From Chicken Soup for the Golfer's Soul The Second Round

Thank God I Have a Day Job

Standing on the 2nd tee at St. Andrews Old Course, my playing partner and touring professional, Paul McGinley, turned to me with a wink and said, “Congratulations, you just managed to miss the two biggest fairways in golf.” I laughed. Strange as it sounds, I had! OB to the right on number 18 and a shanked 3-iron off the 1st tee at the Old Course. Ouch!

We started the day playing off of number 10, and now as a team, were 10 under par after twenty-eight holes. (Yesterday we played Kingsbarns and Paul had gone around in 6 under.) Today, he was on his way to a course record–tying 64. So shank or missed fairway, whatever, nothing could break my humor. I was in heaven.

It was Friday, second round of the four-day Dunhill Links Championship Pro-Amin Scotland. Paul and I, along with Sven Struver and his amateur partner, legendary downhiller Franz Klammer, were playing the Old Course at St. Andrews. Tomorrow we would be heading to Carnoustie, with a fourth and final round to be played back at the Old Course on Sunday—if our team made the cut.

I was here because I had played in Michael Douglas’s charity golf event in Los Angeles earlier in the year. There I met Iain Banner, part of the Dunhill team who sponsored the event in Scotland. He had promised an invitation to all celebrity players involved in Michael’s tournament and true to his word, a few months later, I received the invite in the mail for a week of golf on three of the sport’s most hallowed tracks. Are you kidding, I thought, I’m in! I sent the signed application back that same day.

I arrived Monday afternoon from New York, determined to squeeze in as much golf as possible during the practice rounds before the tournament officially got under way on Thursday. The drawing for playing partners was Tuesday night. There were a lot of pros playing, but most were from the European tour. Very few pros had come from America in the wake of September 11. The list of actors from America was comparably short: Michael Douglas, Samuel Jackson, Hugh Grant (from Los Angeles) and myself.

Johann Rupert, chairman of the tournament and a boisterous and generous host, read the names of the pairings. Kyle MacLachlan with Paul McGinley . . . people near me nodded their approval. Great golfer, Ryder Cup, competitive but with an easygoing manner. I just hoped I wouldn’t get in his way because we’re talking about an $800, 000 purse for the winner.

My concern, naturally, was about my golf swing. I was a skillful enough player, having grown up playing golf from an early age. Tutored by my dad and his various golfing buddies, I had developed a pretty good-looking swing in the Tom Weiskopf mode. Upright, with a strong motion down and under the ball. I played on my high school golf team, usually sixth or seventh on the squad, occasionally putting together a decent round of 4 or 5 over. The problem now was playing time. I usually managed about a dozen rounds a year. Enough to remember what I used to be able to do, but not enough to have much of a chance of carrying it off. Visions of a televised disaster on the weekend began dancing through my head. So Friday afternoon, after struggling through my first round at Kingsbarns and a disastrous second round at the Old Course, I threw myself at the mercy of golf wizard Robert Baker and his teaching partner Grant Hepburn.

The tournament sponsors, in their infinite wisdom, had set up a teaching facility next to the practice range for those unfortunate amateurs, like myself, who had lost (or maybe never really had) a swing. Well, after watching my swing and putting it on video, they dismantled me and then proceeded to put me back together in the image of Ernie Els. (He was the swing image on the computer that I attempted to emulate and one of the many pros Robert works with on a consistent basis.) When I say dismantled, I’m not kidding. New grip, new address at the ball, new body position at the top of my backswing—a complete overhaul—and it worked. I began to hit the ball. I mean, I began to crunch the ball. And it was straight! Years of hearing “from the inside out” but never really getting it finally occurred because my new position at address allowed it to happen naturally. Robert and Grant had saved me in one afternoon. I was reinvigorated and determined to put this new swing into practice.

The following morning we drove north to Carnoustie. It was raining sideways. The tournament had been plagued by fog and rain all week. Today we were getting the worst of it, and playing the toughest course of the three. Our team managed to get around in 3 under, Paul playing brilliantly in brutal conditions, seventeen pars and one birdie. I had a moment of brilliance as well, hitting out of the infamous Spectacles bunker on number 14, and making the putt for a legit birdie. The new swing was still a work in progress (what did I expect?) and I was anything but consistent, but I sure felt more confident.

That afternoon I was back at the practice range for more work. I began to dream about golf shots. The world and its troubles faded away. Outside contact with the real world was limited to a good-night call to my fiancée, who was incredibly supportive of my experience, and my father halfway around the world. I called him each day during my round, and on one occasion, as the cameras rolled, handed Paul the phone to say hello. My father, watching the Golf Channel at 4:00 A.M. in Yakima, Washington, saw himself talking to Paul McGinley on the 12th tee at Carnoustie with his son in the background. That moment alone was worth the trip.

My father had played over in Scotland about ten years ago on a golfing pilgrimage. He spoke to me about “links golf, ” about the wind, the quixotic weather, about the rugged nature of the Scots and their love of golf. These people really know the game. There is no wasted applause simply because you managed to land the ball on the green, no. You’d better have knocked the ball inside of twelve feet from the rough over some gorse with a 5-iron. Now that’s a shot that would get you some well-deserved appreciation.

I had a few of those, but many more of the other variety. Not quite as bad as the shanked 3-iron, mind you, but enough to be grateful I had a day job that wasn’t dependent on driving the ball three hundred yards or hitting greens in regulation.

Perhaps the greatest lesson I took away from that week of close observation is this: there is just no way for the amateur golfer at home to appreciate the professional golfer’s process during their round. Every shot is executed with the conviction that the ball will do exactly what the pro wants it to do.

And it’s not the galleries that create the pressure. It’s the elusive dance between the physical and the mental inside the golfer. The continual shedding of tension, moment by moment. The unshakable conviction that you are holding the right club in your hand for the shot, and that the body will perform with the precision that the mind demands. Add your livelihood to that, and the pressure seems unbearable. I watched as Paul McGinley methodically did this over four days of tournament golf, and it has forever changed the way I play, practice and watch the game.

It’s the last day and Paul and I have made the team cut, by one stroke. Even more exciting (and nerve-wracking), Paul is tied for the lead with Paul Lawrie at 14 under. This means I will be in the foursome teeing off in the final position from the 1st tee on the Old Course. (My hands are sweating at the computer just thinking about it.)

First tee. 11:27 A.M. I’m standing there with the coleaders of the tournament . . . breathe. No one expects anything from me, right? Bang! A good (not great) drive with a little draw down the left side of the fairway, and we’re off. Paul McGinley hits an iron to the right and the ball takes an unlucky hop into the burn (creek). He starts with a bogey 5, Lawrie birdies and just like that Paul’s dropped two strokes off the lead. I manage a par and would have been content to head back to the clubhouse and bask in that accomplishment. As it turns out, I redeem myself fairly well over the day, hanging in at 2 over after fifteen holes, before the wheels come off. I proceed to knock the ball OB on number 16, take a triple bogey 7 on the Road Hole, and on my old nemesis number 18—you guessed it—OB on the right. A bittersweet finish to a round of golf I would never have thought myself capable of at the beginning of the week.

McGinley struggled during the final round as his putter went cold, watching Lawrie knock in long putt after long putt. I could feel his frustration. It was not to be McGinley’s day, yet he always had a supportive word to say to me as he recognized I was putting up some pretty good numbers. Lawrie played a solid round of golf, holding off a late charge from Ernie Els by sinking a fifty-foot putt from the Valley of Sin on the 18th for a birdie and sole possession of first place. The crowd roared its approval as the putt dropped and Lawrie skipped sideways in triumph. In that moment, it all seemed quite surreal, standing just off to the side of the green, witnessing a great finish by a great player, feeling like I was included in this elite brotherhood.

And just like that, it was over, and a kind of emptiness descended over the course. I didn’t want to let go yet; I wasn’t ready to return to my world. I said good-bye to my partner and new friend Paul McGinley, wanting to say something encouraging and knowing it would sound ridiculous, so I thanked him for his company and for his words of support that had meant so much to me.

I walked back down number 18. There’s something haunting about an empty golf course at the end of the day, with the echoes of the little truths it has revealed to each competitor. I began to think about tomorrow, my trip back home and how my experience in Scotland might resonate in me. New friends, a new appreciation for the game and the men who play it well, and just maybe a new swing that would carry me back to my world and the solitude of the practice range, where believe me, I will be imagining a hundred perfect drives straight down the 18th fairway on the Old Course at St. Andrews.

Kyle MacLachlan

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