I've been practicing. This is a big step. I'd thought I was going to be able to go from a 6 handicap to a scratch without hitting the driving range, but that brilliant idea didn't last long.
The good news is that I found a nine-hole track with a great range only seven minutes from my house. It's on a bluff overlooking the airport.
"The ball doesn't lie," said Jeff Thomsen, the pro at Indian Lake Golf Club in Boise, Idaho. He'd been watching me warm up for about 25 minutes. He had a lot of patience, this guy.
"The ball tells you and me and Tiger the same thing," he continued.
It was telling me I had the hooks. Thomsen, who in competition wears a white tam like Ben Hogan, and whose name pops up on the Champions Tour every so often, suggested I was hitting the wrong half of the ball, the outside half. He started placing the range balls with the stripe pointing at the target; I was to hit the inside half from now on.
To further alleviate my left-to-left ball flight, Thomsen had me bring my right hand around counter-clockwise, a bit more on top of the club. Also, my backswing was precariously close to John Daly's and needed editing.
I started hitting a more reasonable shot pattern and was encouraged. Then Thomsen dropped the bomb.
"You've got to get some blood on your sword," he said.
On some level I knew that this whole "6 to Scratch" thing was a charade if I wasn't going to play in tournaments. And I like tournaments. I don't fear them. It's just that I haven't played competitive golf in a while.
Tiger's won 13 majors, 60 Tour events and three U.S. Amateurs.
I once shot under par for nine holes in a high school match. I won the club championship at a nine-hole course in New York's Hudson Valley. And I shot an opening-round 75 in the Denver Amateur. And, um, well, that's it.
"So, you're due," a friend told me, by way of encouragement.
Bloodying my sword now vaults to the top of my to-do list, along with finding a head coach.
In the meantime, I played 18 holes on my home course, which is not close to home but a good test of golf from the back tees. I was curious to see what my new clubs and swing could accomplish, and while I shot pretty much the same score I always shoot, a 79, I could see progress. Thanks to an epic drive with my new Callaway FT-5, I had only 220-yards to reach a par 5 I've never hit in two before. (Still haven't.) And, I birdied two straight par 4s.
My bogeys resulted not from shamefully bad shots but from mental miscues. I had a double-bogey 6 on a short, watery par 4, which I should not have tried to drive. (What can I say? Playing the same clubs as Phil Mickelson brings out the daredevil in me.)
I missed a five-foot par putt, I three-putted, I short-sided myself. It's amazing how thin the margin is between a 74 and a 79.
After the round, the computer in the clubhouse informed me that I was down to a 5.5. "Nice round today," it said, by way of encouragement, but I'm ready for a 74. That would be encouraging.