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Doug Wolter: If you want to be good at golf, you've got to pay the price

It seems that in golf, it's impossible to do well on the first outing of the year.

Doug Wolter

The thing that bothers me about golf …

I mean, one of the things that bother me about golf is that there’s just no way to do well on the first outing of the year. I’ve just returned from a four-day trip to Kansas to see my old college roommate and best friend -- an avid golfer -- and we shot 18 holes on his favorite course.

I knew I’d be inconsistent. I’m always all over the place my first time out. And I hate it.

The first three holes were excellent, however, off the tee and on the fairway. My tee shots went far and straight, and my fairway shots were good, too. My putting was atrocious, but that wasn’t surprising. I figured that at the rate I was going, my short game might come around on the sixth or seventh hole and I could finish with a good score.

But of course, that didn’t happen.

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It only took four holes for me to hit my first clinker. I swung too hard on a tee shot, as if my length wasn’t already good enough, and I topped the ball. More poor shots followed. After six holes, I looked at my hands. My left hand was getting red; it was beginning to throb slightly.

Because of that, I couldn’t grip the driver as tightly, couldn’t swing it with the authority I’d swung it on the first three holes. My chipping suffered, too. I could feel that I wasn’t even standing over the ball the way I stood when we began. Everything, it seemed, was breaking down.

I asked Jerry to stop keeping my score. Knowing my score at the end of the round would only make me madder at myself.

Oh, yeah, I hit some more good shots. But I hit just as many bad shots. It isn’t supposed to be that way.

Golf, which has been accurately described as a good walk spoiled, has also been called the most frustrating sport known to man or woman. You’d think it shouldn’t be so difficult to stand motionless over a little white ball and be able to strike it more or less consistently. So why do so many of us find that so hard to accomplish?

Could this be why some believe golf’s popularity is on the wane? Researchers say the number of regular golfers in the U.S. declined from 30 million in 2002 to just 21 million in 2016. And though there are some signs that a reversal is under way, the future is still unclear.

Experts say there are many reasons for stagnation, and if you’re as inconsistent a golfer as I am, you’d probably think it’s because so many of us stink at the game. This is an acceptable reason for quitting if you’d rather take the easy way out and make perfect swings on your PGA Tour 2K21 game on Playstation.

For real golf to make a resurgence, I think, there needs to be more Jerrys. He wasn’t much good when he first took up the sport. But rather than quit, he went the other direction. He worked at it -- hard. He was out there on the golf course every single day for years and years, walking every hole, and he became very proficient at it for the very simple reason that he willed himself to pay the price.

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And a price, he did pay. All that walking was hard on his knees. Now 68, he’s looking at knee surgery.

Still, he can hold his head high as a golfer. He uses a cart now, but that’s only because he must.

Me, I’m not going to quit golf either. I’m not going to go the Jerry route, but I want to get out there a few more times to get in some kind of a groove. I’ve also gotten a new putter.

You see, as I told Jer, it’s mostly because of my putter that my most recent outing turned sour (I don’t know how it affected my driver, but I’m convinced that it did). Jerry, who (you might not believe this) has held onto about 250 unused golf clubs that he purchased over the years, agreed to trade putters with me before I returned to Minnesota.

Now I have one I can trust. I’m going to rack up great scores for the rest of the summer. You’ll see.

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