Golf’s Greatest Challenge

photo by steve newvine

photo by steve newvine

This picture shows my golf ball just a few inches from the cup.  I took the picture the day I almost claimed the greatest prize for a golfer:  a hole in one. That picture shows exactly where my ball landed after teeing off on a par three hole at a nine-hole course in the Central Valley of California.

I’ve come close to the cup before, but never that close.  It happened about three years ago, and it’s never been closer to the cup since.

About ten years prior to that day when I came so close to a hole in one, I was with a golf foursome in upstate New York.  One of the golfers in our group pulled out his seven iron on a par three that the golf card said was 165 yards long.  The tee box was elevated about sixty feet higher than the putting green.

It was a beautiful hole, and if a golfer could just get the ball on the green, he or she would consider it to be a lucky shot.

My group was part of a small golf league formed at a chamber of commerce where I worked.  The idea behind the league was to keep some chamber volunteers engaged in the summer months when their activity level decreased due to vacations and better weather.

Throughout the summer every week, about a dozen golfers got together for this league.  Handicaps were used to allow those of us who were developing our game to compete with those who were more successful on the course.  I don’t remember much about who was leading in the league.  Back in those days, I didn’t care much for scores.  I wasn’t doing very well, but I loved getting out there and hacking away with the others.

While I may not have given much credence to my own golf game, I respected the skill of those who did excel on the course.  That night, I happened to be with a couple of really good golfers.  One of them had the shot of his life.

With the seven iron gripped snugly, and his head tipped downward, he lined up the ball to the club.  His swing wasn’t a hard and fast swing, but more of a graceful and lofty pitch of the ball off the tee and up high and long.

Keeping in mind that my memory of the exact characteristics of the swing have faded a little in the past twelve years, all I can say now is that it was perfect.

The ball landed about four feet from the hole, and then started to roll.  Our view from a distance of about one-and-a-half football fields away wasn’t real clear, but it looked as though the ball went in the cup.

After following the ball trajectory and landing, he looked up at me and asked, “Did that go in?”

I turned my head back to the putting green, and then back to him and said, “I think so.”

The rest of the foursome took our tee shots.  It didn’t really matter to us because by then we were all convinced we had witnessed something truly special on the golf course.

I got to the putting green first, and walked slowly up to the cup.  I didn’t say a word as our lead off golfer walked up to the cup, smiled, reached in, and pulled out his golf ball.  The rest of the foursome gave his a round of applause.

We quickly finished the round and in keeping with clubhouse tradition, the hole-in-one was celebrated with a round of drinks on the man who achieved one of golf’s most elusive feats.

I would leave that area of upstate New York in another six months to pursue the career promises and golf courses of the golden state.

Years later, in spite of playing practically every week, I have yet to experience the hole in one on my own.

But thanks to the luck of being put into the foursome on that special evening over a dozen years ago, I got to experience the magic that comes from watching someone meet up with and achieve golf’s greatest challenge.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced