I recently entered a 3 club tournament and brought along my 5 wood, 8 iron and putter. I was optimistic – we were playing the Premier Course at Kiev Golf Club, where I regularly shoot in the 60’s. I felt great on the range, and drained a few chips on the practice green. Nothing but blue skies and green lights ahead. I should have known better. Joining in our foursome was a friendly Ukrainian with a bottle of single malt.
“This golf in Ukraine.” he said as he handed me a full plastic shot glass.
I never drink when I play, but what was I supposed to say to that? Good people drink good scotch, and everyone seemed up for it. So I took my drink right there on the tee box, and feeling like a cat after a good stretch, I flushed a high draw and held my finish for style points.
On the third, I chipped in for birdie to go one under par. “We drink for birdies” said my scotch toting droog. So, we threw back another as we readied ourselves on the fourth tee. From 160 yards, I knocked it stiff and canned the putt to go two under. Another birdie, another round of drinks.
On the 6th green, I four putted from 15 feet. Had to be the whisky, right? I didn’t feel drunk but the hole was definitely blurry. I held it together somewhat over the next few holes, until the English chap made a birdie which brought the bottle out again.
From then on, there were no more birdies – but that didn’t stop us from draining the bottle by the 12th tee. Your man promptly rang the bar and ordered another. We didn’t need any more whisky, but once you get started on a bender, the tendency is to take it all the way.
I made a 7 on the 13th – the easiest hole on the course. On 14 I pull-hooked my tee shot onto the 15th tee and then chunked my 8 iron. By this point I was thoroughly lit, telling dirty jokes and smoking a cigar. Who am I kidding? I’m an old hell raiser, and all it takes is one or two to get back in gear. On 15 I hit my 5 wood straight up in the air off the tee. How I made bogey there is unclear.
“The problem with your game,” my Ukrainian friend suggested as he handed me another glass, “is you’re not drinking enough. Trust me, it will help you relax.”
If you’ve ever played with me, you know that the last thing I need is to be more relaxed on the course. I’m Mr Zen himself, breathing slow and deep and throwing out sage quotes from Siddhartha to Sam Snead. Adding firewater to the mix actually produced the opposite effect.
Worst part is that my mental game went in the toilet. After a few bad shots, I lost my confidence. Suddenly I’m trying to fix my swing mid round. I’m doing swing drills on the side, trying to get it back like some rookie duffer. I never do that. It’s poison, and I should know better.
By some miracle, I ripped my 5 wood straight into the wind on the long, par 3 16th. Should have been an easy birdie putt, but I missed it badly and barely rattled in for par. I don’t remember much about 17 and 18, other than the crooked numbers. One vague memory of a bladed approach that almost decapitated a spectator. I felt helpless out there – like one of those dreams where you get in a fight and all your punches are in slow motion.
The Limey in our flight won the tournament. Back in the bar, he credited the booze for helping him keep his head down. Good for him. Turned me into an absolute hack. A frat boy on spring break with golf bag on his shoulder and a stogie in his chops. I didn’t even want to hear my score. I ignored it.
The next day I played the Premier again – slightly hungover but generally straight. One over par. Nary a three putt. Confidence restored. My mental game is so fragile, that one bad round easily undoes twenty good ones. At the same time, I missed the banter – what good is it to make birdies with nobody around to toast them?
So what’s the takeaway? Why do we play golf? To calm our nerves and find our inner Ben Hogan? Or to get twisted and laugh all the way home with our favorite degenerates? The answer for me is clearly one or the other. Certainly not both at the same time. Let’s face it, golf and whisky go together – they are easily Scotland’s two greatest gifts to the world (besides The Average White Band). But for me, a reformed hell-yeah with a fragile ego and raging desire to play scratch – I need to make sure I do them in the correct order.
I’m not a bad golfer, but I stink when I drink.