I was in the final group. It was not a particularly comforting spot to be in given the current state of my back and my game. And it was even less comforting when our team captain greeted me before the matches, saying, "Here comes our sacrificial lamb." I'm not really sure about this guy's approach to captaincy, but it wasn't anything I wasn't already thinking, so maybe he was just trying to lessen the tension. Who knows.
Two of my opponents were twenty-somethings that were around scratch. The other one was Joe, a well-known player closer to my age from Smugglers Glen, who I had played once before and been soundly beaten. I didn't know the young guys, but I knew Joe could really play. I figured I had about as much chance of winning a match as getting hit with a piece of SkyLab. But, if someone had to be the sacrificial lamb, I figured it might as well be me. I've long ago learned how to lose. And I've learned that it isn't fatal. In fact, it's not so bad if you figure you gave it your best shot.
I hit a few balls on the range and was hitting it pretty solid, so I teed off feeling about as positive as I could feel under the circumstances. I also felt a bit better when I heard that Joe was late and planned to catch up with the rest of us out on the course, forfeiting the holes he missed. That turned out to be only the first hole, but I figured a one up lead on Joe was better than nothing.
The young lads could really bomb it. On holes where they actually needed to use driver, they were easily fifty yards by me. I hung in there as best I could for the first nine holes, actually making the turn up in two of my three matches. I was feeling pretty good, even though I'd had to go to the morphine to deal with the pain. I even thought at that point that I might actually manage to stay alive for enough holes that I wouldn't be totally humiliated upon my return to the clubhouse. In fact, I dared think that, if I could just keep doing what I was doing, I might even win a match or two.
These days my back is so bad that I'm really only good for about twelve holes--and that's if I don't make a bad swing. My last inter-club outing a week ago, I played the first twelve holes in two under par and had two of the three guys I was playing six down. I'd made four birdies and they had struggled. Things were looking pretty good with me being dormie with two of the guys and two up on the other guy. But then I started to fade, making bogeys on four of my next five holes. I won the two matches easily with a par on fourteen, but the guy who was two down came roaring back and beat me.
Sure enough, the same thing happened yesterday. After twelve holes, I started to really fade. I started hitting short, hooky drives and pushing and hooking approaches, struggling to get through the ball and finish my swing. I managed to win my match against Joe, five and three. But this was only because Joe had back issues of his own, and played probably about as poorly as he could possibly play. He was finished after fifteen holes and headed back to the clubhouse for some liquid "painkiller." I lasted just one more hole before the two flat-bellies finished me off as well. Youth was definitely served on the day. Us old guys got pretty soundly beaten by the young guns.
It's becoming increasingly clear that my days of competing successfully are coming to an end. The prognosis for my back is not good, so I'm definitely not going to get better, and I'll likely only get worse. But it really is still fun to compete. I thoroughly enjoyed my day, as I did last week. The company was good. The matches were friendly, and somewhat competitive. And I'm still on the right side of the grass; bloodied, as they say, but not yet bowed.
It could be worse. It can always be worse.