Never leave a putt for septuple-bogey short. That’s not quite how the saying goes, but that’s exactly what I was thinking as I stood over a left-to-right 15-footer on the par five 5th. Four Sasquatch divots marked the scene of my undoing exactly 108 yards back up the fairway, one for each of the four shiny new Pro V1’s that were sitting at the bottom of the pond in front of the green. I’d managed to hit something other than mud on my fifth try, and all things considered, ended up relatively pleased with the bellied screamer that skipped once and spun to 15 feet. It was an excruciating 108-yard walk up to the green. By the time I arrived, though, I was done moping. If there was one thing I’d learned from all of my self-help reading, it was that the next stroke is always more important than the last (or, in this case, the last 11). I was focused now on saving 12.

My handicap index is 2. Last year, I made two heroic 8-footers on the final two holes to qualify, on the number, for the North Carolina Mid-Amateur. Last week, I made three grotesque triples in the span of four holes on my way to a back-nine 50. Four days ago, I ripped a 236-yard 4-wood to 10 feet, and then drained the putt for eagle. Four hours ago, as the club pro waited to knock in his birdie putt, I hosel-shanked a chip, ending up in a bunker a full, physics-defying 90 degrees from my intended target line, and then followed it up with a confused blast attempt that advanced the ball just shy of 2 feet.

For me, golf is one big contradiction. I am at once fantastic and a complete moron. For every part of me that thinks I can get one back on the next hole, there’s an equally cynical part that can’t help but measure my worthlessness in hours spent watching Golf Channel reruns of “Playing Lessons with the Pros.” In both senses of the word, golf is my albatross – my hopeful pursuit of something as grand as a double-eagle, and my constant, weighty reminder of how bad I stink. The thing is, the optimistic part always wins. The perfect click of a pure 5-iron always resonates longer than the rattle of a topped wedge. I am conflicted, but I keep going, chasing the echoes of my last decent swing.

So there I was, vowing, promising, to get this particular 15-footer to the hole. That I did. After hitting a break-erasing missile every bit of 6 feet past the cup, I missed the come-backer and tapped in for 14. As she put the flagstick back in the hole, my wife and playing partner broke the tension with a well-delivered “nice putt.” This was nice, I thought. Anything other than a clumsy three-putt would have seemed completely unnatural at this point.

We finished the nine, and on the drive home I began contemplating the list of useful things that I could have accomplished with the two hours I’d just wasted shooting a zillion over par. You know the feeling — this is the all-too-familiar wave of guilt that invariably accompanies periods of golf depression. The piles of money spent, the countless Sunday afternoons listening to Johnny Miller rant, the stealthy trunk-to-first-tee jogs at twilight that make you feel like you’re cheating on the rest of your life. What a waste. And then the second wave of guilt for being privileged enough to own a $300 driver and at the same time infantile enough to actually believe that playing bad golf is a big problem. Maybe I’ll put the clubs in the closet for a few weeks, I thought. Maybe I’ll actually attempt to do something productive with my free time (or with my work time, for that matter). That wouldn’t be a half-bad idea.

But tomorrow is Monday. The course will be empty. If I can get out by 4:00 maybe I could squeeze in…

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