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How to Finish 14th at the Denver City Amateur Golf Tournament

When Denver golf courses reopened, one golfer took the opportunity to attempt the impossible: fix his crazy.

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In this series, called “The Pandemic Made Me Do It,” we ask our staffers, our freelance writers, and everyday Coloradans to tell us how—during what can sometimes feel like an inspiration-sucking global meltdown—they found the motivation and the tools to try something new, brush up on an old skill, or begin laying the groundwork for a long-term project. Send pitch ideas to spencer@5280.com. 

Procrastinator Profile
Name: Spencer Campbell
Age: 38
Day job: Senior editor, 5280 Magazine
Says he wants to: Become a competitive amateur golfer

The Backstory

I was a pretty good golfer in high school, but never great. I had a lovely swing, and I practiced a lot, but my temperament could turn a bit stormy if things didn’t go my way. For example, after three-putting the 11th hole at Eastern Hills Country Club in Garland, Texas, one fine summer day, I tried to throw my bag into a tree. It barely reached the bottom limbs before it came crashing down, much to the horror of the elderly lady waiting on the next tee box. Another time, while qualifying for a tournament, I hit my ball into a creek. Then I hit the next ball into the creek. Then I took the rest of the balls out of my bag and threw them into the creek. I recently learned that my high school golf coach approached my mother and suggested I seek professional help. She responded by buying me Golf Is Not A Game Of Perfect, by Dr. Bob Rotella. I read the book, widely considering the Holy Bible of golf psychology, in an earnest attempt to quell my demons. But after squandering a huge lead during regional qualifying my junior year, I ripped every last page out of that opus of lies.

Intermission

Like a pile of garbage doused in gasoline, I burned out fast. Halfway through my senior year, I quit attending golf practice to focus on smoking cigarettes in the school parking lot. During the next two decades, I played a few times a year. I loved golf, but it’s expensive and capable of consuming entire Saturdays; there were other things I wanted to do. After particularly good rounds, however, or when the Masters Tournament came on, I’d have my Uncle Rico moments of regret. So much talent! I’d tell myself. That swing! If only I hadn’t been a lunatic, I’d have a whole closet filled with green jackets!

COVID-19 Made Me Do It

In April, Denver’s golf courses were one of the first things to reopen, and I leapt at the chance to escape the house. It began with nine holes (and six beers) with the wife at Overland Park Golf Course, near our house. I started spending my lunch hour hitting range balls in order to break up the day. Before long, I was waking up at 4:30 a.m. to make 6 a.m. tee times and spending hundreds (thousands?—I don’t really want to do the tally) on new clubs, bedazzled hats, and shirts with little sharks on them. (I have no idea what it is about golf that makes otherwise rational people dress like Serbian loan sharks, but it is a thing and I embrace it wholeheartedly.) These pursuits were all well and good as distractions from the daily drudgery of pandemic life, but I still had nothing to look forward to long-term. My wife and I had been planning trips to New York City, Italy, and New Orleans in 2020—all COVID-19 hotspots at one time. Then, as my handicap began to plummet, it hit me: Now might be my last, best chance to become a serious amateur golfer. I googled and discovered the Denver City Amateur would be played on August 29-30, leaving me two months to become the golfer I always knew I could be.

Head Games

Yes, I practiced. Yes, I got a swing coach. Yes, I began a sport-specific exercise regime that promised to improve my score. But I knew that to meet my goal, the most important thing would be to develop a strong mental game—or at least one that wasn’t slowly ticking down to zero. When I floated the idea of hiring a sports psychologist, my wife laughed and left the room. But she gave me her full blessing to spend $1.56 on a used copy of Golf Is Not A Game Of Perfect. Dr. Bob became my spirit guide, his maxims—“A person with great dreams can achieve great things”—my scripture. There are 33 dictums in the Book of Bob, but I boiled them down to this: Think only about your target (not your swing) and take each shot as a fresh challenge, a wholly separate trial from any that came before or will come after. I assumed a swashbuckling attitude; before each shot, I would sometimes actually—cringingly—tell myself “devil-may-care.” Alas, there were setbacks. For example, a few weeks before the Amateur, my swing deserted me during a round at Walnut Creek Golf Preserve in Westminster. On the 18th tee, I hooked a drive left. Tired of fighting and wondering (out loud! to other people!) what this kind of collapse said about me as a human being, I walked over to my clubs like a depressed Charlie Brown, slowly raised my foot, and gently kicked my bag over. Picture a cat knocking a glass off a table. But once my sanity reappeared, I returned to Walnut Creek determined to maintain my composure. I did, too, and though my swing was still on the fritz, I shot eight strokes lower.

Now On The First Tee…

The Denver City Amateur was just as cool as I’d hoped it would be. The competition comprised two rounds over two days at the newly renovated City Park Golf Course, and we got to play it before it opened to the public. The starter calls your name on the first tee, just like in the movies, and my best friend—perhaps the most even-keeled guy in Colorado—even caddied for me. It was like fantasy camp. That first day, I scored great. I played in flight 1, the second-best division, and although my swing never really recovered from its mid-August swoon, I remained focused and relaxed throughout the round, scrambling my way to a 76, good for fourth place.

The second and final day, however, was a disaster. I hit the ball even worse than the day before and the wind howled at around 20 mph. It wasn’t unusual for a gust near 30 mph to shove you off balance at address. Still, everyone played in the same weather, and I handled it worse than most, firing a pitiful 87 and finishing alone in 14th. You know what, though? I can look back over that round and say I remained positive, focused, and composed. Even when breaks went the other way, I willed myself to concentrate on the next shot. I didn’t break a club, berate my caddy, or attempt to relocate my bag into any of the 500 new trees lining the course. And sitting here, a month later, I can honestly say that I have no idea if my newfound buoyancy made a bit of difference. (I mean, I could have fallen out of bed hungover and reeling back in April, before investing hours of practice into this Quixotic endeavor, and posted an 87.) But I loved being out there, caring about something that doesn’t matter when it seems like all I’ve been doing is worrying over stuff that does. That’s the attitude I plan to take into next month’s Fox Hill Invitational in Longmont, anyway, where once again Dr. Bob and I will stalk the fairways in search of victory.

The Year That Changed Everything

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