February 17, 2009

My 9-Iron and Me

The group goes off most weekday mornings, early. There's Fran, our pro; Bob, our retired superintendent; Gary, our resident arborist and consultant to the tree committee; Paul, a regular student of Fran's; and anybody else who happens to be around, including the other Gary (our current super) and, occasionally, me.

Each player carries just one club, a 9-iron. Because a 9 is the wrong choice for almost every shot, you learn, by trial and error, to make it the right choice. To hit it farther, you move the ball back in your stance and hood the face. To make the ball land soft, you lay the club open and swing from outside to inside the target line. To putt, you choke down to the metal, hover the leading edge an inch and a half above the grass, and purposely top the ball, making it roll smoothly on the green instead of hopping, skidding or checking up. After a while, you stop thinking about the 13 clubs in the trunk of your car, except to wonder why you bother with them. Even a second club would be an imposition, an encumbrance, an umbrella on a sunny day.

The one-club course is five holes long -- 1, 2, 7, 8, 9 -- and par is 20. Everyone plays from the forward tees. The game is group best ball, gross, and the record is two under par. There are Local Rules. If your second shot on the second hole hits the bridge on the fly, you don't count it; after holing out on each green, you pitch toward the next hole's tee box, and if your ball lands and stays in the funnel-shape, broken-tee receptacle, you win free breakfast for a year. No one has done that yet, but Bob has come close. He's also the best putter.

Playing rounds with just one club has made me a better, more imaginative player.'

Fran, who has a terrific short game even when he's carrying his full set, says that if he's playing in a tournament and facing a pressure chip, he will now almost always choose his 9-iron, because he and that club, after so many early mornings spent together, no longer have secrets from each other. He chips with it. He pitches with it. Occasionally, he uses it in a greenside bunker.

Like most golfers, I spend too much time thinking about the clubs I wish I owned and too little time trying to understand the ones I do. I'd be a better, more imaginative player if I could force myself to remember the lesson I learn every time I play with just my 9-iron, which is that the wrong club is sometimes a better choice than the right one.