I'll admit that watching Tiger Woods make a 10 on the 12th hole at Augusta National Golf Club during Sunday's final round of the 2020 Masters sort of made me feel good.
No, I'm not talking about some petty schadenfreude at the greatest golfer I'll ever see being brought low by the game's eternal penchant for occasional, randomly-striking extreme cruelty. I'm talking about a feeling of surprising empathy, a shared pain with someone whose relentless excellence for many years seemed completely alien to other golfers, even those of us who can play the game at a decent level.
It took Tiger Woods 23,789 holes on the PGA Tour before he made his first 10.— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGolf) November 15, 2020
Woods had never made a 10 or worse on any hole in his professional golf career. Seeing him laid bare by one of golf's most pernicious par 3s (before birdieing five of the next six holes in one of the most defiant stretches we'll ever see) made me feel like recounting my own most harrowing blowup in a decidedly lackluster competitive career.
It was the spring of 2004, my freshman year of high school. My team had traveled for a four-team stroke-play event hosted by Hotchkiss School at their on-campus 9-hole course, originally laid out by Seth Raynor with the help of Charles Banks, who taught English at the school at the time but would later become a golf course design disciple of Raynor's and his mentor, C.B. Macdonald.
Hotchkiss is charming and relatively benign for eight holes, and then comes the awkward par-5 ninth, which drops 80 feet into a valley and rises at almost a 90-degree angle to the right, 45 feet back uphill to a tiny green in front of the modest clubhouse. Dense woods line both sides of the hole off the tee and are marked as out-of-bounds. A reedy pond left of the fairway complicates the approach.
I bet you can guess where this is headed. From my first ill-fated duck-hook tee shot, the hole was in my 14-year-old head and there was no expelling it. All told, I deposited a sleeve of balls into the right-hand woods before finally carding a sextuple-bogey 11. By the time I got my fourth swing (seventh shot) into play, I was hallucinating my opponents laughing like jackals at my ineptitude.
This being an 18-hole event, I had to face the dreaded ninth a second time. I wish I could tell you there's a happy ending to the story, that I exacted my revenge on the hole. Instead, I made a nine, sending yet another ball or two (rage clouds my memory at this point) out of play in the process.
The silliest part of the story is that I played decent golf the rest of the way, ultimately shooting 84. Against a par of 70, that meant I was 4-over the other 16 holes. Not bad, all considered.
At least I didn't make a 16 like Kevin Na did during his opening round at the 2011 Valero Texas Open. That counts for something, right?