pocket for another ball.
Part 3 continues with the state championship as a backdrop, and the author lends his final thoughts on mental approaches and attitudes on the golf course.]
Peter Black is an avid golfer from Seattle. Currently a senior at Western Washington University, he has been playing golf competitively and recreationally since he was 13. Peter is an English major at Western and enjoys combining his love of writing with his love of golf.