BOISE, Idaho — I played 18 with the reigning Idaho Open champion, Scott Masingill, the other day, and he shot the easiest looking 69 you'll ever see. I fired a smooth 84 with two birdies, an opening double-bogey and a whole lotta bogeys.
The crazy thing is I drove it great. (If you're ever in Payette, Idaho, play Scotch Pines. Masingill and his dad built pretty much the whole 18.)
In my quest to go from a 6 handicap to a scratch I can see glimpses of the player I could become. Thanks to new clubs, a personal trainer and a handful of lessons, I hit more good shots, make more birdies and even card an eagle every so often. I hit it longer, thanks to my new driver and maybe the fact that I've lost 15 pounds of fat and gained 9 of muscle.
Alas, I still suffer from the Big Miss. This is the result of a stronger left-hand grip, which continues to lead to the occasional wild hook and, just as damning, the premonition that one is on its way. (Which of course leads to a block-push out to the right.)
The other issue is my short game. I couldn't putt worth a damn the other day, and I get the feeling my stroke is way off. I can see the line but I can't seem to hit it there. My chipping, usually one of my strengths, isn't so hot, either.
Basically I'm not playing enough golf. It's getting almost too cold to play here in Boise, as it is in most places in the United States, but that's a lame excuse. Masingill can putt. Boy can he putt. He expects to make them from 30 feet, and when he doesn't he's usually close.
Then again, he's won the Idaho Amateur about 10 times. He shot 59 to win the Idaho Open this year, and he's in Florida for the second stage of Champions tour Q-school this week.
As a collegian at Oregon State he played against such PGA Tour luminaries as Craig Stadler (USC), Tom Watson (Stanford) and Peter Jacobsen (Oregon).
Even in those days Jacobsen was a world-class mimic, and Masingill recalled a tournament in which they were paired together. Both shot a pedestrian 73 in the first round, so they were paired again for round two. That's when Jacobsen decided to channel Arnold Palmer.
The big, bold swing with the whirlybird finish, the hitching up of the pants — Jacobsen embodied every Arnie tick for all 18 holes.
And he shot 68. Masingill shot another 73.
"That's when I realized," Scott said, "This guy might be better than I am."
After my craziest miss of the day, a 9-iron from the fairway that soared 20 yards left of the green (which had a right pin), I asked Scott to intervene. He said misses like that were often caused by a failure to shift one's weight onto the left side, and that I ought to visualize hitting a cut. This led to some of my best shots of the day, including a drive that nipped his own solid strike by a yard or two.
I'm encouraged. I want to play more golf, and for the sake of my game, I need to.