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A shared quest to break 80 ends awkwardly after the wrong guy does it first

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Golf Digest's Shane Ryan rejoices after breaking 80 on what he swears was a real golf course.

Last year Shane Ryan and I discussed our respective quests to break 80 in a podcast. Neither of us had done it, and I guess I figured if anyone was going to do it first it would be me because I’ve played golf longer and I deserve it more. Also, I approve Shane’s expense reports.

Well, Shane broke 80 last weekend. He actually shot 77, which I guess is impressive, although it’s worth noting that when I asked for video documentation of every shot from the round, or for him to submit to a polygraph, he said, “No one does that. Why are you being so weird about this?” Clearly Shane is getting defensive.

Anyway, I figured it might be helpful for Shane to answer some questions about his big “breakthrough” because if we don’t give him some sort of outlet, he’s just going to keep talking about it and we all need to get on with our lives. Below is our discussion.

Sam Weinman: Shane congratulations on shooting 77. Was this on an executive course? It's a great score, but if it's on an executive course I don't think it really "counts" as breaking 80.

Shane Ryan: Sam, first let me say how grateful I am that you want to validate this score to make sure I get full, undiluted joy from the achievement. I'm happy to tell you it was not an executive course, but rather my beloved Hillandale Golf Course, here in Durham, N.C. We played from the blue tees, currently listed at 6,425 yards, 70.2/127. Call me a stickler or old-fashioned, but I don't think you should play an executive course if you're not an executive.

Well, good for you. Would you agree that shooting 77 is less impressive than shooting 79 because you didn't even really need to do anything noteworthy down the stretch?

Again, thank you so much for covering all the angles to be 100 percent positive that nothing can diminish this for me. You're going to be thrilled to know that the minute this became a real possibility with a birdie on 12, I bogeyed three straight holes, leaving myself the tall task of going one over the last three with nerves eating me alive. Two fringes-in-regulation later, with good lag putts producing par, I needed bogey or better on 18 and somehow hit two of the best shots of my day, a piped driver and a 5-iron to the fringe. At that point, and only at that point, I knew it was safe. (I'm an occasionally atrocious putter, but I'm not going to five-putt from the fringe. In this case, with the pressure off, I hit the lag of my life and made birdie.) But with one ball OB on 18 certain to kill the dream, and a history of agonizing chokes in my recent and distant past, those first two shots saw me at my most panicky, and I did indeed leave with a sense of accomplishment under the gun.

Oh wow, birdie on 18, look at you. Did I tell you I shot 80 THREE TIMES this summer and still haven't broken 80? And I've played golf longer than you. Do you think you're special?

Yes, I think I'm a very special boy, and I just called my mom and she also said so. I have indeed followed your adventures this summer with great interest, and as someone who just picked up golf last month, I do feel a little bad reaching this particular finish line ahead of you. (Note: I did not pick up golf last month, and also I don't feel bad.) On one hand, I could say that shooting 80 on the number three times means it's inevitable that it's going to happen for you soon, but on the other, maybe now my score will just keep improving until I'm shooting 65s, and it will be an unbelievable story of a 40-year-old man making the PGA Tour out of nowhere, and I'll be incredibly popular with all my peers, and in five years I'll be hanging out with Rory and Viktor Hovland and you'll walk by and I'll squint and go, "Sam Weinman? Of Golf Digest? I remember you! Say, did you ever end up breaking 80?" And you'll say, "No, I've now shot 80 in 45 consecutive rounds, making a quintuple bogey on the last hole every time," and I'll say, "Too bad. Anyway, Rory and Viktor and I are going to continue to hang out, tell jokes, and be best friends, so I guess we'll see you later."

This is such a ridiculous scenario. Hovland and Rory are nine years apart so they're not even really contemporaries. Also, do you really think you would get into DESIGNATED EVENTS right away? The arrogance. You broke 80 once! Maybe you could get into Hartford. But that's it. Hartford.


Where were we?

I am patiently waiting for your next question. It's been ten hours. What are you doing? ARE YOU BREAKING 80??

At this point, it would be rude for you to break 80 so soon after me, like one sister getting married the weekend after her sister's wedding. I think you need to wait at least one month.

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No, I'm sort of over it. The whole thing is so arbitrary. Did I mention I shot 80 three times this year? Will my life be any less satisfying than yours if I never do it? It probably will be, but how exactly? Is it true you see a golden light when breaking 80 the first time?

It’s not that your life will be “less satisfying”...that’s just not true. It may just be less fulfilling and happy, that’s all. Also, keep in mind that 80 is a completely arbitrary number, which is something you can see with total clarity only after you break it and not a second earlier. I no longer have to walk around in this world with the heavy burden of existing as a man who has not broken 80, fixating on that goal as if it's the only important thing in life, losing sleep, letting my relationships go to waste. I feel terrible for anyone who hasn't achieved this golf nirvana and still has to live life in the shadow state of pre-enlightenment. I'm not a native southerner, but I live here now, and as my fellow southerners would say, bless their hearts. (Also, yes, there is a golden light. It feels like a permanent warm hug.)

Well, congratulations again. Can we still be friends? And before you answer I should tell you that one of my motivations for breaking 80 was to ditch all my non-breaking 80 friends, which I assumed would include you.

We can be acquaintances for sure. Maybe you’re not invited to the dinner party, but the next day, I’ll definitely text you, “Hey, we missed you last night!” without ever bringing up the fact that I didn’t actually ask you to come. But look, you know this works; the truly privileged in life are their own club, and when you’re in the club, you can do no wrong, and you can never get kicked out. It’s a protection racket, and being in the 70s is no different. So just break 80 and everything can go back to normal again. Until then…well, you know how it is. I’m pretty busy.