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The Kicker Question, Small Margins and Conditions for Success

I have had the privilege to re-engage with the game of golf this year. I am working toward my 55th birthday (6 years from now) where I plan to arrange a golf tour to play St. Andrews, and/or Pebble Beach and, crazy as it might seem, Augusta National. My lag measure: have fun surrounded by friends and shoot at least an 82 on the Old Course.

Now, the plan presupposes a few critical things:

  1. I am of sound mind and body in 6 years.

  2. I play a decent level of golf.

  3. I have the financial resources for the trip.

  4. I have a peer group of friends for which the above is also true.

There are a few Lead Measures to achieve this outcome:

  1. Get an official handicap.

  2. Join a club and make some friends.

  3. Practice, get a coach, play often.

  4. Exercise often and watch my diet.

  5. Save up, it’s not going to be cheap.

So we’re well on our way. I don’t have an official handicap yet, but after four rounds this week, I’m well on my way (I need 8). I have joined a club (admittedly the cheap option, Cathedral Peak). I have some friends who play already, now it’s just a matter of getting into some kind of cadence. I don’t have a coach yet, and I still don’t play often.

But man, this week was a step in the right direction.

We are privileged, as a family, to receive the generosity of good friends. For the second year running, we spent a week at the golf estate of Fancourt. The boys are joyfully embracing the game, Caroline’s swing is improving, and as for me? I managed to crack through four rounds this week. The first two was a study in mediocrity, with flashes of old brilliance. But the next two? Felt like a comeback!

On Tuesday I took a tee-off time just before noon, allowing all of us to sleep late. When the crew finally got going, we all trooped off to the driving range and spent a joyful hour or so making mayhem around the Bramble Hills facility. The boys loved it, and I really got to iron out the kinks in my chips and pitches (the short game is the first to go when you don’t play a lot). Afterwards, I went off for my tee-off time. My experience with mid-day tee-offs is that it is a long slog – if you are a single player, you are often stuck behind a dozen fourballs that play, predictably, at four times slower than your pace. It was ok. I had steeled myself.

This is where epic customer service comes in. The starter, Joseph, had a look at his start sheet and asked me if I minded teeing off on the 3rd instead. That would allow me to leapfrog the three groups in front of me and I would have a clear field.

Delighted, I jumped in my cart and went for it.

What followed was sublime. My drives split the fairway, my approach shots were on point, and my putts started to fall. I played 40 on the front nine (haven’t done that in about 5 years) and level par on the back, including two birdies! My first sub-80 since… well, I can’t remember the last time I did this. I flowed, I was unencumbered, and the combo of loosening up, a few days of getting back into the groove and a beaut day just had things click.

Man, what a feeling.

Yesterday I shot 81. I played almost as well. ALMOST. But I had a more wobbly start, the starter having an issue with my non-compliant trousers. The course was filled with groundskeepers prepping for the afternoon competition, which was distracting, and I hit a few bad shots, missed a few putts, landed in a few bunkers.

Golf is like that. A few small differences, and suddenly your great score becomes ordinary. The way I set up my day, the way a few external factors came into play, and boom. Off the rails.

It made me think of the curious case of Manie Libbok. The second coming of a New! Improved! More vibrant! Springbok game approach, or the man whose erratic kicking at the posts will see us stumble at the final hurdle. Undeniably talented and skilled, he is also our go-to guy for kicking the extra points – and in that regard, he is still deemed inconsistent. If we absolutely crush all opposition in the World Cup, it won’t matter that he misses a few kicks. But if things get tight… and history suggests they will… it might be the difference between glory and another ok campaign.

Also, expectations. A few days before, I would have been delighted with an 81. Having shot a 76, though, suddenly I expect that level of performance.

Nothing less than victory would be enough for us, as the fans. Rugby is close to a religion in South Africa: we have a great team and we are flush with record-breaking victories against Wales and arch-nemesis, the All Blacks.

But. BUT.

We are playing in France, where our path will undoubtedly have us cross paths with a resurgent French side, playing as well as we are. But they will have home support. And before we get there, we need to get past a number 1 ranked Irish team with a point to prove, an All Black team who needs to redeem itself, and probably an Aussie team that has a nasty habit of getting one over on us in these big events. It’s a tall order.

Our environment is not set up for our success. It speaks more to an 81, where last time out in Japan, we were comfortably geared towards a sublime sub-80.

So Manie, good luck to you bud. I sincerely hope I’m wrong, but that iffy boot of yours combined with the deck stacked against us makes for a bad combo.

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