Jerry Sullivan is recovering from surgery. The News has reprinted some of his favorite columns during his absence, which ends with today's column on breaking 100 for a round of golf and appeared on Dec. 6, 2001.
In retrospect, it seems like a miracle of nature, a collaboration of the golf and weather gods, an early, unimagined holiday gift.
When the alarm clock went off Tuesday morning, I was not thinking about golf. This is Buffalo, not Myrtle Beach. In December, you go Christmas shopping, or you weather-proof the attic. All right, maybe you sneak off to a golf dome to hit a bucket.
But you don't go out and play.
Then I heard the weather report on the radio. Sixty? It's going to be 60 today? Suddenly, another number was dancing in my head. One hundred.
I grabbed the phone and began calling to see what courses were still open. I kept getting recordings, telling me about gift certificates for next season. Next season? Who said this season had to be over? Who said I had to put the clubs away, still short of the ultimate goal?
I put in a call to Jerry Obstein, former South Park High School football coach and a fellow novice golf addict. His wife told me he was working, though he'd played the day before.
"Where?" I asked.
"Terry Hills," she said.
An hour later, Allen Wilson and I pulled into the packed parking lot in Batavia. We were grouped with Mike and Charlie, two regulars. We didn't exchange last names, which was fine by me. I didn't need the added pressure, the well-meaning commentary of strangers.
We were four duffers, enjoying bonus golf. Mike and Charlie weren't even keeping score. It was reward enough to play on Dec. 4. I feigned indifference, recording my score on each hole but not keeping track of the total. By the third hole, the temperature was pushing 60. We laughed and took off our heavy sweaters.
I was relaxed and confident, unburdened by swing thoughts. On the second hole, I chipped one off the flagstick and tapped in, starting a run of four consecutive bogeys.
Terry Hills is not long, but danger lurks for the overzealous. There is water, lots of sand traps and small, difficult greens. Somehow, I stayed out of trouble most of the day. On the par-4 eighth, I avoided the water, hit a 6-iron to 10 feet and made par.
Allen perused the scorecard. "You have 40 right now," he said.
"Oh yeah?" I said, trying to seem nonchalant. "Maybe I can shoot in the low 90s. What I was really thinking was, 'I can choke on the back nine and still do it!' "
On nine, I promptly sculled my tee shot and took an eight, my only triple bogey. At the turn, Allen and I bought turkey sandwiches, which we ate while walking up the 10th fairway. Our games began falling apart. We agreed it was because of the mayonnaise on our fingers.
I started to panic. A light drizzle had begun to fall. I was dwelling on mayonnaise. Come on, I said. Reach down.
The skies cleared. I made three straight bogeys, then a 20-foot putt on 15 to salvage double bogey. All I needed was three doubles. Naturally, I three-putted for double on the next two holes. So I reached the last hole needing a seven for 99.
The 18th at Terry Hills is a lovely par-5, with a narrow, downhill fairway lined on both sides by trees. A red farmhouse is visible behind an elevated green. For the first time all day, we had to wait to tee off. That gave me extra time to dwell on my tee shot. Somehow, I hit a 3-wood down the middle.
Now, the golf gods smiled on me. I pulled my second shot down the left side toward the trees. The ball struck a tree and caromed forward to the right, leaving me just enough of an opening. I blasted out to the bottom of the hill, about 80 yards from the green.
All I had to do was avoid a sand trap and get down in four. I took an easy 9-iron and put the ball 10 feet from the cup. Two putts later, I had my 98. I looked up to the sky and gave a quiet thanks.
How many people get to play a round of golf in December around here, never mind break 100 for the first time? My goal now is to play at some point in late February. Then I can tell people, "Buffalo isn't so bad. You can play golf 11 months of the year."