We all know that Tiger Woods is the best player in the world and when he plays he faces fearsome challenges on the golf course. But here are some that come up when hackers play that Tiger appears somehow to avoid.
I had checked in with the starter on a small but picturesque little Florida golf course and he paired me up with a delightful couple but as we stood on the first tee I knew that Mr and Mrs Smith (names changed for obvious reasons) were not among the golfing elite. The drive from the first was over 80 yards of water and Mr Smith put six balls straight into it. Mrs Smith proved to be somewhat less proficient than her husband, the golf ball eluding her swing on a consistent basis. I quietly drove off in both senses of the word and wished them bon voyage, they were each well into the twenties when I left the first. This is not a challenge that Tiger faces.
The second hole was an amenable par 5 and I was looking to master controlled left-to-right shots, which is my natural propensity anyway. A good drive saw me well down the fairway and suddenly behind a ‘social’ four. I knew they were social as two were drinking coffee. One ostentatiously put his cup down as he attempted to play from the bunker. Coffee and sand, perhaps that was why they were slow. For a while I had vague hopes that they would let a faster single through – they never once looked back. In the end I made, for me, the excruciating decision to ‘go around.’ Indeed, I had already waited 25 minutes and they had yet to proceed even close to the edge of the green. This is not the type of ‘course management’ that ever taxes Tiger.
The third was a straightforward par 4. Again, I was looking to control shot-shape and played two good shots in. Although the greens were excellent and true I missed a relatively easy putt. However, the prospect of an uncluttered tee before me salved my ego and even the 100-degree heat seemed tolerable at this stage. The 4th is a curious little hole being an inverted S-shaped in form and requiring a precise tee shot to set up a blind second. My way was blocked by a large tractor-mower some 50 yards in front of me. You might be thinking to yourself that this is really no problem, simply wait for the mower to pass and just carry on. But he did not pass on. Rather he was engaged in a long-term battle with a particularly nasty and recalcitrant piece of turf. I knew it was recalcitrant from the way he was yelling at it. Normally I am very careful when hitting near people for obvious reasons. However, having stood in the blazing sun waiting for any evidence of progress I decided to hit. Tiger faces any number of almost impossible situations, shaping shots around tractor-mowers, however, is not one of them. In the end I decided to try to hit straight at him under the principle that I never hit straight. I know what your thinking but no I did not hit him and in fact hit it plumb and exactly the shape I wanted. In fact, when I got to the ball I had hit it too well and now I had a completely blind second. My handy utility club brought me up green side but when I arrived there were more problems. I had ended up behind three palm trees and looked totally incarcerated. Normally on a practice round of this sort I would be tempted to use the Canadian “foot wedge” but I was intrigued by the challenge and squeezed a small wedge through all three trees to within 15 feet. Sadly I missed the downhill slider and had to take my bogey.
Next hole I drove into an alligator! A short 265-yard par 4 required a lay up shot for me and I was pleased with it as it left the tee. Arriving in the vicinity of the water which fronted the green I was less happy with my lie. It was not a large alligator as alligators go. I’d estimate about eight feet – it’s the distance I always miss putts from. But this estimate was made from many yards away. I’m not quite sure what the Royal and Ancient have to say about reptiles. It probably didn’t come up at the mid-nineteenth century meetings of the rules committee in chilly Scotland. The closest I came in the USGA Handbook was movable hazards. I assumed this hazard could move quite quickly if it so chose. Certainly I am no ‘Happy Gilmore’ so I dropped what I thought was a discrete distance away and played a second to the back of the green. I took no penalty. I rather thought the fright I had taken was enough of a handicap. On the golf course, I doubt that we will ever see a Tiger battle an alligator. It might have been a crocodile. I didn’t get close enough and wouldn’t be able to say which was which anyway. When people tell you about rounded heads just look sadly at them, no normal person gets close enough to tell.
Carnivorous reptiles were not the distraction on 6, rather it was two young ladies in bikinis that caused my mind to wander from an easy 160-yard par 3. I came up short (no pun intended). As they were adjacent to the same pond into which my scaly friend had now retired I felt honor bound to inform the two young ladies about the lurking presence. They assured me that they had been watching him for some time and I knew, with some embarrassment that they must have seen my cowardly display. Nice looking young ladies are a distraction that I am sure that Tiger has to navigate around almost all the time. I could claim no superiority here. Although my chip was not a good one I drained a 14 footer (putt not alligator) to secure my par. An obligatory trip across several development streets saw me on the 7th tee and I hit a competent drive only to see my ball compete with a larger, fluorescent yellow version rapidly followed by an individual in tennis gear apologetically running after their errant friend. Indeed, I have rarely been so surprised since I nearly hit three people running across the 12th fairway at the Fort Brown course in Brownsville, Texas. The latter were not chasing tennis balls but running hard away from some immigration officers emerging from a Border Patrol vehicle. It was only when I reached my ball that I saw the adjacent tennis courts. I am told that golf balls land on the courts much more often than tennis balls reach the golf course! Inter-sport distillation is simply not a challenge Tiger faces on the golf course. I made the par but it was another struggle.
Almost miraculously, the 8th was a simple golf hole. A straightforward par 3 but I could not get near the green, ending tragically short on the apron. A poor chip and a poor putt saw me bogey a simple hole, not the thing to cool my now over-heated self. On a normal day, nine must be a quite pretty par 4. On a normal day! Today, it was replete with ground under repair signs. In fact the only ground not under repair was the lake. The landing area looked like a crime investigation scene with more cones and bollards than a major freeway work zone. Basically, I hit and hoped. Tiger never hits and hopes, he doesn’t have to. It’s not a challenge he faces. In my case, however, hope was rewarded and I was 100 yards from the green and still dry. With the pin at the back it was indeed a ‘green-light special.’ Frustratingly, I pulled my wedge shot to the left. Still on the green I was faced with a monster putt. My effort ended a foot to the right and an easy tap in. Perhaps the back nine would be quieter with no distractions?
Sadly this was not to be. I had just taken my stance on the 10th tee when a lady foursome zoomed up behind. I had no idea where they came from but these were my kind of golfers, champing at the bit to go forward. I moved off with alacrity and was faced with an interesting shot to the green. Bunkers yes, rolling green, yes, broken down refreshment cart – this was a new one. I landed on the green short left to be met by a mechanic and a distraught cart girl. Distraught, not about the state of her cart but about the fact that her boyfriend had left her, a state of affairs that she was letting the world know about in no uncertain terms. I missed the bird and was beginning to make off after recording my score when I heard one of the ladies from the foursome in exasperation saying “Oh! Do stop crying!” followed by “but he’s left me.” I emulated the boyfriend and left. Tiger has to control his emotions but he does not face the hacker challenge of departing boyfriends. That is rarely a challenge on the PGA tour and not one Tiger faces.
When I arrived there were 17 people on 11. True, six of these were maintenance workers perched on three tractors and two carts. They were digging up the right side of the fairway. The other 11 were composed of a threesome putting, a foursome 100 yards short of the green and another foursome who had just hit off (two of whom had hit into the maintenance guys). I pulled out some papers I had brought (which I always bring for just such occasions) and had just begun to read when the lady foursome arrived, unimpressed and vocal. Fifteen people playing on the same hole is a challenge Tiger doesn’t face. But there are challenges he faces that I don’t. He always has to perform in front of an audience. Most of the time I don’t even play in front of alligators! I am not good with four ladies keenly observing each and every flaw in my many flawed swing. I too hit into the maintenance guys – they seemed unfazed. Balls had obviously rolled into their area all day. I took this as ground under repair but could not see me clearing the 200 yards over water to the green (not in my bag). I laid up with the utility club and then chipped and putted well for the par. I looked back in hopeful vindication at the lady four, they appeared supremely uninterested in anything but my absence which I gave them right smartly.
The bottle neck was still there on the 12th tee but somehow, miraculously, so was the refreshment cart and its accompanying occupant. The cart, not in much better shape in terms of a form of transportation, was very welcome all the same. Slowly, the groups played off and then it was my turn. Still trying to focus on shaping the shot, especially the drive, I was halfway through my backswing when the young cart lady let out a whoop of joy. Apparently, the boyfriend Kevin, was now back in line (or was it on-line). He had been sorry about his interlude with Stephanie or was it Melanie; he had been drunk and didn’t know what he had been doing. All this was passed on to our assembled mass in excited and breathless terms. The whooping yell ought to have destroyed the shot, for interference in the backswing is a challenge Tiger faces all the time. But in my case it resulted in my best shot of the day a beautifully curving left to right 280-yard drive ending up smack in the middle of the fairway. I was nonchalant and even insouciant as I returned the ‘dog’ to the bag in front of my now, hopefully awestruck following female foursome. My moment of triumph was dashed however. None of them were looking my way but had now strolled over to congratulate the happy cart girl. Nevertheless on the long, long drive down the fairway I composed a small poem to my majestic blow. “How swoops the ball that comes to rest, by all the cart girl’s wishes blest.” (with apologies to William Collins).
Things speeded up now. A short par 3 and I was over the back but the chip and putt were good. An easy par 4 followed and par again. Fifteen is a long par five and I was on in regulation. It was halfway through the backswing of my putt when the dumpster dropped. I literally jumped up and hit on top of the ball, it rolled a few tragic feet and my best chance of a birdie flew away. Angrily turning I could see the offending skip still churning up dust outside an adjacent construction area. Tiger faces many challenges but dropping dumpsters by the green as he is about to putt – I don’t think so. On 16 it was a leaf blower. Perfectly timed to occur just in that briefest of pauses at the top of the backswing, this one did cause mayhem. I went straight left – a thing I never do. When was the last time Tiger was disturbed by a leaf blower? Miraculously, I found my ball under a group of trees and it took a low 4-iron to get out. Skittering down the fairway it didn’t reach the green but a pitch and a putt got me home. Seventeen green is a postage stamp and I airmailed it. The pitch and putt saved any blushes and now for the last. Overheated and underachieving, I had to sit again in the open and watch a foursome struggle with heat, bugs and water. They lost to all three. My drive was fine but only set up a 190 across water to a difficult green. It started out a good shot and then faded to the right, not in any controlled way. It came down and hit a birdie! Actually it was a Sand Crane and it was on the first bounce. My ball leaked off into a little ‘valley of sin.’ Arriving at the green I thought I could identify the bird by its slight limp! Sand Cranes have small faces but his seemed to radiate umbrage of the ‘why did you do that?’ sort of thing. I chipped up and missed the putt, angrily walking off with a bogey. “Just when does Tiger hit birdies?” I fumed “Well practically all the time,” a little voice in my head replied. It was all part of the great spectrum which is golf I mused to myself as I cleaned my clubs. I had to struggle into the parking lot, squeezing the cart between bicycles and SUVs, I even had to back it down the cart path to return it to the cleaning area. I did it with élan! I bet Tiger never faces challenges like that!