Every muscle in my body ached as I began playing the back nine at Island’s End Golf Course in Greenport Saturday. In between holes at one point I thought about Michael Jordan.
A week earlier I watched NBA TV’s documentary on the 1992 Dream Team, which described how Jordan would play a full round of golf every morning as the team prepared for the Olympics. After golfing he’d go to practice or a game and without hiccup be the best player on the court.
Must be nice to be a super human, I thought to myself.
Me? Not so much. I could barely stand after 18 holes, let alone playing any kind of basketball game afterward.
My journey to Island’s End came at the suggestion of my friend James, who’s an avid golfer. He thought it would make good copy to experience a full round of golf. For someone who fancies himself a sports guy, I’ve never gotten into the sport aside from watching the final round of a major. My playing experience has consisted of mini-golf, video games, the occasional driving range and one nine-hole round with a few college friends. But we spent more time trying to prank each other, like untying the bags to the golf cart so the clubs would go flying, than playing golf.
My lessons learned that day: It’s frowned upon when someone takes his shirt off on the course as if he’s on a beach tossing horse shoes. And flipping over a golf cart with a cooler full of beers in the back is never a good idea.
I knew not to expect any similar shenanigans as I prepared for my first 18-hole golfing experience at one of the finer courses on the East End. For starters, I was playing with Will Fish, the head pro at Island’s End. Will and James have been friends going back to their days at Longwood High School, where Will excelled on one of the best teams in the county. He started the sport in his teens, later than a lot of golfers, but he was a natural. He quickly broke 100, 90 and then 80.
I’ve gotten to know Will over the last few years through Mets games, concerts and backyard Kan Jam, but had never seen him in his element on the golf course.
As head pro, a big part of Will’s job is instructing beginners. So, I figured, what better way to get started in golf than playing with a man who does it for a living? I expected to endure some ribbing along the way and I was ready for it.
My first mistake came before we ever stepped foot onto the course. I threw on a brand-new white Under Armour shirt, my best option for an afternoon of athletic activity under a blazing sun. When James saw what I was wearing, he looked at me like I was wearing Converse All Stars to a wedding.
“You better grab a collared shirt,” he said, adding that I could maybe get away with not wearing it on the course.
“Why don’t you get that shirt off your shoulder and put it on,” were the first words I heard Will say as we walked toward the clubhouse around 11:30 a.m.
I obliged a few minutes later as Will unwrapped several shiny new irons to put in my bag. It’s not often a first-timer gets to use high-end clubs.
We hit the first hole, with Will’s friend Kenny rounding out our foursome. A longtime groundskeeper at Island’s End, few know the course any better than him.
On the first hole, a 351-yard par-4, I started off surprisingly well. I got the ball onto the green with the chance to make a long bogey putt. That didn’t quite happen, and a few putts later I tapped the ball in for an 8 — a disaster for most golfers, a self-congratulatory moment for me.
For a second, I allowed myself to think maybe this wouldn’t be so hard.
That moment didn’t last long.
A few things I learned along the way:
• For one, I drive the ball with about as much ferocity as I imagine a 12-year-old could. And when I did make decent contact, the ball often curved way right. On the 14th hole I drove a ball into a bunker across the fairway on an adjacent hole. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen somebody in that sand,” Kenny observed.
• Whenever you swing and miss, just pretend it was a practice swing (better yet, just don’t swing and miss).
• Whenever you bring two clubs with you walking up to a green, always leave one club on the green and never in the rough. James told me this early on, but I still managed to forget. On the 17th hole I went to grab my favorite club of the day — my W, the wedge. It wasn’t in my bag. I looked in James’ bag. Nothing.
Oh, boy. I’m in trouble, I thought to myself.
I had to break the news to the group: I lost a club. Everyone kept their cool. James grabbed the cart and doubled back to search for it. Will handed me one of his clubs and I finished the hole. A few minutes later, I could see James flying down the fairway back toward us. The club was safely back in our possession.
• I did learn some real techniques along the way, which paid immediate dividends. Will showed me the technique for chipping, the kind of shots you could never know how to do until you’re actually on a golf course.
• I learned to keep my left foot planted on my swing and I learned the left hand is far more important than the right. And I discovered how difficult it can be to maintain proper form as fatigue sets in and every swing becomes a chore.
• James gave me good advice early on: “Just watch Will and do what he does,” he said. Yeah, OK. The ball off his drives disappeared into the horizon, landing perfectly on the fairway a mile away. Four shots later, my ball would be in the same spot as Will’s.
• My favorite part of the course was the famous 16th hole, a short par-3 that overlooks the Long Island Sound from high above. It’s a spectacular view. I hit my best drive of the day on the 16th. Only the fairway is real narrow and my ball sailed to the right and landed on the beach down below.
The afternoon ended with James sinking a long putt on the 18th. When the final scores were tallied, Will scored 76, James 98 and Kenny 100. Me? A lot.
As I walked back into the clubhouse to hand over my clubs, I told the gentleman how I put the clubs to shame.
“I’m sure they’ve been put to shame by worse players than you,” he said.
“Probably not,” I replied.