“You’re getting there.”
These were the words of encouragment Ottumwa sophomore golf sensation Matt Walker offered me as I muddled through hole No. 1 at Ottumwa Country Club Tuesday.
And Walker was right to a certain extent: I was indeed getting there, but the same could be said of a turtle trying to cross a road in heavy traffic. But honestly, there wasn’t much else he could have said without shining a spotlight on my not-so-illustrious return to the game of golf.
Walker, who recently posted the top individual round of 70 at districts, which helped Ottumwa finish second overall as a team and earned the entire Bulldog roster a spot at the state tournament, and I would play two holes that evening while I mined that vast repository of golf lore in his mind for hints of how he came to be so good at the game of golf. During the two holes, the sophomore golfer filled me in the secrets of his craft, offered some helpful advice about my swing (keep your head down), advised me on what clubs to use for certain shots and stayed admirably straight-faced during some of my most atrocious shots.
Walker, who has made a habit of placing first in invitationals and duals this season, began the first hole with a beautiful drive that ascended to the heavens before returning to the earth and resting peacefully on the fairway as if it belonged there. I followed him by pulling out a trusty wood and drilling a ground ball that made a beeline for the left side of the rough. If this was some kind of omen, it was going to be a long two holes. My second shot proved to be even worse than my first.
“Well, you will get there” — or something along those lines — is what Walker told me with a hint of sympathy in his voice as he waited patiently for my ball to catch up to his own majestic drive. Having lost confidence in my ability to hit with a wood, I pulled out a five-iron, figuring I could at least get the ball off the ground with an iron. And, what do you know, I actually managed to hit the ball a fair distance, in the air, no less. Granted, it wasn’t in the right direction, nor was it very close to the fairway, but sometimes you have to take what you can get (there’s a lesson to be learned there).
After my next shot nestled snugly in a sand trap, Walker, at long last, got to take his second shot. He hit another beauty that situated itself on the green in a location that set him up for a makeable three putt. I, on the other hand, was still playing around in the sand. I took Walker’s advice and abandoned my nine iron in favor of the putter as I tried to escape the sand. He told me to make sure to putt with more force than I would if I were already on the green.
I didn’t take his warning seriously enough. I putted with some extra force, but, alas, my shot still didn’t have the amount of oomph that was required. The ball hit a tuft of grass and bounced right back in the sand trap, leaving me with that disappointing feeling I always get whenever the end of a movie doesn’t end the way I want it to. My memory is a bit fuzzy, but I think he ended up getting a four, while I settled for an eight, which was better than the 10 I expected.
We moved on to play hole No. 9 — we skipped over holes 2-8 — and Walker started the hole with another picture-perfect drive. My drive was a straight line drive that never got more than a couple of inches off the ground — clearly, I was making progress.
While trying to catch up with Walker’s ball, I had the sophomore golfer fill me in on how his game had evolved over the years. Walker informed me that he’s been hitting the links since he was 5 years old. He said, however, that the fact that he was especially talented at the sport didn’t start to sink in until last year. Initially, he said the hardest part of the game for him to master was his short game — he always had a natural drive.
Our conversation was briefly delayed because it was time for me to take my third shot. My next shot, amazingly, was pretty good, at least by my admittedly low standards, landing and rolling to the edge of the green. Of course, Walker’s second shot put mine to shame; it landed gently on the green and rolled a couple of inches before coming to a stop not too far away from the cup.
We both finished the hole and continued our conversation. I asked him to expound on why the short game posed the biggest challenge for him.
“The short game is all about feel,” Walker said. “You gotta to have good hands to get the chip close and also to make putts. Putting is also an art; you gotta know how to have the right speed with the right line.”
I asked him how long it would take your typical weekend warrior to become a proficient golfer.
“It depends on how dedicated you are,” he said. “If you come out every day, I’d say two months. ... If you come out a couple of times a week, maybe close to a year. If you’re here every day for a year, you would be pretty good by the end of the year.”
Walker, who, along with the rest of the Bulldog linksters, will compete in the state tournament at the Tournament Club of Iowa in Polk City Friday and Saturday, said his favorite part of the game is the competition.
“I just like to challenge myself, because I know there are always going to be people better than me and just want to get better and be the best person,” he said.
Got a sports challenge for Courier sports writer Andy Heintz? He can be reached at email@example.com.
“You’re getting there.”
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