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Dan Sollom | Pressure and ‘the zone’

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We lost our dear friend and my great golf buddy, Randy Lowe, on Feb. 5 after his nine -year battle with the big C. He was only 60 years old.

I had the honor and the privilege delivering his eulogy at his end-of-life celebration with family and friends in attendance. Randy wrote this golf story nearly 22 years ago with the hopes of someday getting it published. I read this at his end of life celebration and thought it appropriate to include here. Enjoy.

Rest well, Randy. I’ll see you on the first tee...

Randy’s golf story from August 1992

Even an ugly dog can have his day. My golf game is an ugly dog, but this is the story…

For as many years as I can remember, at the slightest hint of pressure my golf game entered ‘the zone.’ Not the zone of confidence and elevated awareness that good players enter, but rather the twilight zone. The zone of 8-foot putts rammed 15 feet past the hole; the zone of lost balls and spoiled opportunities. Those readers who end up 18-to-20-over par for every round know of what I speak.

But even a hack has his day. By any standard, the golf I am referring to is an ugly dog. But it is only ugly on the scorecard. (We were more than the bologna sandwich.) The engineering side of me loves “swing planes” and the aerodynamics of ball flight. The swing at times produces a beautiful flight with a slight draw, and at other times dead straight irons with considerable length. The swing has also elicited comments like, “If you are a 20, then my grandma is Bo Derek.”

However, somehow the slight draw turns to sharp hook and dead straight irons become dead right out-of-bounds. There would be times when I could play well, even great for five holes at a time. But this never, and I mean never, came when playing for something as pressure-packed as a single dollar bill per side.

But along comes the ‘hole.’ I know that I will play and love this game for the rest of my life. The occasion was our club’s annual two-man best ball, having played well enough to be in the last grouping on Sunday. My partner, a soft spoken family doctor, struggled around the course. Our game plan of ham-and-egg slowly became a bologna sandwich.

We finished two shots out of first, and physically tired and emotionally drained, I was packing my clubs to go home. But then some dreaded words came over the public address system: “Sudden death playoff.” Then came the recognition of my name associated with ‘sudden death playoff.’ Three teams had somehow tied for the last two places.

I trudged to the first tee and found, to my amazement, a large crowd had gathered. Our first hole is a long par 5. I surmised that the crowd was ready to enjoy the perverse pleasure of watching people, while under pressure, shank their way through a playoff hole. I also found that everyone swinging their club was a gunslinger. You know the guys — titanium shafts, fat-headed drivers and sweeter swings.

Our team was last to go, and my partner raised his eyebrows when I reached for my driver. My driver had not been very kind to me all day. But somehow I was tired of having sand in my face. I was tired of trying to keep the ball in the fairway, and let my strokes per hole somehow get me through.

I won’t bore you with the details, but I hit three of the best shots I’ve ever hit, with a gallery, and under pressure. The one shot I will never forget was a 5-iron to put myself to within 70 yards. The carts full of spectators had quieted as several players had put their balls on or near the green, and my partner was out of the hole.

As I stood over the ball, my heart was pounding and I tried to take a backswing. My arms had frozen; I had the ultimate golf choke — I couldn’t take a swing. I stepped back, took a deep breath and then it hit me. The sky was a beautiful blue, and the grass a lush green. In the background were the snow-capped Cascade mountains. I looked around and saw close friends of mine. I also thought of my father, who introduced me to the game.

It was a sudden realization that I saw in the weathered faces of a few retired members — a glimpse of what my father would have looked like had he been alive. It no longer mattered where the shot ended up.

I hit the wedge to 6 feet and know that we would at least halve the hole. As I strolled to the green, big alligator tears rolled down my cheeks. I still don’t know why, but I think it was because in that fleeting moment I had connected with all that is so wonderful about golf. I also know that golf had given this hack his day in the sun, and that golf had made a lifelong friend.