Thrilla in Manila II: As Iron Sharpens Iron…

Late last night, I had no idea how I would formulate today’s post. Discount it as “religious” garbage if you may, but when I stepped out of bed at 3:23 a.m. today, this verse came to mind, and I believe it was straight from God Almighty.

***

“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” ~ Proverbs 27:17

as iron sharpens iron

First, a disclaimer, and a few definitions are in order.

DISCLAIMER:

For 25 years I’ve been proud to work as a professional journalist, who above all things, strives for objectivity in his work (unless it’s an opinion piece). And furthermore, at the outset of my career, I purposefully chose not to be a sports journalist. Why? Because I love sports too much, and I never wanted something I loved so much to be – well, work.

This follow-up post from yesterday is fully intended as an objective work, but I’m acknowledging how very difficult it is to write objectively when the I’m one of the subjects.

DEFINITIONS:

MULLIGAN: In golf, a “free or extra shot,” the terms to which the players have mutually agreed, prior to the match.

THE HONORS – A rule generally allowing the player with the lowest score on the preceding hole, to tee off first, on the following hole. E.G.- On hole #4, you take a 4, and I take a 5, YOU have the honors.

HANDICAP: Relative to par, the number of strokes a player is generally allowed to deduct from his score to enhance the competition among players at different skill levels. E.G. – If par is 72, and my handicap is 8, I can shoot an 80 and still claim par.

***

By Steve Watkins

The day began with a pre-match breakfast at the highly acclaimed Eat-A-Bite restaurant in Monette, Arkansas, just 8 miles west of Manila, the home of Big Lake Country Club. Eat-A-Bite is so highly acclaimed because it’s the only restaurant in the home town where Brady and I grew up. That should give you some sense of our rural roots.

as iron sharpens iron

My buddy on the links, watching a nice second shot.

Brady had a western omelet. I had two eggs, fried, with two sausage patties and toast. It was the perfect beginning to a perfect day.

Just a few hours earlier, I’d previously posted: Thrilla in Manila II: But This Time, It’s Two White Guys on a Golf Course, and the post was shared via several social media outlets. By 9 a.m., we’d had dozens of comments about our match among well-wishers who gave their support to one or the other of us.

“Dude, you could hype up two birds on a wire,” Brady said, as we scanned the breakfast menu. I laughed, but took it as a hopeful complement considering the fact that I’m about to launch a new marketing company on foreign soil. The new business, in its most fundamental of works, is all about “hype,” so I sure hope he’s right.

Anyway…

Our breakfast conversation focused, as it most frequently does, not on golf, but on life in general. We finished up, and because we were in a good mood and it was a beautiful day, left the waitress with a healthy tip, and traveled 8 miles east to Manila’s Big Lake Country Club. And it was on.

***

QUICK BACKGROUND TO SET THE STAGE

Brady and I’ve been very best friends since 1977, when we were fifth-graders. Thirty-six years later we frequently discuss the “red-state, blue-state” issues so prevalent among the conversations of all Americans over the last few months. Brady and I agree on 90 percent of these things fundamentally. We simply disagree on the government’s role in how certain legislation (especially on the ‘moral’ issues) should be implemented, i.e., gay marriage, abortion, immigration, death penalty, etc.

The great thing is that we agree to disagree without it effecting our friendship, and unlike so many others I’ve seen.

Brady and I had a bet, and a side bet, on the recent presidential election. His money was on Mitt Romney, mine was on Barack Obama. Up for grabs was a dinner for four at Texas de Brazil, and a dozen golf balls to the winner.

I won the bet.

as iron sharpens iron

My second shot form in a match earlier this summer.

The day after the election, I proposed a heads-up golf match to go double or nothing on the dozen balls. In no way was I about to risk losing a carnivore’s delight at Texas de  Brazil. It’s off the table.

For the match, and because I’ve never beaten him a single time in 36 years, I proposed an 8-shot handicap for myself, relative to his superior skills.

He took the bait, and I have him on record saying “there’s no way an 8-shot advantage is gonna be enough for you.”

The terms were agreed upon, and the match was set.

THE MATCH

We rolled up to the first tee and offered God our genuine thanks for such a beautiful day. And it was a beautiful day. Crisp, clear, with a light north wind that became more prevailing through the day, and became a factor as we played on.

We flipped for honors. I won, and deferred the honors to Brady.

Through the first two holes we both went bogey, bogey, and so I maintained my 8-stroke cushion. Through the remaining front nine, Brady gradually cut the margin to two. Front nine scores: Brady 41. Me 47. We both played fairly well, and but for a few lipped putts, I’d have been at least two strokes to the better.

At the turn we bought a quick snack at the 19th hole, and the stage was set. If the back nine played out like the front nine, he was going to take me down to China Town.

***

We matched with two bogies on 10. He gained a stroke on 11, and I took the honors back on 12.

Thirteen and 14 – even up.

He gains one of 15. I get it back on 16.

With two holes remaining (and with the handicap) I’m up two, and we both know the match is on. And I know his mind games could set in at any moment. He always does it when it’s close. But it’s not a surprise, because I know it’s coming.

***

as iron sharpens iron

This man, Chuck Gschwend, was generous enough recently to give me an hour of his time. His lessons changed my golf game entirely. As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.

In all my years of golf, I’ve had a terrible slice. Thanks to a lesson from my friend and church pastor, Chuck Gschwend some three weeks ago, my slice hasn’t disappeared entirely, but it’s MUCH less frequent. I’m hitting the ball straighter and longer, and my iron skills are a thousand times better than before. I can’t explain in words how magnificent it feels to hit a driver straight down the gut, 200 yards and change, or to flop a wedge 10 feet from the hole from 40 yards out. My adrenaline skyrockets just thinking about it.

***

I had the honors on 17. There was pressure on us both to hit well-placed drives on BLCC’s most difficult hole, a 407-yard par 4 with an ever-so-slight left-to-right fade.

At this point on the back nine, forget the handicap, we’d played heads-up, mono-e-mono golf for 7 holes. I’ve never hung that close with Brady over 7 holes.

***

I launched a baby-fade drive, some 220 yards down the gut. (insert sigh of relief here), and Brady followed with a good drive of his own, only a yard or so behind me, and to the left. Our respective second shots both landed on the fringe of the green, and we both got up and down in 5.

***

THE FINAL HOLE FOR ALL THE MARBLES

I have the honors. The north wind has picked up, about 10 mph, dead in our face. About 300 yards down the fairway lies a very big lake.  It’s historic how many times that lake has changed a match. A short drive on this fairway means you’ll flirt with disaster on the second shot, and you’ll have to make a crucial decision as whether to “lay up,” or go for it.

My drive sends a high long ball straight down the middle. My best drive of the day, especially under pressure. Brady’s drive is also long, only a few feet behind mine, and just to the right. NEVER before have I out-driven Brady on two consecutive holes. As we approach the second shot, and just as I expect it’s coming Brady surprises me and says: “No mind games. May the best man win. If you clear the lake, I’m beat.”

Second shot. It will take 150 yards to clear the lake safely, and just beyond are two bunkers, left and right of the green. I pull out a three wood, praying for a sweet stroke. All I want to do is clear the lake and avoid the trap.

The three wood goes just left, but straight, clears the water by 50 yards, and I’m left with a 15-yard wedge to get up and down. I believe Brady hit a 4-iron (not his favorite club), and he clears as well, five yards inside me.

Again, we both get up and down for two 5’s, and the match is over.

With the 8-stroke cushion, I win by two strokes, but more importantly, lose outright, only by six, and we played stroke for stroke on the back nine, both chalking up a semi-respectable 44.

It’s the best nine holes of golf, I’ve ever played. We shake hands and embrace in a man hug, and the day is done.

***

So I win the bet with all its nuances, but still come up short six for an outright win. Brady knows I don’t care about winning the bet. He knows I long to beat him heads up over 18 holes, and that I’ll never be satisfied until it happens.

Sort of like kissing your sister, Lou Holtz might say. Actually, I’d submit, it’s even a bit better. Perhaps as if you’d kissed a really good-looking second cousin. Nevertheless, sans handicap, it’s a loss.

***

HOURS LATER

Driving home, I reflect on an absolutely exquisite day – not so much about the play, as the meaning of the day itself. Two buddies in fierce competition, yet cheering one another on at every stroke. It’s the rarest of things.

Arriving home, I send my friend a message thanking him for a day of wonderful memories. I tell him I know my improving play will only enhance his drive to become better, and that next Spring, we’re going to be one hell of a team.

He replies in concurrence, and said he was proud of me. And yes, he said, a fire now burns within him to get better with age. “It’ll be a great day when you beat me, he says, but I’ll never throw a single shot to let you do it. You’re gonna have to beat me.”

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.

-30-

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