A Round to Remember

A Round to Remember

Reliving the day a friend shot below his age produced a flashback to a moment that remains frozen in time

By Michael Bamberger

One of the most unnerving things I have ever seen in golf with my own eyes happened some years ago, but even with the passage of time I cannot unsee it, try as I might.

If I could live my life again, knowing what I know, I would maybe try to step in, to try to avert this golfing calamity. Alas, Elon Musk and his people have not brought the time machine to market, nor has anybody else.

And even if such a Back to the Future device existed, what could I really do? Short of being the player’s caddie or teammate, golf does not allow much room for stepping in. You can scream at the movie when the child reaches for a doorknob with a knife-wielding maniac on the other side, but it changes nothing. If the Nightmare series has taught us anything, it’s that. You can step in if a golfer in your group is about to break a rule. That’s appropriate. But to offer counsel on any shot is not. It’s against the rules.

These delicate matters came to mind for me when reading an email I received recently about a recent round of golf. This was the sentence that stopped me: “As I stood over my drive I froze, unable to take the club back.”

That caused the flashback to the event I cannot unsee.

Vaguely, this was what happened:

We were playing a hole. I cannot tell you where, but the hole in question was a long par-4. I cannot reveal the name of the player ; his identity must remain a secret, but you should know that he is as kind and as gentle as a person could be. Also a superb and accomplished athlete. On this hole, on this day, he hit a semi-OK drive. He foozled the next. He had a longish shot from the middle of the fairway from a downhill lie for his third. I would say about 140 yards. A 7-iron, I would guess. Likely held with a death grip.

By way of obstacle, this hole offers water, out-of-bounds, menacing traps, a green that begs you to take three putts and, at times, casual spectators. 

He made a backswing. He could not make the downswing. He froze. Every time he tried to make a downswing, he froze.

He did not finish the hole and he did not finish the round. As best I can remember, he did not play golf for a long time after that.

Back to this recent email. Its author is a close friend of a close friend, a 73-year-old gent named Bruce Levenson. I have played golf with Bruce. He’s a good, disciplined and knowledgeable golfer, someone who is going to play from the appropriate tees and often shoot in the low 80s, sometimes lower. Bruce was once a reporter, later a lawyer, then a publisher and an entrepreneur and an owner of the Atlanta Hawks. He’s a member of Woodmont Country Club, near Washington, D.C., the club where Rose Zhang won the 2020 U.S. Amateur.

Bruce is involved in all manner of good causes, and if you were playing with him, and he was going low, you’d be rooting for him. That’s the kind of guy he is. You would not want to see him over a tee shot, driver in hand, frozen, unable to make a backswing.

With some slight editing, here is Bruce’s email, with some can’t-help-myself commentary in italic.


“I played Snowmass yesterday with a friend from Delray Beach. On the front I shot an even-par 37, hitting every green in regulation. I just missed four birdie putts from 10 feet or so.”

IMG 3783 scaled

Snowmass is a mountain course in White River National Forest, in the heart of Colorado ski country. The air is thin there. Delray Beach is a nice spot in South Florida with good restaurants, a flat beach and a gentle surf.

Back to Bruce:

“I then had a tap-in birdie on 10, an ace on 11 and three more tap-in birdies on 12, 13 and 14. I am now 6 under.”

He made a 1 on 11! How casual can you get? He was 6 under for five holes! How low can an 80-shooter go? This is known in the trade as a heater. Statistically unlikely but you know what they say: The best things in life defy statistical modeling. Something like that.

Back to Bruce:

“I par 15 and 16, hitting both in regulation. On 17 I hit what I thought was a perfect 9-iron but, after a gust of wind, I was left with a long, downhill, impossible-to-stop putt. I roll it 10 feet past and rim out my par putt.”

If that bogey was your reality check, you’re living some kind of life. I mean, even with it, the man was 5 under through the first eight holes of the back.

Back to Bruce:

“When I got to the 18th tee, I started hyperventilating. My friend, who had been telling me to stay calm and take one shot at a time, tried to help.”

OK. I know nothing about the friendship, but this situation is sort of like a pitcher who’s throwing a perfect game. I’d give the guy space and say nothing How can you ask a guy to stay calm? Like, OK, yeah, I’ll do just that. But, again, their friendship. Just observing from afar.

Back to Bruce:

“As I stood over my drive I froze, unable to take the club back.”

And that was the sentence where I almost started hyperventilating. That was when I started thinking about my friend who froze and walked in. I feared that was where Bruce Levenson was going, to DNF. Did Not Finish.

Back to Bruce:

“I stepped away, came back and somehow hit a good drive. I had another 9-iron in. I tell my friend I am aiming for the middle of the green.”

Smart! Although I don’t think I would have shared my game plan. Was the friend on a need-to-know basis? On a golf course, typically, less is better. Still, this is their deal. Anyway, sounds like a smart play, middle of the green.

Back to Bruce, and now his friend:

“He says, ‘Why? You’ve been sticking it all day. Birdie the last! You know what that will mean for the back nine?’”

I am at a loss for words. If this friend ever caddied more than one round in his life, I would be shocked. Shocked!

Back to Bruce, and what he would shoot with a birdie on the last:

“Of course I did: 29. I liked the thought and felt confident as I swung.”

OK, fine: I don’t know what I’m talking about. Bruce liked the thought!

Back to Bruce:

“I shanked the shot into the water, made a double and finished with 69.” 

It’s so hard to get to the house. Still, 69 is a score to behold.

Back to Bruce:

“I have decided to give up golf. From now on you can find me in the card room at Woodmont.”

I can see it. I could argue against it, but I could see it. Take two weeks off, then quit altogether. 

Back to Bruce:

“P.S. I have an 11:48 tee time tomorrow morning.”

Funny. But you broke your age, sir. You broke your age and did it by four! Nicely played, Bruce. Nicely played indeed. Nicely played in every way. 
Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at [email protected]

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