After getting fitted for new clubs, taking lessons from GOLF Magazine Top 100 teachers on both coasts, hitting range balls with a stronger left-hand grip, about 10 sessions with my new personal trainer, a nutritional analysis, and a session with a renowned sports psychologist, it was time to see how the new me responded to playing in a tournament.
The new me shot 82 in the first round, chased by a crowd-pleasing 87 at the Boise City Championship.
How am I doing?
My best shot was a 135-yard 5-iron that ended up 10 feet behind the hole. I'd tell you about my worst one, but it'd be about a 143-way tie.
Yes, it was windy, two- to three-club windy, and cold, just above freezing on the first day. Still, I'd hoped to hit more quality shots.
And yet I finished, which was a victory in itself, and for the most part I didn't get mad. I briefly gave in to the anger at the beginning of round two, after I made a dreaded In-N-Out Burger (double-double), until I came to the realization that my angry guy can't play a lick of golf.
In my attempt to go from a 6 handicap to a scratch, the numbers say I am going the wrong way. I'd called Dr. Richard Coop, a professor at the University of North Carolina who has served as a mental coach to several PGA and LPGA players, the day before the tournament to get a little clarity of thought as I went into battle.
"When you get your scorecard, write OTE three times at the top," Coop said. The letters stand for Opportunity to Excel. Every time I hit my ball behind a tree or in a trap, or anytime things didn't go as planned, I was to take it as an OTE and try like hell to convert.
"You decide how to perceive every shot," Coop continued. "That's mental toughness."
The other big thought rattling around my brain came from a story Tom Lehman once told me. He was playing in his first Ryder Cup and nearly paralyzed with nerves when his partner, Corey Pavin, gave him the best advice he ever got: "Get committed and swing."
Sometimes it all came together, and I hit good shots, especially with my irons. But mostly I couldn't get committed because I didn't trust my new grip, especially not with the driver and especially not with a breeze that was magnifying my mistakes. Trying to get comfortable over the ball and through the hitting area was like trying to tune in a radio. Sometimes I got a strong signal, but mostly it was just a lot of interference.
Saturday's first round featured some laser-like iron shots, and three converted OTEs.
On Sunday I hit a couple of huge and, most important, accurate drives. I was nervous on and off, which got in the way of my feel around the greens. Ironically, I hit two of my best drives on the first hole, a longish par-4 with a lateral hazard down the left side and trees to the right.
The final, 36-hole tally included three birdies, nine or 10 pars, lots of bogeys, two or three double-bogeys and two triple-bogey 7s, which would have been snowmen had I not gotten up-and-down from the sand both times. (No one said an OTE had to lead to a par.) It wasn't nearly good enough to win the first flight, or bad enough to take last place.
One guy in my group shot 86 on Sunday, when the wind was at its worst, and the other fired a 90. He said he would have walked off but for the fact that he's always forbid such a copout from his daughter, a college golfer.
When I finally spoke to Dr. Coop after the tournament, he wanted to know a few things. First, did I have some OTEs? Yes, I told him. Second, he wanted to know if I'd stuck with the new grip.
"I've worked with a lot of guys who swim halfway across the river and turn around," he'd said before the tournament. "It's important that you decide if you're going to go across the river or not."
I'd stuck with the grip, a teensy, tiny victory that I cling to still.
What went wrong? Was I mentally weak? Was it that, as my trainer said, I have the range of motion of a two-by-four?
I say it was the new mechanics, starting with the way I connect to the club, and wind. Finishing first would have been like winning a marathon after an organ transplant, and I didn't expect it. But when I sign up to play in another tournament, to get more "blood on my sword," I expect to do better.
The trust will come. It's somewhere on the other side of that river.