My respect for pro golfers rises every August, the same month as the club-championship qualifier at the Li'l Brown Dog. Thirty-six holes of stroke play is nothing less than a nine-hour stress test, headache mandatory, and if I was frightened 10 years ago by a format that requires you to count every stroke until the ball goes in the hole, I am officially terrified of it now.
The two-footers. The white stakes just left of the seventh fairway. The plugged lie in a bunker next to a downhill green. To paraphrase Rodgers and Hammerstein, these aren't a few of my favorite things, although I now realize my fellow competitors are just as leery and emotionally weary. There is comfort in the premise that stroke play is all about equal-opportunity suffering, but I still have to break 80 with a homemade golf swing and sweat dripping off my chin.
This year's affair was particularly unforgiving. I played with five different guys over the two days, every one of whom missed at least once inside three feet. I saw a 2-handicap play the first seven holes in one under par, four-putt from 10 feet, then whip out his cellphone and request that an ambulance meet him on the ninth tee. We looked for balls that couldn't be found and tried to settle disputes without any of us holding a copy of the Rules of Golf, as if a 45-page paperback pamphlet simply adds to much weight to the walk.
I actually survived quite nicely, carding just three double bogeys and nothing higher, which earned me the sixth seed and the opportunity to get the snot beaten out of me straight up by a 10-handicap in the second round of match play. Walking off the 14th green with a 5-and-4 loss wrapped around my neck, I tried to reconcile my pathetic performance by telling myself it's only a game. I didn't know what that phrase meant 10 years ago, and I'm still not exactly sure what it's supposed to mean now.