Where an “under par” performance is something to cherish

When I started this blog about 3 years or so ago, I gave it the title “Of Birds, Birdies and Biryanis” with the intention of writing about three hobbies that seemed to dabble with in my spare time – Bird Photography, Golf and Cooking.

Looking back at the posts that I have written over this period, they seem to be skewed towards just the first of these three. There could be several reasons for this skew. First and foremost, there are good stories out there on the first topic that I have been lucky to have experienced. And maybe I have had more than my fair share of these. Secondly, with most weekends being packed with golfing or a photo tour, the third of these hobbies has been getting the short end of the stick. And with my daughter doing baking experiments at home all the time, the kitchen is far less available these days than before – we can’t have the two of us stepping on each other’s toes now, can we?

Brings me back to this question – for someone who plays nearly 100 rounds of golf every year, not counting the 100+  mid-week 9-hole rounds before heading to work, why have I not written about “birdies”? I guess (a) there is nothing exciting to write about in golf (b) golfing for me is an intensely meditative experience and it I find it difficult to write about it (c) despite being a better than average golfer and a single handicapper, I can’t really think of any “wow” moments that I have had (the couple that I have had a few years back are probably the only time I have written about my golf) (d) I am not one of these technique-obsessed fanatics that walk on the course who has some tips to share with the folks who might read my posts (e) what is there to write about in an endeavour where I attempt to strike a small white ball in the exact direction that I intend to with the objective of holing it out in the least possible strokes (e) who reads golf posts anyway?

Having said all of that about golfing, I felt that it was time to write one about it – just to keep the title of my blog-post still relevant. And I carded something today on the golf course that is a rare occurrence for a weekend leisure golfer – an “under par” round and a blemish-less one at that.

Now, before you go wondering why an “under par” round is cause for celebration, let me explain how it works. Every hole on a golf course has a “par” score – defined as the number of strokes a skilled golfer would take to hole out the ball starting from the tee. Usually, on most courses, these are Par 3, 4 or 5. So an “under par” round is one where one has managed to complete the round with the level of proficiency of a skilled golfer (or better). That is a seriously good thing. Esp. for a weekend, leisure golfer

What makes it blog-worthy is that it was not just an “under-par” round – it was a blemish-less round as well. One where on each hole that I played, I managed a Par or better. And I can’t really remember if I have ever done that before. Just a big caveat though, I had time to play only 9-holes this morning. So, it was technically just a half-round. Still, worthy of documenting I thought.

Here is how my score-card for this round looked like:-

I teed-off just before sunrise, with a 3-wood on the 10th tee. A nice start with a good drive right down the middle of the fairway, 228 yards against the wind. With the pin set right at the back of the green, a good 8-iron shot left me pin-high but just off the putting surface. I chose to chip my third shot leaving me a tricky 10-foot putt that I was happy to sink and start the round with a par.

I used a driver on the 11th and thought that I hit it a bit too low. It was still a bit dark and I couldn’t really see where I had hit the ball. Neither could my caddie. We spent a few mins looking for the ball and couldn’t find it. Till I spotted a white speck quite a bit ahead from where we were searching for it. Luckily, that did turn out to be where it was – a 257 yd drive just off the fairway to the right. A very good 202-yd 3-iron shot left me just off the green and about 12 yards away from the hole. A well controlled short chip left me a 6-footer putt to hole for a birdie. That felt very good considering that I had muffed up a similar chance the day before.

A strong 8-iron off the tee on the 12th against a slight wind helped me find the green in regulation and about 15-feet short of the hole. It was a slightly uphill putt that had a left-to-right break with some early-winter morning dew on the putting surface. I thought that I had stroked the putt perfectly and it looked like it was going to drop in for sure. Unfortunately, it seemed to catch an imperfection on the lip of the hole that kept it away.

I was now on to a series of 3 long and lovely par-4 holes on the back-9 of the Golden Greens Golf course. A well struck driver on the 13th tee saw the left-to-right wind push the ball away from its line and it landed on the right edge of the fairway. I thought that I caught a bit of the ground behind the ball on my next shot, a pitching wedge, but that didn’t seem to affect the end result too much. I was about 6-inches outside the green and below the hole and decided to go with the putter. The ball must have been about 27 ft away, maybe about 1 foot uphill and an 18-inch left to right break. Basically, one of those situations where I would usually take a 2-putt for par and walk away happy. Today was one of those days when I couldn’t have done much wrong – the ball started off in the right direction with the right speed and continued all the way till it hit the centre of the cup and the flag and dropped in. Another birdie.

Now I was well and truly rocking. And decided to really smack the daylights off the ball on the 14th tee using a driver. Usually, for me, that is a sure-shot recipe for disaster as the slight opening up of the club-face ends up imparting a side-ways spin and a big fade on the ball, a sure-shot distance killer. I was lucky that I managed to carry 260-yds and even luckier that I found myself in the fairway bunker on a nice clean lie. I had a 150-yd shot to the hole, decided to pick up one-club longer than I usually would for this distance (an 8-iron instead of the 9) and play a conservative approach. And I seemed to execute that to perfection. The ball was pin-high and left me with a 15-footer, very slightly down-hill putt with a small right-to-left break. I must have over-estimated the dew on the green and found my putt catch the lip of the cup and continue a couple of feet. Another birdie that lipped out, another solid par.

The 15th hole is one of the trickier ones that I usually have some trouble with on the approach. Today, with a strong head-wind, it was playing even longer than the 410-odd yds that it was. My 248-yd drive felt much longer than it actually was and I found myself in the rough with a slightly heavy lie and a 165-yard shot to the pin. My 6-iron ended up being very heavy and I found myself about 30 yards shot of the hole on the fairway. The follow-on pitching wedge couldn’t have been more perfect and rolled to a stop about 8 feet short of the hole on the green. A fairly simple and straight-forward putt gave me another par.

The signature 16th hole was playing against the wind and I hit a rather poor 7-iron leaving the ball well short and in some really bad rough. All I wanted to do was to ensure that I make a good contact with the ball with the grind-wedge and give myself some chance of getting up-and-down. I put my head down, took several practice swings and hit it as well as I could have given the circumstances. A 15-foot putt was all that was left. On this green, any putt is tricky given how the breaks are. And I was glad to see the ball find the hole with a nice stroke. Phew. Saved Par.

The wind was swirling around slightly by now and I was once again playing against the wind (and left-to-right) on the 17th. A solid 3-wood off the tee saw the wind push it to the right and I was on the edge of the treacherous thick “jungle”. The lie was not too bad though and that gave me a good chance of playing a normal shot. I hit a good 8-iron about 153-yards uphill and pin-high. A 27-foot putt which I struck well and saw the ball break agonisingly to the right just a few inches from the hole. Another birdie that got away today – the par meant that I was playing 2-under for the round so far and unless I really messed up the next hole I would be able to walk away super-satisfied with the quality of my game today.

Usually, thinking too far ahead in golf ends up messing your head – “don’t count your chicken….” must have been written by a golfer. So I tried to clear all these thoughts away on the 18th tee and focused on getting a nice and smooth swing with the driver. And boy, oh boy, did I connect with that driver absolutely perfectly. The ball flight was exactly in the line that I wanted it to be with a slight draw which took it over the bunker on the right of the fairway. The ball pitched just off the fairway and came to rest in the centre of the fairway – good 283-yds from the tee. Unfortunately for me, the way the fairway winds its way through the long par-5 18th hole, there are just no flat lies, esp beyond 250-yds. So I had to play a ball well above my feet and on an inclined down-slope. I should have realised that choosing the 3-iron with this position was not really the right play. I hit a terrible shot, catching the ground a good inch behind the ball. Thankfully for me, the line was right and the ball was still in the fairway but a good 30-yards behind where it should have been. I still had a 3rd shot to make amends for the earlier one and a solid pitching wedge was probably a bit too solid.  It left me with a long 50-foot putt all the way down from the back-edge of the green. The putt felt really good when it was struck and I saw the ball hold its line and roll towards the hole. It just picked up a bit of speed from the downslope, hit the hole dead-centre, jumped up and lost momentum and rolled a couple of feet ahead. A third missed birdie-putt and an easy putt coming back to hole out with the 7th par.

Though there were a couple of errors in the 34-shots that I played, I managed to recover well from them. 7-pars and 2-birdies for a 2-under-par 9-hole score of 34. Just 13 putts for the half-round. And a score-card that had no blemishes. Now to try and sustain this play over a full round.

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