FIRST ROUND OF THE FUTURE

Editor’s Note: This is my third post from last season (2011). I’ll be posting some fresh rounds from 2o12 soon…

Whiskey Creek
May 21, 2011

They arrived in my office five days ago.

I had been waiting anxiously for nine days since the fitting took place. I was even practicing my reaction to their arrival like I had been nominated for an Academy Award. Do I shake the delivery man’s hand? Should I film him taking them off the truck? If they arrive while I’m at my desk and one of my coworkers kindly drops them off for me, should I be wearing glasses so that I can whip them off dramatically? Which one should I unwrap first to show to my colleagues? Will they care? (Nope.) This is what I spent my time thinking about and preparing for while at work all day every day.

Instead, I returned from a lame late morning meeting downtown to find a box unceremoniously leaning against the wall in my office across from my desk, as if the contents were as exciting as the disposable razors I get from Amazon every two months. Unbelievably this was the one situation for which I was ill prepared. I have no idea why I assumed I’d be present when the moment arrived. But I wasn’t, and, well, it was supposed to be more dramatic than this dammit!

Can you guess which of these things is new?

 

I stood there stunned, staring at the box. Say something. Go talk to them. I closed my office door behind me – possibly mid conversation with a coworker, I can’t remember. I very carefully pulled the box away from the wall and placed it on the floor. After some frantic searching for something sharp to tear through the multiple layers of packaging tape (normally I’d be frustrated, but I grinned in appreciation that Titleist cared as much for my new clubs as I did) I unsealed the edges and slowly opened the top. One white sheet of paper covered the contents from end to end and separated the top four clubs from the bottom four. Each head was shrink-wrapped in plastic and covered in bubble wrap. The smell of the rubber grips was intoxicating. In a good way.

Too bad Titleist doesn’t also throw a small chunk of dry ice into the box to give off a Raiders of the Lost Ark feel. Right before their faces melt off and their heads explode, of course.

You can keep your eyes open, Marion.

 

I take out the 8 iron, remove the bubble wrap, and carefully peel away the thin layer of protective plastic around the club head. It is the most beautiful 8 iron these eyes have ever seen, without a single scratch or scuff mark visible, and it looks like it may have been buffed before packaging! The grip feels impossibly dry, not yet spoiled by the oils of a golfer’s hands during a typical day at the course. The only thing I can think of is that it feels like a fresh stick of gum right out of the wrapper. I give the whole club a once-over, take my stance in the small area next to my desk, tuck my necktie into my shirt after it interferes with my grip, and take one slow practice swing without knocking any pictures off the wall.

Man, does this club feel…right.

But I’m at work, so back in the box it goes. I immediately email Mike and BJ to tell them the New Era has arrived and that we must make a tee time for the weekend. Whiskey Creek at 10:36am it is. It’s going to be a long 93 hours, 52 minutes, and 17 seconds……..

Although Whiskey is a haul for us and we often don’t get out there with time to spare before teeing off, BJ and Mike are good guys and thus are more than happy to get up a little earlier on a Saturday morning so that I can have some quality time at the range with my new babies. I’m getting choked up just thinking about what top men they are. Top. Men.

The range is on the far side of the clubhouse from where you check in, next to the ninth hole and above the tenth tee. We make our way over there, after acquiring our carts, and park near the row of tee markers on the other side of the wide cart path. The path is a good five feet below the tees, and most golfers grab only a handful of clubs to take across the cart path and up the embankment. I grab my PW, 8, 6, 4, and 3 and head up to the tee. Directly behind each range slot sits a metal rack on which to lean your clubs. I place each club down like it’s made of ceramic and can see, out of the corner of my eye, BJ and Mike watching me do this with amusement.

I do some stretching, and then remember that I’ll need my sand wedge to start off my warm ups. As I start down the hill toward the cart, I hear the faint sound of metal scraping against metal behind me. I turn around to see all five of my brand new clubs sliding off the right side of the rack. In the same way that one out of every three Miami Vice episodes ended with Crockett running after someone in slow motion shouting “NO!” I lunged toward my clubs and only managed to get out a “WHAnaahhhhh!” Not only did the clubs fall off the rack and into the grass, but the rack itself fell over and landed on top of them.

No damage was caused by the defective rack, but the frozen reactions of my two friends a few feet away were priceless. BJ was in mid-swing with a wide-eyed look of horror, whereas Mike made the half-assed but much appreciated “I will make a few token steps toward the clubs to show that I care but I really have no chance of getting there in time” move. I force out a laugh, quietly pick up my clubs and the rack, and go on preparing for my First Round of the Future.

Trying to lower my expectations right out of the gate I focus on simply getting a good feel for the new clubs. Not only is the weight different, but the grips are new for me as well. For at least 10 years my DCIs had cord grips, or ones with thin threads of rope running throughout the rubber. They were great for traction – and ripping gloves to shreds – but this time around I went with some classic no frills grips.

Even the grips deserve a close-up.

 

After hitting no more than twenty balls, I decide that it’s time to get this party started.

The tee shot on the first hole at Whiskey Creek is uphill to a wide open fairway before it doglegs right around two big bunkers and a hazard all along the lower right. The bunkers can easily be flown, but as the hole is only 381 yards, it comes down to how much of a risk you want to take on your first shot of the day. Not much if you ask me, so I aim for the first large bunker on the upper left side of the hole and find the middle of the fairway with my trusty Diablo. Mike follows suit, while BJ shows us both up by selecting a 3 iron AND flying it over the bunker into the fairway. I guess that’s how we’re going to play it today.

I walk off my ball to 136 yards from the pin in the middle left portion of the green. There is a large bunker on the left about 15 yards short of the green, and its placement throws off your depth perception enough to make you think the green is closer. I grab my 9 iron and take a few practice swings. A goofy smile creeps onto my face in anticipation of hitting my first official shot with the Titleist CB 710s. One more glance at the pin, one more waggle, one tiny forward press, and the swing begins. Perfect contact is made and the ball is airborne. Four seconds later the ball is bouncing on the green and rolling to within 20 feet of the cup.

Damn. That was awesome.

All three of us find the green and two-putt for pars. We have come to play today.

No. 2 is a great hole, even shorter than the opener at 363 yards, but all uphill to a narrow and severely back-to-front sloped green. The fairway runs off the hill from right-to-left and into two big bunkers near the landing area. My drive safely hits the middle of the fairway where I’m left with another 135-ish approach shot. I judge it to be one extra club and hit the 8 iron, but I catch too much turf and the ball lands short and right of the green in the thick rough. A chip, two putts, and a dumb bogey.

Now the one thing I assumed, whether it was warranted or not, is that with a brand new set of clubs I would instantly hit every iron farther and straighter. This is a given, right? Well, the key word there is instantly, and I should have known better before choosing a 6 iron on the tee of the 169-yard par 3. Overconfidence this early in the round is silly but that is my reason for aiming directly at the pin on the back right corner, behind a bunker, and at least another 10 yards past the posted yardage. Last week I would have hit a 4 iron, but today with my “magic clubs” I will hit a 6. (It might also have something to do with BJ going before me and hitting an 8!)

My ball landed so short that it didn’t even smell the bunker. In fact it kicked hard left into a giant collection area on the left front side of the green. Terrible. And then I three-putt for a double-bogey five.

This is quickly followed by another three-putt on the long par 5 fourth and a routine par on No. 5. And before I can get too worried about my new investment, I stick a perfect PW from the far left side of the fairway to 7 feet on the par 4 sixth hole. I drop the putt for birdie, and walk to the next tee with a 1-up lead on Mike and only a 1-hole deficit to BJ in our respective matches.

No. 7 is a 134-yard par 3 with a heart-shaped green guarded in the front by two bunkers, the left one being very large and welcoming. The pin is way up front today in the little neck of the green, and we all judge the distance to be 120 at the most. Though this is the tiniest part of the green with little room for error on either side, I’m salivating at the prospect of hunting down another flag with my dialed-in PW. Sure enough I hit one right at the pin, but it ends up skidding up the slope about 15 feet. Not great, but I’ll have another run at birdie. Mike hits a nearly identical PW to just inside my ball, and BJ flies the green with his. He hasn’t quite mastered the ¾ swing this early in the season.

My birdie putt is downhill all the way, perhaps as much as a foot, and breaks slightly left. I barely tap it and watch as it barely gets half way home. I shake it off by making some comment to Mike about not wanting to give him a read, and throw a mark behind my ball. Wow, was that bad. Mike’s attempt is not much better as he misses long and left, but he taps in for par and gets out of my way. After some self doubt, and the sudden realization that the group behind us is waiting on the tee, I aim for the back of the cup and drill it home for par.

Still 1-up on Mike, and now even with BJ after his bogey.

The eighth hole is another relatively short par 4 at 359 yards. It has a generous fairway to hit off the tee to the right, but there is a giant bunker on the left near the landing area that creates a dogleg left feel, and OB all along the left side that you can’t help but notice as you address your ball. Driver is not absolutely necessary here and you can aim as far right as you wish, but a hill on the right side of the hole takes away a clear view of the green and hides the large bunker guarding its front side. Oh yes, and the green is narrow and long shots will find another bunker off the back. Good times.

I start by missing my first fairway of the day to the right and into the trees. I hit a great punch shot around the base of a tree, but find the front edge of the greenside bunker. It takes me two to get out and two to get home. Double-bogey 6. Mike makes a routine and underrated par and BJ makes a 7, taking one more shot than me to get out of the same bunker.

It took us quite some time to rake that sucker after five total shots.

Mike and I par No. 9 to tie with 41s. BJ did not have the best of front nines – his two triples sealed the deal – and he finishes with a 47. I’m very pleased with how I’m hitting the new CBs, so pleased in fact that I’m rather upset with my 5-over 41. Two bogies and a birdie were ruined by doubles on Nos. 3 and 8. Unacceptable.

This is a rather poorly framed shot of the par 5 ninth.

 

The back nine begins with a great up-and-down to save par on No. 10 and a pretty 6 iron to the middle of the green on the par 3 eleventh that leads to a two-putt par. No. 12 is a par 4, 413 yards in length, and is cut into three parts. The tee shot must carry a deep ravine to a wide open fairway, which covers the top of a rolling hill. Missing the fairway right will only hurt the yardage on your second shot, whereas missing left will likely kick hard off the hill and into the well-manicured yard of a very nice home. From there the fairway heads down and to the left into another ravine, across from which lies the narrow, two-tiered green cut into the side of the next hill and guarded by two front bunkers. Sometimes I feel relieved leaving this hole with a bogey.

Like today.

The next hole is also a par 4, a dogleg right, and steadily uphill the whole way. There is a strong right-to-left tilt to the hole when you look at it from the tee, with one fairway bunker near the landing area on the left and lots of tall weeds on the right. For some reason I never line up correctly on this hole and I hit a line drive into the wasteland on the right. BJ’s eagle eyes help me locate the ball, and all I can do is hack it out with an 8 iron to the middle of the fairway. With 142 yards left, and my 8 iron still out of the bag, I hit one of the prettiest iron shots in years to 5 feet from the pin on the back left corner.

This nice par save puts me 2-up on the back in both my matches. And I don’t intend to give them back.

I think the par 4 fourteenth hole at Whiskey is my favorite. No matter how well you think you’re playing, you still approach this tee shot with fear. The fairway is far below the tee boxes and runs between a pond on the left and a tiny strip of rough on the right that is covered in pine trees. There is no bailout off this tee, unless you push it wildly into the sixteenth fairway. The hole is dead straight and ends with a green that juts out ever so slightly over the edge of the water on the left.

Despite missing the fairway on the previous hole, I’m feeling confident in the Diablo. I aim toward the right edge of the fairway, take a deliberately slow backswing, and connect on a solid drive that starts out toward the right cart path and draws back into the middle of the fairway. Take that, Mike.

Oh he does, and hits an even prettier drive a few steps left of my ball and maybe 5 yards farther. Maybe. BJ also hits the fairway…on the sixteenth hole. Once he makes a stellar recovery shot back onto our hole – while under fire from the group playing the par 5 – it is my turn to put the pressure on Mike. The pin is on the left portion of the wide green that is split by a ridge down the middle. It is not necessary to carry the water to reach the flagstick, but water is certainly close enough to cause problems with an errant shot. The yardage is 147. I decide not to flirt with the pond and instead aim at the small trap on the back edge. The 8 iron is once again called upon to get the job done and it doesn’t disappoint. A perfectly struck ball never leaves my line to that trap and bounces up onto the middle of the green, leaving me with no more than 20 feet for birdie.

No buyer’s remorse with these babies. At least not with my 8.

Mike wastes no time stepping up to his ball (the man epitomizes “ready golf”), also choosing an 8 iron, and also sticking his approach shot in the middle of the green. Hot with a little more draw than mine, his ball rolls to within 8 feet. Mike sinks this uphill putt for birdie after my two-putt par, and the match is now officially a barnburner.

The fifteenth is a par 3 and, at 191 yards, it is long enough to have a fairway that wraps around the left edge of a pond. The green runs diagonally from left to right away from the tee and is guarded by three bunkers – one long, and two wedged between the green and the water. You can miss the green to the right but it has to be pretty long to avoid wetness. Mike quickly discovers this when he pushes his tee shot way right and into the tall grass, clearing the pond by about 18 inches.

The tees are up today and the pin is smack dab in the middle of the green. Trying to erase the vision of someone hitting a push, I favor the left side of the green, the meaty part, and hit a dead straight 5 iron to about 25 feet. This sets up a perfectly acceptable two-putt par, as Mike is forced to take an unplayable and a bogey.

Back to 2-up on Mike. And after his textbook par, I’m dormie on BJ.

No. 16 is the first par 5 on the back nine, and rifle straight. The entire hole has a left-to-right tilt to it, as the final 150 yards or so head straight uphill to an isolated green, with three deep bunkers bridging the gap between the end of the fairway and the putting surface. There are fairway bunkers on either side of the landing area, and a pair of big-arse, overhanging trees on the left about 90 yards apart. My drive misses the fairway right, Mike’s misses left, and BJ’s splits the difference by bounding up the middle of the short stuff.

For the first time all day – indeed ever – I pull out the hybrid. When hybrids were all the rage just a few years ago I rolled my eyes at the Next Big Thing. “I don’t even bother with long irons anymore.” “They’re amazing.” “I can hit it out of five feet of rough.” “Hybrids have given me a new lease on life.” Spare me. “They’re probably illegal.” Yup, they probably are.

Two weeks ago when I visited my former boss and high school golf coach to get fitted for new clubs, the very first thing he tried to sell me on was hybrids. I hadn’t seen him in 10 years and he immediately questioned my sanity.

“Hey, John. Great to see you.”

“You too. So you want to get fitted for new irons.”

“I do, yes.”

“Are you thinking pitching wedge through 5 iron?”

“Uh no, I’d like a full set. Pitching wedge through 3.”

“Well how many hybrids do you want?”

“Zero.”

“So let me get this straight: nearly every touring pro has at least one hybrid in the bag, most have several, but you know better than those who make a living playing the game. You don’t want to play your very best. Is that what you’re telling me?”

“Ah, just like the old days, coach.”

I held firm on getting my full set of irons. I don’t care how much the game has changed. I like the challenge of hitting a long iron, and the satisfaction I receive when one is struck well is something I am unwilling to give up. If that makes me the John Cleese character from the old Titleist NXT commercials, so be it. That’s golf. But I did allow him to talk me into replacing my 5 wood with an equivalent hybrid. I reasoned that if I didn’t like the hybrid, I could easily trade it in for a more traditional 5 wood. That’s a little less commitment to something I don’t yet trust than mixing and mashing a set of irons in a way that would probably be a nightmare to complete later on.

So…finally, reluctantly, I stand over a shot in the rough with my brand new Titleist 910H, fully prepared to be disappointed. I waggle a few times, carefully rest the club behind the ball, and swing away. The club head slices right through the tall grass like a blowtorch through butter, and the ball pops off the face with one of the prettiest sounds I have ever heard. With little-to-no effort my ball is rocketing down the middle of the fairway as I stand there like Hogan at Merion.

Holy ****.

I look over at BJ and Mike. Both have looks that say, “Welcome to the party, pal.” The ball comes to rest near the end of the fairway halfway up the hill, which is likely 215 yards away. That is quite a knock for the amount of effort exerted on that swing. Hmm.

Enlarged to show texture.

 

BJ was still walking off his ball – more than 40 yards past mine and Mike’s – and I offered to let him hit the magic club. He declined at first but then realized that his clubs were all the way down the hill where he left his cart. So he said okay, and moments later launched his ball well past the edge of the fairway to only a few feet short of the green. “Wow,” he said.

“Wow.”

With 55 yards left to the back right pin placement, there is no reason not to get this close. Except for the elevation change and a flagstick that is not visible from my location. So a good guess on how hard to swing helps me set up a four-foot birdie putt, which I drop in the heart of the cup.

I may keep the hybrid for now.

The birdie four ends both of my matches as BJ’s incredible second shot is followed by his first “two chip” of the season, and Mike’s errant tee shot leads to a dismal double-bogey. With both matches in hand, I stupidly bogey Nos. 17 and 18 to finish with a 79.

For the first time in 15 years my bag did not have a set of DCIs poking out of the top, and whether it was beginner’s luck or the sign of things to come, I managed to break 80. And honestly I think I could have played even better. That’s not a bad way to break in a new set of sticks. This summer is going to be awesome.

Oddly enough, it was the oldest club in my bag that made the biggest impact. I had 18 putts on the front and 13 on the back. And THAT is why the Ping Anser 3 will never – repeat, never – be replaced.

Key stats:

  • 10 out of 14 fairways
  • 9 greens
  • 31 putts (13 on the back)
  • Handicap Index remains at 5.4

 

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What did you think of this round?