Going for the Green

Knock on 3-wood, I'm not going to finish this column.

Because at this very second I'm closer to $1 million than ever before. Than I ever will be again.

All that stands between me quitting my day job and watching eternal Seinfeld reruns is 166 yards of manicured grass. Well, that and 45,000-to-1 odds. But with a great swing and good luck, by the time you finish this issue's Ask a Mexican I'll own half the Yucatan Peninsula.

All I need is a hole-in-one.

Knees bent. Head still. Grip tight, but not too tight, like holding a dove. Concent...But why would I want to hold a dove? Just let it fly, man. Shut up! Focus. Think of nothing but a smooth, relaxed swing. Don't worry about the million dollars. Or how it will be stacked. How it will smell. Is there such thing as a $1,000 bill?...

Thanks to avid golfer, and keeper of the Dirk Nowitzki kryptonite, Don Nelson, I'm staring down—OK, more like squinting in the general direction of—early retirement. With the Mavericks' premature evacuation, there's time to kill and sports to unearth. And since there's nothing like a million bucks to make you feel like a million bucks, why not enter the city of Dallas' Hole-in-One Contest?

The event raises money for The First Tee of Dallas, an organization that helps kids stay off the crack by getting on the course. It's $10 for six shots, with the closest 56 players advancing to the semifinals at Tenison Park Golf Course in East Dallas. Whittled to 12, the finalists get one shot at $1 million.

"It's a win-win," says Bob Smith, Tenison's director of golf. "You're helping kids. And you just might get rich."

Like most of us, I'm among the tinkering majority stuck between starting golf from scratch and being a scratch golfer. More Happy Gilmore than Tiger Woods, I've been playing since I could walk and have a 10 handicap and a wall of priceless father-son tournament photos to show for it.

But I've never had a hole-in-one. Or, until now, a formal lesson.

"Ah, the classic reverse pivot," says Tenison instructor Dylan Ross, likely the world's lone Scot who speaks fluent Spanish. "You've got too much torque and you're fighting yourself. You need effortless power. What you've got is powerless effort."

Ross analyzes my assaults, intently watching my 9-iron shots meekly flutter to the ground.

"One percent," he says as I arch a perplexed eyebrow. "If you win, I'll only take one percent."


"During the backswing, slide your left foot alongside your right," Ross continues, choreographing a drill. "Transfer your weight. Chiropractors hate me because I take all the pressure off the back. Dancers love me because I teach you how to move."

Fabulous. Looking for Fred Couples, I found Fred Astaire.

Somehow, integrating Ross' fox trot with Dad's hand-me-down King Cobras worked. I qualified by hitting a wedge to within 75.5 inches on a 113-yard hole, then nestling one within 90 inches to make the finals.

On the proud, perilous walk out to Tenison's 17th, the golf gods weighed in on the proceedings. Thunder. Rain. Omen?

"Since it's postponed," offered a smartass as the group briefly took shelter under a water shack, "I guess we just split the pot 12 ways and call it a day?"

"Not exactly how it works," Smith says back to me.

The city, just in case, bought insurance against a hole-in-one. The company required the yardage be at least 165 yards. It is exactly 166. Might as well have been 366.

Because apparently the event was underwritten by Mother Nature Inc. After sun-drenched Saturday semifinals, the finals were met with sideways raindrops and violent wind gusts. The 17th —Tenison's "Bobcat Crossing"—is now playing uphill and upwind to a left front pin tucked just over a mound on a damp, slow green. Suddenly, it's a nasty amalgamation of Royal Troon's "Postage Stamp," Sawgrass' "Island" and the 12th at Augusta.

Nonetheless, I attempted to convince myself, out in the distance is a 4.25-inch diameter hole in the ground. Despite escalating anxiety, deteriorating weather and negligible skill, this is possible. Where's Regis Philbin? Because the answer is "me!"

Hitting fourth, I summoned a 5-iron, reasoning that the hole was playing more like 175 yards. I'll start the ball left of the green toward that small grove of trees and let it—in theory—ride the wind back toward the hole. My natural ball flight, not unlike an old Steve Carlton curveball, will surely be guided by the ghost of Lee Trevino, who rode his similarly ugly cut shot from these same Tenison fairways to golf immortality.

With 10-finger grip and fingers crossed, I addressed the ball, took a deep breath and...nutted it! Sweet, smooth, solid contact. For .06 of a second, I thought I could actually afford the $69 margarita at N9NE Steakhouse.

Then I looked up.

"Cut, you summmmbiiiiiitch," I begged, pleaded and eventually screamed as my ball veered indifferently toward the trees and middle class. "Cuuuuuuuuuuuuutttttttttttt!!!! Kick! Bounce! Chase! Trundle! Go! Cut some more!"

No cut. No monkey to throw it out of the trees. No million.

Subconsciously, I countered my innate fear of the ball falling harmlessly short and right of the target with a burst of power that superseded my natural swing, yanking the ball lefter and straighter than I, or anyone else, envisioned. Death by double-cross.

I still haven't seen the ball come down. Last I heard it was playing pinball in the pines, a good 25 yards left of the green and a million miles from a million dollars. In retrospect, I couldn't have parred the hole for a million.

And I wasn't alone. Turns out the city of Dallas could've awarded $1 million for anyone hitting the green and kept its money. That's right, 0 for 12. Jeremy O'Quinn, 33-year-old golf coach at Richardson Pearce High School, was the only golfer to flirt with fame and fortune. His 6-iron, however, landed atop the mound 10 feet short of the green and 25 feet from the hole.

"I knew it was short immediately," says O'Quinn, a 2-handicapper who won the first-place prize of free golf for a year in Dallas. "I've still never had a hole-in-one."

For finishing ninth I walked away with $50, a new putter, a warm feeling that I helped raise $16,000 for charity and one overriding thought.

Dammit, I've got to finish this column.