When did this game get so hard?

By Steve Sell
May 11, 2016

I have been a golfer since 1965. It’s my passion, my release from the pressures of everyday life.

In fact in my first year of playing at age 8, I won what is still the largest trophy I ever received by winning the Flag Tournament at old Independence Country Club, which was eventually bulldozed to make room for Independence Community College some 45 years ago.

I was a member of an uber-successful Independence High team. I played in a state tournament and later went on to play two years of junior college golf, even winning an individual tournament my freshman year.

Since moving to McPherson in 1979, I have been part of two Two-Man City championship teams with Cliff Hawkes and have finished third three times as an individual. I am a past Turkey Creek club champion.

So why am I bragging unabashedly about my golfing exploits and nauseating everyone? 

It’s because they could be over.

It’s always been said that Father Time is undefeated. All you had to watch was the great Willie Mays, at age 42, falling down in the New York Mets’ outfield while trying to catch a fly ball. Or Muhammad Ali, who very seldom was touched in his halcyon days, being pummeled by a much-younger Larry Holmes as Howard Cosell was bellowing for the fight to be stopped.

Maybe Father Time has caught up with me. At age 59 and still playing the blue tees, those normal rounds of 73 to 76 have become 79s and 82s. 

Make no mistake, golf is an ego game and right now mine is bruised like a bad banana. I know in my group I want to be the longest driver of the ball, the best putter and the most skilled iron player, as do the fellows I play with. I want to be the hole-in-one leader, which is tough to do in my usual group as one other golfer has eight like me and another has seven.

I’m just hoping — like the Kansas City Royals — that this is all attributed to it being early in the season. But there are telltale signs that maybe my regression has started and it’s only going to continue.

For one thing, by the time I reach the 15th hole it seems the gas meter is running on empty. Those final four holes are turning into a debacle, even with the easy 18th at Turkey Creek. As somebody who in the summer probably plays a minimum of five rounds a week, I’ve never in the past had trouble completing 18 holes. Heck, we even sometimes play an “emergency nine” if somebody is down in the money count and wants to earn it back.

Most of all, when I wake up in the mornings, my body hurts. I’ve fought back pain for about 10 years, but thanks to my favorite chiropractor, he pops me back into shape. But my shoulders are sore as well as my ankles. How I long for those days as a young chipper at Indy CC when we would walk 18, 27 or 36 holes in the heat of day.

I’m struggling and we’re not even to the hot summer days yet, those days when it seems only our group or a couple of others are willing to tee it up with the temperature hitting triple digits and the blast-furnace wind whipping at 30 mph.

One other excuse, and there are too many to list, for my decline is Turkey Creek itself. Now in its 26th year (isn’t that hard to believe?) the course has matured and become tougher and tougher. The rough around the greens is terribly difficult, the pin placements cause much consternation and the greens themselves have settled, which makes those former flat putts befuddling because of winding undulation. Not Country Club-like where you can have putts that have 5-foot swings, but they’re tough enough. And the crew has done a great job of speeding up the greens and it requires more touch and precision, something these shaky hands are in short supply of.

I still play the back tees at least for now, because I do have enough game left to be hitting short irons into par-4s and the length to reach the par-5s in two if there’s a 20 mph tailwind. I used to think 75 was my gold standard, my mean score. But now, 75 seems foreign. I have played more than 20 rounds this year and broken that score just two times, both by one stroke. 

It’s terrible to get old. Father Time has claimed another victim.