A shaky start

When I’m really nervous, I don’t just feel shaky, I am shaky.

Rick Young’s scoregolf.com blog on essential tremors reminded me of one of my first golf outings as a pseudo golf “celebrity.”

Around 1990, I was writing a lot of freelance articles about golf in magazines such as SCOREGolf and Golf Canada, and I was somehow picked to play with PGA Tour star Curtis Strange at new King Valley Golf Club near Aurora, Ont. The course was tagged as a Curtis Strange-Doug Carrick co-design.

When a new course opens, especially one with a marquee name designer, the proud new owners will usually hold a launch event of some kind and invite media, local dignataries and, if it’s a private club, current and prospective members.

For this event, the organizers set up a scramble between three-person amateur teams and Strange for three holes each. My teammates were Bob Weeks of SCOREGolf and Mike Anscombe, the main sports personality for Global TV in Toronto at the time. The rest of the groups were mainly members and prospects.

So that I could keep my nerves in check on the morning of the event, I tried to invoke a little psychological trick that Ben Hogan advocated. Hogan said that when he got nervous during a tournament, he tended to speed up–he would walk, think and swing faster. To counter that tendency, Hogan said that before a big round he tried to do everything slowly that day: he’d eat slowly, drive slowly, even brush his teeth a little slower.

On the day of the King Valley exhibition, I was following Hogan’s advice. Even as I watched Strange give a clinic on the range at King Valley before about 100 people, I was thinking ‘I feel pretty good. This will be ok.’

I figured that most of those people would just go home after the clinic. Obviously, I didn’t know much about PR at the time. Most if not all of those 100 people came over and formed a horseshoe around the first tee.  I had never teed off in front of a crowd like this before.Yipes!

Some big-voiced announcer rhymed off the accomplishments of Curtis Strange, including his back-to-back wins in the 1988-89 U.S. Opens. Strange striped a drive down the middle, of course, and received a nice ovation.

When my name was called, I stuck to my go-slow strategy, easing myself toward the tee markers. Everything seemed to be in working order as I put the tee in the ground. But when I went to put the ball on the tee, my hand was shaking like I had the DTs. I thought, ‘Oh s**t, my tremor!’

I have familial tremor, which is similar to essential tremor.  It’s very mild but causes my right hand to shake when I am over-caffeinated, vigorously exercise or… when I’m really nervous.

My mind raced in front of the throng. ‘I hope I can put this freakin ball on the tee on my first try!’ Stooped over the tee with the ball in my fingers, my hand wavering as I lower the ball toward the tee, I think I let the ball go from my quaking fingers with a nearly audible “Please stay!”

Luckily, it did. I think I let out an enormous breath that made me  sound like a whale. Compared to teeing the ball up, hitting the damn thing was now no big deal, and I hit a pretty good drive. Bob Weeks sidled up to me in the fairway with a big smile on his face, and said “I thought we were going to need a caddy to tee your ball up.”

After that shaky start, I actually played the pretty well on those three holes.

This is my start writing for the A Position. I can only hope it goes as well as my three holes with Curtis Strange.

About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf coach, an award-winning writer, and speaker. Tim takes a holistic approach, coaching golfers in the physical and mental aspects of golf. He co-hosts the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman, and is the author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. He plays bass in CID—a Guelph punk band!