In order to become a member of the Professional Golfers Association, one has to endure and successfully complete a five-step process.
Stan’s Journey to Becoming a Pro Golfer
Stan took his initial P.A.T. at Empire Lakes in Rancho Cucamonga. Focused preparation for the event began two weeks prior when he dutifully practiced and/or played everyday, working on his weakest elements.
With a 7:30am start time coupled with an hour drive to a golf course Stan had never played, he set his alarm for 5am and laid out all his clothes and equipment the night before.
A fitful sleep saw Stan wake at 4am and attempt to psyche himself up for the tournament. Though he didn’t sleep well, the nervous energy would keep him alert all day. Taking inventory one last time, Stan gathered everything and headed out the door at 5:30am.
Due to free flowing traffic, he pulled into Empire Lakes’ parking lot at 6:15, only to find it completely empty. Five minutes later however, a couple cars pulled in, quelling Stan’s nascent panic.
The next 45 minutes were spent signing in, eating a very light breakfast (orange juice and a granola bar), hitting golf balls, putting, last-minute bathroom run, and attempting to talk himself into a quiet confidence.
The low eastern sun was just beginning to shine brightly, though it had yet to warm the chilly November air, as the caravan of 100-plus hopefuls simultaneously dispersed to their assigned holes. Tire marks from the golf cars strafed the previously unblemished canvass of the dew-moistened grass.
Starting on hole number 15, an undulating 420-yard par 4, all Stan wanted to do was not ‘whiff.’ Nervously taking a short, controlled back swing, he toed it and hit a weak 230-yard draw into the left rough.
“Oh well, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.”
Unfortunately, that was pretty much the order of the day. Bad ball striking coupled with dismal putting (on his third hole Stan left a 2-foot par putt short!) put him out of the running relatively early. Stan finished 10 strokes off the number and dejectedly left the course for home just in time to hit rush-hour traffic!
Three months later Stan shot six strokes off the number at Monterey Country Club in Palm Desert.
Temecula Creek Inn saw Stan post two shots over the number, and subsequently playing Temeku Hills, the established pattern of playing exactly four shots better each successive try gave him confidence that this would be his time. But the combination of rain and lousy putting resulted in being eight strokes back.
Nearly a year had passed and Stan was beginning to think it might NEVER happen. Jokes were already flying about the golf shop. Stan was now officially on the ‘P.A.T. Tour!’ Playing along, Stan readily proclaimed he was going to run for commissioner of the ‘P.A.T. Tour.’
Riverwalk Golf Course in San Diego is usually regarded as a great place to take a P.A.T. because it’s short, flat, and wide open.
Stan’s usual pattern of arriving early was thwarted because he got lost en route. Dead ends, unanticipated one-ways, construction, and ignorant direction-givers caused frustration, anger, and near panic until he luckily stumbled across the entrance – ten minutes until tee off!
Hastily signing in, Stan hurriedly hit a few wedge shots (shanking every one), and hit a few putts (3-putting each time). Declaring himself ready, Stan thought, “Well, can’t do any worse than before,” and loaded his bag on the golf car.
153 was the target score and Stan struggled mightily to post an 80 on the first 18. Everything he hit was off the toe and went weakly left. The fact he made some putts prevented a complete blowup.
Going into hole number 27 Stan knew he had to par-out to shoot 153. His third shot on the par 5 appeared to be headed at the flag but short. Unluckily, it hit a sprinkler head on the collar, bounded high, and landed in a bunker on the backside of the green. An awkward lie translated into two shots to get out of the bunker, and two putts later Stan carded a double bogey 7, and it was all but over.
All day long Stan was fighting one miss-hit after another. Anger and frustration had been percolating since his very first toed tee-shot. For 26 holes and about 6 1/2 hours, the only thing that kept him from boiling over was uncharacteristically good wedge play and putting.
Going into hole 27 Stan knew shooting even par was doable for the next 10 holes. It would be a challenge, but it could be done. After that horrendously bad break with the sprinkler head however, Stan now had to play the last 9 holes in 2-under to pass. He couldn’t recall EVER playing 9 holes in 2-under par. Stan was absolutely seething!
It was all he could do to not explode right there in front of the other three competitors. Stan stormed to the next tee resigned to his fate, yet planning a massive display of destruction. Eyes wide open, adrenaline pumping, and rapid, shallow breaths, Stan was silently DARING the golf gods to mess with him!
With driver in hand, Stan teed up his ball and without even lining up, addressed it and muttered, “I DARE you to toe-hook again!”
The hastily made plan was to snap each and every club that dared to toe-hook again (nearly everyone had done so on almost every shot) over his knee. The only unresolved question was to keep the two halves of the club or let them lie where they died. He’d play it by ear.
With an unprecedented quiet rage racing through him, Stan whipped the club back, and with all available force, swung ferociously through the ball.
“Didn’t feel toey.”
Looking up to tee the ball sailing straight down the middle, high and long, Stan’s driver had won a reprieve; temporarily.
The approach shot was a 155 yard 7-iron. Getting prepared to snap the shaft over his knee, Stan used the same procedure as the tee shot, whipping the club back and viciously swinging through. Again striking the ball crisply and cleanly, it carried about 10 yards too far and came to rest right behind a 15-foot-tall fir tree.
With the tree directly between the pin and the ball, Stan had no choice but to try and pull a shot out of his hat. Under ordinary circumstances, Stan would have chipped out away from the trouble and hoped to make a long putt. But knowing there was nothing to lose, Stan attempted a flop shot; one he had a history of not being able to pull off very well. Grabbing his 60-degree wedge, he DARED it to not cooperate, for its fate was about to be determined. Fearlessly whipping it straight up, then down through the long grass, the ball leapt immediately and cleared the tree effortlessly, gently landing on the green and coming to rest three feet from the hole. Grudgingly accepting the forthcoming compliments from the others, Stan easily knocked in the putt, not allowing himself to think for one second he still had a chance at passing.
That was the way it went for the next five holes too; challenging each club he grabbed to go ahead and hit the ball toey. For every club that dared to mis-hit, it would immediately become refuse.
Hole number 33 was a 540 yard par 5. A 300-plus yard drive, coupled with a laser-like 2-iron, Stan’s next shot was a 12-foot, downhill putt for eagle. Right then it started to seep in. If the eagle putt fell, he’d only need to par-out to pass. It was the first time since the bad bounce, double bogey that Stan allowed himself to have hope.
Trying to fight off that thought since he’d been so successful being pissed off and on the brink of total meltdown, Stan jabbed at the ball and missed badly, rolling six feet past! All hopes dashed! A three-putt par might as well have been a three-putt bogey, because there was no way Stan was going to birdie two of the last three holes.
Lining up the birdie putt was less pressure-filled than the eagle because the idea of passing was once again deemed an impossibility. However, when the ball disappeared into the hole, the forbidden prospect of qualifying suddenly climbed back into the equation.
Ever since declaring to break each and every club that dared to hit off the toe, Stan struck every single shot crisply and on dead center.
Standing on the tee of hole number 34, Stan was one shot off the number with three holes to play. Shooting 1-under for three not-real-difficult holes was doable he thought. And with a glimmer of hope piercing through the cloud of impossibility, he weakly toe-hooked his drive.
Fuming, Stan raised up his club but the violent anger was gone. Though muttering to himself, he went to his bag and slammed the intact club into its proper slot.
Now, instead of a short iron to the green, Stan was forced to select a 5-iron and try to clear a front-side pond while keeping it close to a pin only four steps from the front collar. Not fully convinced a 5 was even enough club, Stan realized what got him here was a “screw you” attitude with no concern for the consequences. A 5-iron hit pure should put him in-between the water and the pin. A toey shot gets wet.
Violently coiling the club, Stan lurched through the ball and experienced the sensation of striking a sponge; it was that pure.
Never leaving the pin, the ball bounced once on the collar and gently rolled six feet past the hole.
Reading the putt to be straight, and having a tendency to pull those putts, Stan over-compensated and pushed it right.
The ball suddenly broke left and fell in the hole.
How that ball went left he’ll never know, but his sheepish grin betrayed the pleasant shock of a perhaps undeserved birdie. Something was up, because where Stan’s ball dove left at the hole, one of his fellow competitors, whose putt was on the same line only a foot closer, his ball DID go straight and stayed right of the hole. Go figure.
Well, there it was, exactly on the number with two holes to play. Not being angry anymore, yet aware that it was fury that led him there, Stan had to coax himself into playing with the same unbridled incautiousness that put him in this position. So, with the penultimate hole a narrow par 4, where a long iron off the tee is prudent, Stan pulled the driver. Fighting every urge to play safe and under control, Stan flung back the club and viciously tore through the ball. Same swing, same result, long and straight.
After a relatively easy par, Stan now faced a 140 yard par 3. A simple, straightaway hole with a small creek twenty yards before the green that should never come into play. Pulling an 8-iron, his sole thought was to hit the middle of the green, and fortunately, that’s where the pin was.
For the previous eight holes Stan literally played as if each swing of the club could be his last, and that reckless abandon brought him to uncharted territory. Par this hole and he plays the last nine in 2-under, and more importantly, exorcises that P.A.T. demon.
Striking the ball a bit thin, Stan was worried it might not get there. One hop and a soft roll later, it came to rest on the front collar, 25 feet from the pin.
About to re-sheath the 8-iron, Stan noticed an 8-iron already in his bag.
“What did I just hit?”
Looking again, he DID hit the 8, but how could that be? His competitor sharing the same golf car was next to him and he uttered the ominous, “Uh-oh.” They looked at each other and he spoke.
“You hit my club.”
They were both hitting Titleist clubs, as well as the same models. Stan had inexplicably grabbed the 8-iron from the wrong bag.
Knowing full well that infraction garners a 2-stroke penalty, thus putting him over the number, Stan humbly glanced at him and before letting him know he would accept the penalty, the competitor interjected, “Oh well. Don’t worry about it. It’s our secret.” He and the two others in the group had been well out of contention for a long time, yet they all knew where Stan stood.
Speechless, Stan just stood there as his competitor took his 8-iron and proceeded to the tee.
Stan had taken many shortcuts in life, at least attempted to, but golf was different. Golf to Stan was like religion was to others; it’s held in loftier esteem. It’s to be respected, honored, and never sullied. Whereas in everyday life Stan would sometimes fudge, manipulate, misrepresent, and contort things in order to try and gain some sort of an advantage, when it came to golf, anything but 100% honest reverence to the rules, and strict adherence to decorum was unacceptable. Many times Stan had penalized himself for putative minor infractions that went unnoticed by fellow competitors. In fact, he once disqualified himself from a hole after discovering he hit a wrong ball. It was a mistake that went unnoticed by his competitor and he could have gotten away with it. To make matters worse, the self-imposed penalty ended up costing Stan the match and a $500 bet. However, if he had to do it all over again, he’d do the exact same thing. Golf is the only place in life where Stan would NEVER cheat, regardless of the consequences.
“Cool,” Stan muttered, and took his seat in the golf car.
With putter in hand, Stan surveyed the 25-footer and deemed it to be very slightly left-to-right and flat. Knowing speed was everything, Stan envisioned gently rolling a softball underhand to the hole. Uncharacteristically calm, his putt rolled just left of the hole; six inches away. One big deep breath later, Stan stood over the putt and tapped it in, right on the number!
After accepting congratulations and heading back to the clubhouse, Stan again offered to take the 2-stroke penalty if his competitor was uncomfortable. He blithely dismissed Stan’s concerns and suggested he accept the fact he passed, and not mention it to anybody. Nodding in accordance, Stan sat back and began wrestling with his conscience.
Signing the scorecards and handing them to the officials was the last order of the day. Now it was just hanging around, grabbing a celebratory beer and reliving the day with everyone else as the clubhouse swelled with activity.
Moments later, an official took Stan aside and said, “I thought you told me you passed?”
Uh-oh. Had some one told him of the 8-iron incident?
Stan visibly began to sweat. “What do you mean?” Stan asked haltingly.
“Your scorecard adds up to 35 on the last nine. That puts you at 154.”
Knowing he had shot 34, Stan studied the card and noticed a bogey was penciled in where a par should have been. Now he had broken another rule by signing an incorrect scorecard!
Corralling one of his fellow competitors, Stan pointed out the error, and he corroborated his claim of par instead of bogey. The official, had he gone strictly by the rules, could have stood firm and disqualified Stan. Fortunately, he was sympathetic and made the correction without pressing further. It was now official; Stan had passed!
Weighted down by the seemingly non-stop violations he was accruing, Stan quickly thanked him, said his goodbyes, and got the hell out of there before something else went wrong.
The drive home provided ample time for reflection. Should Stan have accepted the 2-stroke penalty as was required by the United States Golf Association rules? Did he cheat? The answer to both questions was unequivocally, ‘yes.’
Of course, as with most of us, when it comes to matters of conscience, a good rationale is the best salve. Stan had put out over $600 and a year’s time into the damn thing. Nobody was hurt. No one didn’t pass because of it. The lousy break on hole number 27 was evened out. No, despite the bare bones fact that Stan cheated at golf, he squared it with his conscience and everything was ok again. Just like religion.