Keeping Score

A forward-thinking approach to golf

It wasn’t my idea. In fact, I initially resisted. Not as ardently as some of my peers, though.

“Those are ladies’ tees.”

“It’s too short.”

“Unfair.”

“Oh yeah?” my partner said.

The USGA had been coaxing golfers to “tee it forward” for several months. We’d all seen the ads and even joked about them, but none of us had seriously considered actually moving to a forward set of tees. With the time change in November, however, and the end of our silly season in southwestern Ohio, we finally acquiesced. And rationalized. The temperatures were colder, the fairways softer, and all of us older. It’d just be for the winter, we agreed.

So, we teed it forward. If the course had senior tees, we played there. If it had only three sets of tees, we played all the way up. You still have to execute, right? And we discovered something. Every course was new. Where I used to hit hybrid on No. 12 at The Mill Course to give myself a full approach shot (and avoid going through the fairway and having no shot), I now considered driver with a chance of reaching the green (which I did once or twice). Until then, I never played a “drivable par 4.” The bunkers on No. 4 at Miami Whitewater Forest were now in play, making me rethink my bombs-away mentality off the tee. If I cut the corner on No. 14 at Indian Ridge and hammered it left-center, I could consider (for the first time), going for the par 5 green in two.  I still had to think about the wide ditch and creek fronting the green, but the option of going for it made the hole more enticing.

We took to announcing, “green light,” “yellow light” or “red light,” after everyone launched his tee shot.

We recognized these “new” courses as another wish fulfillment, too.

“We’re getting to play like the pros play,” my partner declared.

For years, we, and countless other of our male peers, had it all mixed up. Playing the tips doesn’t reveal to amateurs what it means to play like the pros. That just shows us the yardages they play, yardages from which most of us can rarely reach holes in regulation unless we hit two or three career shots in a row. Sure, we can shoot scores in the 90s or 100s and appreciate how good the pros are, how much farther they can hit it on a consistent basis than we can. But how long does it take to learn that lesson?

If we really want to understand what’s going through a pro’s mind as he or she dissects a hole and, at the same time, have a chance to hit clubs similar to what they hit for their approach shots, then we need to take the USGA’s suggestion to tee it forward. Even some of our most resistant peers are conceding that the game has become more fun. Instead of distance being the premium, it’s accuracy. Instead of chipping most holes, it’s putting. We’re hitting more greens in regulation. We’re seeing more scores in the 70s. Two players in our group even recorded rounds in the 60s.

“Too easy,” some of our white-tee-or-bust peers criticize when they hear about another 75 or 76. But if it really were too easy, shouldn’t we be shooting even par or better every time we tee it up? Who’s to say what’s too easy? Aren’t the white tees just an arbitrary measurement anyway? From the forward tees, we’re truly learning the importance of 100 yards and in, learning to hit different trajectories to hold greens to get it close. We’re celebrating more birdies. 

So, when I read Mike Purkey’s recent article (“Golf after 60: A little pain, but no gain,” April 12), I thought, Mike, I feel ya.

 

So, keep walking and swinging that Orange Whip, but consider, too, what we did. Have a little fun. Tee it forward.

John Gaughan, 64, is a retired English teacher who lives in Fairfield, Ohio, and carries a 10 handicap. He coaches the junior-varsity girls team at Mercy McAuley High School in Cincinnati. Gaughan can be reached at bumpgolf@mac.com.


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