Knuckling Down

The Canadian Open finished at Glen Abbey Golf Course in Oakville yesterday, and the scoring amazed me for the strokes under par.  After 72 holes played, the leader board showed the winner, Jhonattan Vegas at 21 under par.  Put another way, for 288 recommended strokes, he only needed 267 to win $1,000,000 dollars.

21 under par is a pretty astounding number in the PGA Tour.  But it reminded me that I have played at Glen Abbey, many, many years ago, and I recall that I finished just the front 9 with a 57, or 21 strokes over par.  I have not been back.

Since then, my golf game has not improved.   Despite lessons, innumerable outings, new clubs, golf magazine subscriptions, disciplined score keeping, fastidious handicap calculations  (28.6), spiffy shirts, and an unbridled optimism, I still come up with a couple extra strokes per hole, delivering a consistent 108, +/- 5 strokes.  36 over par any given day.

The reason this occurs is obvious to me now.   After years of recording and analyzing  scores, yardage, accuracy, putts and penalties, my game is consistent.  First, short drives.  Second, wide drives.   Once in the rough, always in the rough.   If most holes require 2 strokes to hit the green, I will usually take three and maybe four.

Next, sorrowful putts.  Regulation calls for two.   My putts will usually be two, but I can make a three, even a four happen so easily that the gallery of geese standing nearby shake their heads in dismay.

I have reconciled and accepted my numbing under-performance.  And like a professional, I have studied it and dissected every misstep, and have now come up with a new way to measure and find success.

The Knucklehead Count

It’s not the lackluster shots that dampen my game.  Sometimes I get away with some brilliant shots which compensate.  What ruins my game is the knucklehead shot.

A knucklehead shot is a bizarre, inept moment of inattention enhanced by extraordinary clumsiness.  Knucklehead putts that are marred by a scuffed green or a bouncing putter.  Knucklehead approach shots are skulled wedge shots that rocket with malice waist-high  over the green and, nearly hitting a startled partner, end up in a bunker.  A knucklehead bunker shot is hit so fat that the ball barely rolls up three feet to rest under the lip.  A knucklehead fairway shot usually involves a 5-wood grinding the ball deep into the  turf before skittering 12 feet to a stop.

Knuckleheads generally can be validated by quickly taking a second ball, and repeating the stroke with consummate perfection.  In other words, lacking my inattention and clumsiness, the prior shot could have been brilliant.  Unfortunately, but to its credit, the game of golf requires physical and intellectual honesty, so the knucklehead counts, and the beautiful do-over doesn’t.

I break out scores on my card to show putts, fairway, yardage, accuracy and penalty strokes.   But the most important score is the knucklehead count.


Because I have accepted my game.  The only thing that changes is the knucklehead count.  When I finish up, I can look at my score, and have this quiet moment of calculation:  “I shot a 108.  But take away 9 knuckleheads and I could have had a 99.  Wow!

When people asked me how my game was, I used to respond, “Pretty good! I found three balls and only lost two!”  Now I measure success, and surprisingly, happiness, by low knucklehead counts.

It’s a great game, even for the knuckleheads.


Thanks for reading!  Please share with your earnest golfing friends who are still looking for that perfect game.




6 thoughts on “Knuckling Down

  1. Grady Hauser says:

    I’ve come to view my golf game as a means of spending quality time with my boys and other loved ones. Really, one of my happiest days on the course was when those young “boys” beat me for the first time. They’ve never looked back. Now tennis—there I can get more impassioned.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Grady! I am with you! My mom took me to the course as a 14 year-old, and I never fell out of love with the game. I am happy to see that my 10-year-old grand daughters also make it to the game with their parents too. A great sport. Even for knuckleheads.


  3. Pat Sommers says:

    Great article! I remember our round at Glen Abbey also another in Montreal – you were always exciting to play golf with. I have found that the older I get, the better I used to be. Arnold once said: “I have a tip that can take five strokes off anyone’s game: It’s called an eraser.” At least you’re not Bruce Lansky, who once said: “I’ll always remember the day I broke ninety. I had a few beers in the clubhouse and was so excited I forgot to play the back nine.”


    • Great to hear from you Pat. You had the grace and discipline not to freak as I 4-putted away your money stake in a game with Al and Willy. We finished in the twilight that day at Glen Abbey and did not realize then how special this course was. Thanks for the great game, sorry about the money!


  4. Allan Gross says:

    Hey Phil, GREAT POST! Brought back many memories of our “strategic” outings with Dick, Gordon, Vining, etal, compliments of Stu. My special memory is of a 3 day deal at Kohler when Gordon, out of mercy I’m sure, selected me as his partner and I immediately chocked and missed every 2 ft. putt I had. I offered to let him “out” but he just soldiered on saying I was just “struggling”. Actually I just stunk! No longer chocking but still missing them! Best Regards, Allan.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Allan: I had a lot of sympathetic replies on this post. We all lament today the absence of any budget or time to pursue the corporate golf game. All the starch has come out of it. I too played once with Gordon. This was after I had enjoyed an epiphany playing with a new set of beautiful clubs. As you know, he is a scratch golfer. I am not. He invited me and Mark and Jon for a foursome out at Steeplechase. To get in shape, I went to the driving range the day before. Halfway through the bucket, the genie disappeared. I could not hit the ball. Worried the next day, I woke early to go back to the range. The genie slept in. We had carts, and Gordon rode with me. When we got to the first tee, my first shot was brilliant. Unfortunately, it was the last one that day. By the fourth hole I was so far into the pits that Gordon cheerfully said, “No worry, let me walk.” With that he grabbed a few clubs. I thought that this was a career-limiting move of the highest magnitude for me. Somehow, I managed to finish the 18 as he soldiered on by foot much of the way, returning to the cart to change clubs. We have not played since together since!
    He did say about my moment of golf bliss, and has often repeated, “it is fleeting…always fleeting…”


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