I wanted to golf at Knox because I thought it would make me a Big Deal.
As some know, the men’s golf team is the most storied program in the long history of Knox athletics. A powerhouse in the Midwest Conference, we have won 29 conference championships (20 in the last 30 years). The last championship came in the 2007-2008 season, my freshman year.
I should pause for a little meta-retrospecting. Pieces of this sort—well, more graceful, artful ones at least—tend to focus sharply on what the author may term a Seminal Moment (or a Teachable Moment or a Defining Moment), an event that featured an epiphany or revelation of some kind, during which the author, then an athlete, realized What it Means to be a Student-Athlete™. This sort of micro-history is a clever narrative tool, and pulls the reader in before—surprise—the author pulls the camera back, replacing the reader in the broader context, as the piece culminates in an examination of What It All Means.
My SM is titled What it Means to be Engulfed by Loneliness and Heartbreak at the 2008 NCAA Division III Men’s Golf Championship™.
As a member of the conference-winning golf team, I was lucky enough to be invited to participate in the national championship. In many ways, it was a joyous time: the NCAA is a first-class organization when it comes to showering athletes (DIII golfers, mind you) with gifts and keepsakes and praise; Athletic Director Chad Eisele came down to Atlanta for the festivities, treating us to a tremendous steak dinner and—if I remember correctly—a few stories quite unfit for print; and, of course, then-senior David Marquardt finished in the top 15, becoming Knox’s 14th all-American golfer.
But all of this, while fun, was ancillary to my own time on the golf course. (This might be referred to as the Seminal Moment of the Seminal Moment.) I struggled, heartily. Day one featured plenty of jitters. Day two, however, was something else entirely. My nadir; my rock bottom; my terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
I shot 100. There are so many stories, too many stories, so many epically awful holes—the 13 on hole no. 2, the quintuple bogey on no. 7, etc.—that picking one Seminal Moment within a Seminal Moment within a Seminal Moment would be too difficult. For a college golfer—especially one on the biggest stage—that’s As Bad As It Gets. That’s Chuck Knoblauch throwing the ball 20 feet past the first baseman; that’s Bill Buckner not getting his glove down; that’s Rick Ankiel forgetting how to pitch in the 2000 National League playoffs.
For the non-baseball fans, that’s Hindenburg. I digress and over-dramatize. It was not that bad, in retrospect. But for those six-and-a-half hours, it was torture. Competitive golf at this level is lonely. There are no caddies. There’s no witty banter with the gallery. It’s just you and three guys in white belts with sunglasses flipped upside down on the backs of their hats. In that environment, it can be a gut-wrenching slog.
And it sticks with you. Pulling the camera back, and adopting a more serious, measured tone: I never recovered from that. I had a forgettable sophomore year. Then I quit the team. Then I came back. Then I had a forgettable junior year. And, finally, a colossally disappointing senior year. It’s not just that I never fulfilled my potential, I never allowed myself to have any potential. Golf, being a game that is more mental than physical, is not for the unconfident or the frightened or the jittery. One must be focused—or blinded by stupidity, as so many golfers are—on nothing else, and the prospect of failure can never creep into one’s mind.
The prospect of success on the golf course never entered my mind in the last three years. At least I know why I failed.
But if a college athletic career was only defined by personal success on the court or field or course or what have you, we would all leave Knox pretty miserable.
I know there’s more to it. I know that coming here to play golf was the right thing to do. I know I was part of a conference champion. I know that I made lifelong friends in the process.
I just wish my Seminal Moment was not my Seminal Moment. I wish I had rebounded better. I wish a lot, I guess.