The real equalizer out at the Prairie View Golf Links in Worthington was the wind. If there was a windier track on earth I didn’t want to go there.
I quickly determined there were three distinctly different wind speeds you could experience in southwest Minnesota. I deemed them regular wind, Worthington wind, and Prairie View wind. The winds at Prairie View were relentless, and I felt easily 5-10 mph stronger than anywhere else. So, for the first practice in 2014 as the Trojans’ boys coach I naturally chose Prairie View.
As a coach and a player who has had a level of success in the game, I wanted to have a worthwhile practice AND, of course, show my squad that I still had game. I took the whole boys squad to the No. 10 tee-off and said we were going to have a player hit our drive and we’d all go from there.
So off we went. Each shot, I’d talk about the nuances of club selection and course management; how to stay away from trouble and keep the ball under the hole. The kinds of things that make sense to an analytical math teacher but have trouble sticking with teenage boys. One by one each player would take their shot as we matriculated our way through the first few holes. I knew my turn was coming and I would have to show more to the boys than just talking points.
Finally it was time and I was feeling the butterflies. We were standing on the No. 13 tee box. It’s a downhill 160-yard par 3 with a green that is generously large and features a severe slope from mid green to the back edge. It was my time to shine. I was facing a 25-30 mph wind from the south (at least it was a warmer south wind, right?) and I instructed the lads that this was a shot where I would drop down 2-3 clubs and choke down on the grip to reduce my swing arc, produce less backspin and pierce the wind.
They just nodded. To be honest I hadn’t practiced this shot in years, and although I totally knew the physics and reasoning of ball flight I stood over the ball hoping I wouldn’t whiff in front of the boys.
The moment of truth had arrived and it was time to stop pontificating and attempt to execute. As I swung back with a hand position just a few inches above the metal shaft on my Callaway 4-iron and transitioned into the downswing, there was no time to think. The ball flushed off the club with a ball flight no higher than 15 feet off the ground.
It drew (right to left) no more than a couple yards and settled about eight feet from the pin. The shot couldn’t have looked or been executed much better. The bundle of nerves inside my gut had instantly been replaced with pure joy and confidence. I simply looked at the squad with a big smile and said, “That’s how you do it, boys.”
After that shot I might have walked a little taller down the wind-strewn fairways on the backside at P’view.
I had one more opportunity later that round on No. 18. For those of you who don’t know Prairie View, that hole might have been one of the toughest in this part of the state. It was a legit 400-plus par 4 that would be oftentimes played directly into a stiff northwest wind. There was also out of bounds on the left and a pond that half the time might have whitecaps on it with a P’view gale.
Since the wind was quartering us that day, I told the troops they didn’t need a driver. In fact, I told them I was going to hit my 1-iron. Now, anyone, who plays golf seriously knows to take notice when someone says they are going to use their 1-iron to do ANYTHING.
As my own skills with it have diminished a bit, I have more recently used it as my makeshift spud bar, checking the ice for ice fishing. It is a club that is notoriously difficult to hit with any degree of proficiency. The old joke that Lee Trevino used to say was to “hold up your 1-iron when you play golf in a lightning storm ‘cuz not even God can hit that.”
Well, for whatever reason, at the time I often felt better with a 1-iron in my hand than a putter.
As my squad looked at me unconvinced, I was able to hit that 1-iron down the fairway crisply and then have a stock 5-iron to the green for an easy two-putt par. I had tamed the monster and had shown the youngsters that I might have a trick or two I can teach them.
That was seven seasons ago and so much has happened in the meantime. I left Prairie View that day with my wind-battered squad and we all had a smile on our faces.