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The Globe and Mail

Breaking 80: Getting to the root of my rot

Chris Zelkovich

Peter Power/Peter Power/ The Globe and Mail

As my tee shot soared majestically down the first fairway, landing more than 270 yards from where it began, I swear I could hear Johnny Miller's voice above those of the angels singing its praises.

"Tremendous drive," he whispered in the way TV golf commentators do even when they're in a booth 150 yards from the action. "You couldn't draw up a better shot than that. Looks like Zelkovich has finally figured out this game."

When the subsequent shot from 80 yards sailed 20 yards past the flag, his voice took on a more ominous tone: "Don't know what he was thinking on that one."

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So there's at least one thing I have in common with Johnny. I, too, had no idea what I was thinking on that first shot, which probably was more an example of the blind squirrel and acorn theory than any indication of true golfing skill.

Like most high handicappers, I have absolutely no idea why I make bad shots or why I make good ones. How I hit a 275-yard tee shot and how I missed an easy pitch are as mysterious to me as calculus or Michael Ignatieff.

And that's why, during my latest battle against the evil forces of golf, I took some comfort in the plans that Golf Canada and the PGA of Canada have in store for me. As Golf Canada chief sport officer Jeff Thompson explained to me, the best route is in finding somebody who won't just triage the symptoms that are causing my game to bleed internally but get to the root of my rot by treating the whole game.

Thompson will consult with PGA Canada to find a coach - a moment's silence for him or her, please - who will work on every aspect of my, ahem, game.

Everything from the mental approach to swing mechanics to nutrition and fitness, can affect your score, he told me, inspiring me to consider replacing those Jean Van de Velde commemorative head covers that I know are costing me a couple of strokes per round.

Head covers aside, I believe that the biggest part of the game is between the ears – at least in my case. My latest round was a perfect illustration of that.

I played Saw-Whet Golf Course in Oakville on a sunny April day. For the record, Saw-Whet won.

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Now, Saw-Whet is the kind of course good golfers call forgiving. Bad golfers like myself call it a place where we have a reasonable chance of breaking 100 even on our bad days and threatening 80 on our good ones. As usual, I fell somewhere in the middle.

The round was typical of my performance: a collection of inexplicable very good shots bracketed by equally inexplicable shots sprayed all over the course – and beyond - all punctuated by an ability to avoid par that I have elevated to an art form.

After studiously avoiding par following that tremendous drive on the first hole – I can supply a witness on request – I took a different route on the 375-yard, par 4 second.

My drive travelled all of 180 yards, slightly to the left of the fairway, setting up a triple bogey that ended with a three-putt.

The 427-yard third hole started well enough with a straight 240-yard drive – again, I have a witness -- but hopes for par were quickly dashed with a 5-wood push that landed just off the fairway. Unfortunately, the fairway in question was on the neighbouring Deerfield Golf Course.

A round of golf: $35. Gas used to get there: $5. Playing two courses with one shot: priceless.

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At least there were no marshalls on Deerfield that day, so I didn't have to pay extra.

A one-putt finish salvaged another bogey, leading to another errant drive and another bogey on the fourth.

Things looked promising on the 126-yard, par-3 fifth when I landed my tee shot on the green, which I've come to realize is a good place to put it. But things took their natural course as I three-putted my way to yet another bogey.

You get the picture. I did manage two more pars – both on par-3 holes – as well as a lot of bogeys and double-bogeys.

I did avoid another visit to Deerfield, though.

In the end, I shot 92. That's about average for me, but it could have been so much better – assuming someone else had inhabited my body for half the round.

Of course, it could have been much worse had I been on a less friendly course that played more than Saw-Whet's 6,024 yards from the whites.

I can just imagine what Johnny Miller would have said about that.

PREVIOUSLY: Why doesn't golf love me back?


Chris Zelkovich has accomplished many things in a journalism career that has spanned almost 40 years. He has worked as a reporter, editor and columnist for a variety of newspapers and his work has appeared in several magazines. His 12 years in golf have been somewhat less distinguished.

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