The Golfpocalypse is a weekly collection of words about (mostly) professional golf with very little in the way of a point, and the Surgeon General says it will make you a worse person. Email The Golfpocalypse with your questions or comments on absolutely anything here.

The Choke

The round I played last week was the worst thing that’s happened to anyone since at least the Spanish Flu, and it ended with an egregious gag. There’s no great solution for choking except to keep putting yourself under pressure until you calm down or get lucky, but as we’ve seen in the professional game, sometimes it’s just failure after failure after failure with no end in sight. I’d just come home from covering the U.S. Open, where I’d witnessed Rory’s meltdown in person, and a day earlier I wrote and recorded a podcast on Jean Van de Velde’s ‘99 collapse at Carnoustie. I was surrounded by choking, and it was about to become contagious.

I’m going to hit you with a big spoiler: choking sucks. And after I blew it, with no one watching and no consequences, it made me want to send Rory a box of chocolates and a warm blanket.

The day seemed innocent. Expectations were extremely low, and they got even lower when I hit my first tee shot about 90 miles left and almost killed a motorist. I absolutely didn’t care; it was early in the morning, and the idea was to play a quick nine before putting in a full-ish workday. A dopey blunder on the first shot just ensured that I could play without worrying about my score. I almost felt cocky. F*** you, golf, you can’t hurt me today.

My game is at that midsummer level where I’m constantly close to breaking 40 for nine holes, while breaking 80 is the gold standard I’ve only ever achieved once (at which point we covered it like it was the final Masters ever held…nobody has ever gotten more attention for having a slightly above average round once in their lives than me). After a winter regression, I’m good again, and being good means every round is a potential 39 or 79. That brings stress, but this time, my shitty drive on 10—they sent us off the back—meant that the stress was gone.

Until it wasn’t. I made birdie on no. 11 with a 5-iron approach that was better than drugs, and because golf is a f*** and any good nightmare strings you along with false hope, a bunch of good things ensued and I somehow finished with a 40.

“Yooo,” my brain said, “just spitballing here, but why not keep going? Feels like you could get 79.”

I didn’t want to. Playing 18 on a weekday feels wrong, but also…I did want the 79, pretty badly. So—bosses at Golf Digest, don’t read this part—I reached a compromise with myself. I’d play a couple of holes, and if I blew up, I’d leave. My brain congratulated me. Extremely reasonable.

I made a birdie on 1—of course I did—at which point I became the white 41-year-old version of the “oh shit, here we go again” guy. Now I couldn’t leave. Four holes later, I was even for the nine. Things started to get very tangible then, which is also when they started getting very stupid.

The next hole was one of the shortest par-4s on the course, it’s downhill, and because it hasn’t rained in North Carolina in approximately six years, the soil is just a brown shade of concrete. “Sounds like there’s absolutely no reason to hit driver,” you might think, and you would be correct. It’s fun to be 20 yards away when you pipe one, but it’s not the smart play when you’re gunning for a low score. And yet…some part of me wanted to be able to hit a beautiful drive under pressure, good sense be damned.

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The author during happier times.

I pulled out driver. You know I did. I kept my tempo steady, fired the hips…and promptly launched it straight into the woods. I salvaged double and told myself it was fine.

The next hole was another par-4, and you don’t need driver there either… especially if, like me, you had already hit three drives out of play.

I pulled out driver. Hell yes. Smart brain fully offline. Yanked the first shot into an old quarry, re-teed, faded the next one straight into the woods. Complete nuclear meltdown.

Two shell-shocked minutes later, I made triple, and 79 was out the window. I prayed for a hawk to swoop down and kill me.

At that moment, the clouds parted and my stupidity hit me with perfect clarity. Sweet hell, what have I done? Whatever idiotic impulse it was, it took over the controls completely, then did the golf equivalent of downing 12 shots of tequila, crashing a stolen rickshaw into a daycare and leaving me to pick up the pieces.

This was a bad, bad mental choke, and needless to say, the “pressure” in this scenario was just one dude by himself, with nobody else in the world giving a shit how it turned out. That’s slightly different than what happened to Rory at Pinehurst, with millions of people watching and evil journalists like me ready to write about how nobody will forget it for decades. (Other than that, Rory and I are exactly the same.)

The point is, choking is extremely real, it takes over your brain, golf sucks, Biden should outlaw it and also, we should send Rory a gift certificate for a spa day.

FIVE TOUR THOUGHTS, TRAVELERS EDITION

1. There’s something annoying about threesomes on the PGA Tour in a final round. I realize they had to do it because of weather concerns at the Travelers, and that this is not actually a problem anyone should care about, but it always creates a third wheel situation down the stretch where you’re honed in on a two-man duel, but some other guy is mucking things up by nine-putting every hole at a Cantlay pace. Akshay Bhatia was that guy at the Travelers, and I love watching him play normally, but at a certain point the Tour should have a policy where if it’s the final group, and a third wheel has emerged, they can quietly send him back a hole and pretend he doesn’t exist.

2.“Scottie Scheffler is a golden god” status: Intact. Possibly more golden and godlike than ever.

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Keyur Khamar

3. It has to suck to be one of the three guys—Taylor Moore, Justin Rose, Peter Malnati—who finished over par at the Travelers. And in this case, it’s worse for Moore, because Rose is an aging legend who probably doesn’t care that much and Malnati is playing with house money as a journeyman who actually won this year. I’m pronouncing Moore the loneliest lad in Connecticut.

4. I don’t know what to think about the climate protesters. On one hand, I’m with the vast majority of fans in the belief that interrupting a sporting event is annoying and almost certainly ineffective. On the other, I think these people are more right than wrong on the big picture, nobody’s listening to them and nothing is working, and they’re pretty much out of ideas. “Let’s go get tackled at the golf tournament” feels like a bad solution, but their desperation is so real that I sort of get them.

5. Tom Kim has officially reached the rare dual status of a guy who I fully expect to make a dagger putt in a big moment, but who I also expect to accidentally fall face-first into a bunker and come out with his shoe on his head. It’s a lethal combo of clutch and goofy, and you have to respect it.

THE ABSOLUTE IRONCLAD LOCKS OF THE WEEK

The Golfpocalypse is not a gambling advice service, and you should never heed anything written here. Better picks are here.

This week at the Rocket Mortgage Classic on the PGA Tour, I love Scottie Scheffler. However, he is not playing, and while I still suspect that he’ll find a way to win, I will grudgingly make another pick just in case: Cameron Young. When it’s time, it’s time, and at a course where you need to make roughly 60 birdies in four days to have a chance, I’m rolling with the guy who can hit the ball a mile and just shot a 59. And while it’s true that he seems to have an allergy to winning, sooner or later this street tough from the Bronx is going to whip these country club snoots.

Over in Europe, at the Italian Open, I like Manuel Elvira. Last week, Nacho Elvira won, and I don’t think we talk enough about how his name is a combination of a very good food item and the hot vampire lady I watched as a teen on USA late night weekend programming. Unfortunately, when I did a ctrl-F for Nacho, he’s not playing this week, but he has a brother named Manuel. Spanish Hojgaards, you say? I’m all in.

The LPGA is at the Dow Championship in Michigan this week, and I’m going with Alexa Pano because I remember her from the Netflix documentary The Short Game, and unlike many sports parents, her dad didn’t seem like a complete psychopath. Heartwarming!

At LIV Myanmar this week, it feels like we’re going to see a breakthrough from Harp Van De Vlaak and FairwayCatz GC.

Finally, on the Champions Tour, it’s the U.S. Senior Open! Padraig Harrington is obviously a big favorite after his win last week, but I can’t pick against my home country in OUR Open, so I’m going with Jerry Kelly in a shocker.

THE “DUMB TAKE I KIND OF BELIEVE”

If Scottie Scheffler doesn’t win the Open, it will be a slightly disappointing year for him.

Is this dumb? Oh yeah! Extremely dumb! He’s been incredible, he’s having the best season of anybody since Tiger, and he already won a major. Butttttt…to win that much, and not come away with at least two majors? Doesn’t it feel a little like a missed opportunity? A little?

It was hard to write this, because I realize in the logical part of my brain that it’s an absolutely indefensible take, particularly after he notched yet another win at the Travelers. And yet, my inner dumb guy is behind it 1000%, and you cannot convince him he’s wrong. When will Scottie ever be this good again? When will anyone? When you’re this hot, you just gotta max out the majors. And if he can’t win the Open at Troon, he’s basically Greg Norman. PRINT IT.

THE READER STORY OF THE WEEK

Brian from Statesboro, GA, knows what it is to choke:

My choking story is from last November and a family trip to Pinehurst. Sunday we were fortunate enough tee it up on Pinehurst No. 2. I’m a 16 handicap so my expectations were low for the day as far as score, but high for the overall experience. Played decent on the front and unraveled on the back. Coming to 18 I was determined to end things on a high note. That is not what happened. Tee shot went left into the wispy stuff, but the lie was decent. Hit out into the Bryson bunker, did not follow that up with a Bryson bunker shot. Mine hit the green and scooted off the back about 20 yards from the porch at the clubhouse. It was about 12:30pm and Sunday brunch was in full swing on a beautiful November day. In other words, the porch was packed. I took my putter and a wedge thinking I’d probably putt the ball up the hill instead of blading a chip into the bunker on the other side. As I approach my ball, putter in hand, a guy on the porch yells out “Don’t putt it!” and just about every person on the porch laughed. At that point I had to chip and proceeded to hit the chunk of all chunks. Ball hit the hill a foot in front of me and rolled back behind me. Ended up making triple bogey and haven’t stood over a ball to chip without thinking of that moment since.

Absolutely brutal. I have also played No. 2 as a mid-handicap (NOT fun), and the 18th hole verandah pressure is real. Those judge-y cocktail-sipping sadists just love to heckle from the comfort of their Adirondack chairs. The guy who yelled at you should be in a Siberian gulag. Brian, you’re basically Rory.

This article was originally published on golfdigest.com