I won’t be golfing the northernmost links on the mainland UK until tomorrow, but as I sit here in my hotel room in Wick, so very high up in the Highlands, it is beginning to feel like it’s all downhill from here. (For those keeping score, I have already played the northernmost golf course in all the UK–Whalsay in the Shetland Islands–along with the UK’s most southern (Mullion), and I’m headed for the most western courses, both mainland and island.)
I have left no golfing stone unturned in this search for the answer to golf, but in my daily dash to play on and on and on, I have left little time to think about what it is that I have actually found.
I’m well past the halfway point, 80 or so scorecards shipped home in zip-lock bags. In all this golf, there have been roadblocks and blessings and surprises and lessons–enough to write a book about, if not a few. I won’t get into all the magic of the last six weeks (they’ll be shared in hardback soon enough), but I will say that I am alive and well, that I have lost 22 pounds to date, that this is the worst spring/summer weather in Scottish history (I’m told this on a daily basis), and that after all these rounds, two and three a day, each and every day, I still wake up excited for the golf ahead of me. What a great game. And what a wonderful place.
Despite missing my girls with all my heart (a month away from a one-year-old feels like the greatest sacrifice of this endeavor–the myriad aches and strains are small beer in comparison), this once bizarre-feeling enterprise has settled into a comfortable routine. And though I’m rarely in one place for more than an evening, something about all this feels comfortable.
It’s a strange thing to feel at home on the road. It happened for me in Ireland, and it takes a while to get there. And it’s good. It’s keeping me going. The trip that seemed impossible by day four, the itinerary that I cursed, the miles I would never make–it’s rolling along. And I’m trying to run less and pause more, because I know when it’s over I will miss it so. Not the hotels, or the fish n chips (three nights in a row on my current streak–not my longest of the trip), or the driving, or the voice of the sat-navigation (though the computer’s British accent has become a reassuring companion that I hear in my sleep), but I will dearly miss the fact that I get to go out every morning and chase something. I get to live my entire day in search of my best golfing self. It’s selfish and indulgent and exhausting. And it is the time of my golfing life. All thanks to the extraordinary and abundant links of the UK, to all the amazing friends who have joined me along the way, and to the greatest wife in all the known world.
I hoped that by this point, 15 days until the qualifier, that my golf would be nice and neat and tidy. Surely the mishits and the mystery balls (where the hell did that shot come from?) would have left me after fifty, sixty rounds or so, and I would just be polishing up a steady game. It would simply be a matter of putting the ball in the right places–how to put it there would all be sorted.
But golf is still hard. And it has been hard lately. A few weeks in, I was posting sub-par rounds on a regular basis; this week I’ve been lucky to sniff 75. I can blame it on the wind (it has been RELENTLESS, and borderline unplayable of late), and the rain tends to turn me from a grinder to a whiner, but playing the Wick Links up here at the top of Scotland this afternoon, a gem of a course that was entirely empty save one American braving the gales, I hit a very good drive. And I realized why. And so I hit another. And then I stuffed a seven-iron and started making everything I looked at. And then I started making birdies–pars were effortless, not even worth noticing–and I started planning where my family might stay when I qualify for the Open, if there would be rooms left in St. Andrews, which left me chunking a wedge on 18 and walking off with a sloppy bogey. Humbled but hopeful, and remembering to stay in the process and out of the fantasy. The shots aren’t going to come easy. They aren’t supposed to. And that’s just fine.
Bu the putter is starting to feel great in my hands, and for a golfer, that’s a puncher’s chance. It’s still light up here, but well past my bedtime. There’s great golf ahead of me tomorrow.