I’m not going to diagnose my chipping issues here, mainly because the diagnosis involves words that golfers don’t want to read. However, my shaky short game has become the part of the game that excites me most about any upcoming round. It’s strange because as a kid I loved hitting driver far. Playing Maynard CC over and over and over again when I was young was a practice in how measuring how far I could hit the ball. Smashing driver on a par 4, and finding it in a new section of the fairway, longer than previous drives excited me and my buddies. When I would play the 11th hole at Concord CC there was a door across the street that we’d try to reach and pass. We called it the “Orange door shot.”
Distance, like my score, was measurable. I knew if I was closer to the green or farther away. I knew if I was hitting a longer iron or a shorter one. When talking about a round with a friend, the distance to the green is a number that can elicit pride. “I had 125 in on the third hole” or “I went driver, 4-iron on 16.”
There was also the frustration of playing against competitors, especially in high school, that had no length and would beat me. I hated it; I’d explain away that my opponent was lucky and I deserved to win because they shouldn’t have made four up and downs and nail three putts over 20 feet and maybe even chipped in once. My blood’s still boiling thinking about those losses.
Now that I’m almost 37 years old and I have aches and pains (currently in my left shoulder, WTF!), the chase for distance and bashing driver isn’t as exciting as it used to be.
Do I have to drive it well because my short game is kinda bad? Yes.
Do I worry about getting 10 extra yards off the tee anymore? Not really. I take more pride in keeping my ball in play (I haven’t lost a ball in 7 rounds… cue the announcers curse when I play next…). Now, when I reflect on a round or look forward to the next round, small chip shots, pitches, and even an awesome lag putt are the shots that cross my mind. They are the ones that lure me back because they are so satisfying, but they lack the sexiness of the 19th hole story. No one wants to hear about a perfectly clipped wedge off a tight lie, that’s boring and stupid. Make a par from the woods or a cavernous bunker and tell that story, but people’s eyes glaze over if you start with, “My ball was on the apron, just right of the green.” Boring!
I’m not going to tell those stories (I’d like people to like me…), but they are the shots that ring like a pitchfork in my bones. Making a ball dance on the green, or sore high over a ridge on the green and roll close to the hole satisfy my hunger for good golf and will always bring me back.
Some of this might be due to my age. It also might be due to the fact that I play different courses every single time I play. I have no reference for distance. I don’t know where my average driver would land over a collection of rounds in a summer. I play the round once and then I’m done with it, maybe to never see it again. However, those shots from 50 yards and in show up on every hole during every round. I know when I hit a good one to help save par and I know when I flub one to make my life more difficult.
What I do know is this. Those little shots will always be there for me to hit, and the long drives slowly dissolve with age. The driver is the mistress, but the wedge is the wife.