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John Sciacca Writes...

Features, Reviews and a Blog by John Sciacca

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Random Thoughts (Blog)

How golf made me a better man

Posted on April 8, 2010 at 3:00 PM

With The Masters commencing this week – the one sporting event I *truly* look forward to watching each year – my mind is on golf. (Sorry to disappoint everyone, but – 3D!!!  – that will be the only time I’ll mention *that* in this post.)


As many of you know, prior to my current career as audio/video custom installer and journalist, I was a golf professional. I worked at a private club in Orinda, California (a small city on the other side of the Caldecott tunnel from Berkeley, near San Francisco). Unlike many people who choose golf as a profession, my path did not lead me there because of some obsessive love or talent for the game. In fact, prior to taking my first golf job – in the giant metropolis which is Rutherfordton, North Carolina –at the so-long-ago age of 21, you could count the number of times I played golf yearly on one or two fingers. And to call my game “rough” would be gilding the lily; a natural I wasn't. However, after several weeks of picking up balls on the Cleghorn Plantation range, the club pro, Bud Grant, really took me under his wing – probably the closest thing to a mentor I’ve ever had now that I think about it – and suggested that golf could be a good career for me as it had been for him. So, with his support, I embarked down the road to becoming a PGA Professional.


Besides MANY hours of OTJ training and several multi-day classes and tests, a large part of that journey is something called the Playing Ability Test, or PAT. Now for many of the people seeking to join the PGA – often ex-college golfers – the PAT is a fun day away from work. For me, it was the most intense crucible of unrelenting pressure, focused, magnified and distilled down to an 11-hour Bataan Death March. Except on well manicured grass and far more swearing.


The PAT is a 36-hole playing event; 18 holes, back to back. Generally you tee off in a foursome at or before 8 in the morning. There is supposed to be a break for lunch in between but there never was. For one, the groups were always insufferably behind schedule. Your foursome was supposed to play 18 holes in about 4 - 4.5 hours, but with every player agonizing over literally every swing, rounds were generally 5.5 to 6. Second, I spent the entire day on this teetering borderline of feeling like I was going to have a stress vomit, so taking a powder on a free box-lunch ham sandwich wasn’t really a day killer for me.


The brilliant, twisted, and evil beauty of the PAT is that everyone can pass and no one can pass. You beat – or lose to – no one but yourself. Before you even step foot on the course, you know what the passing score is. The target score was (and probably still is – wheels turn at a glacial pace in the PGA) determined by a formula of doubling the course rating and adding 15. Often this meant a score of 150 – 155 to pass, or about 8 to 13 over par for 36 holes. And, as a good player, going out and swatting it around with friends, firing rounds of 76 and 77 is nothing. But when you know you have one chance a month – usually at a cost of around $100 – and that every swing is taking you one tick closer to that number and that everything is under the closes crutiny of the ever penalizing Rules of Golf, it becomes something...tougher and more epic.


One of the most agonizingly hateful things about the PATwas that it was, quite literally, all or nothing. After a full day of baking in the sun, you either had the number and passed or you didn’t. Close meant nothing except that you’d be trying it again later. The PAT really got in my head and did an all day, high-stepping Mariachi on my self-confidence, declaring at every missed shot that I could be *close* but never quite good enough. I usually missed passing by 2 and 3 and missed by 1 stroke twice. On both of those occasions I was under the number with 3 holes to play and then 3-putted. Just stupid-stupid mental errors. I had a 3 foot putt on the36th hole to make birdie and pass and I choked it. I’ll remember standing over that putt and watching it miss left for the rest of my life. I remember thinking right before hitting it, “Make it or miss it, I don’t even care, I just want to get it over with.” Not exactly a mental “Lets give ‘em one for the Gipper!” confidence booster.


It took me 9 times to pass. I actually say that with quite a bit of pride. I know some people that never passed. ("Did you take it? Did you pass?" Inside joke.....) Never once while I was taking it did anyone else in my playing group pass. It wasn’t unusual for there to be 100 players with only 3-5 passing. The Navy SEALs have a higher success rate for people graduating BUD/S!  


Ultimately, I did pass, with scores of 75 and 73, beating that day’s target by 3 shots. I forget *a lot* of things. (Ask Dana.) But I remember the key putt that changed everything as clear as if it were yesterday; it was a curling side-hill 8 footer that would have been the third bogey in a row had I missed, and a sure catastrophic mental derailing. I stared that ball into the hole for a par, and then I birdied the next and never looked back.


Ultimately, three big things helped me pass. First was a giant case of “This thing will not beat me no matter how many times I have to take it.”  PAT: I wasn’t going to quit you. Second was the book “Golf is not agame of perfect” by Dr. Bob Rotella. That was a giant help getting over the mental hurdle of finally quieting those inner, doubting demons. While it is specifically about golf, there are many applicable life lessons that could help anyone with a struggle. Third was my friend Dan, who caddied several times and who was (and remains) the type of friend that would have taken off work no matter how many more times I would have wanted him by my side. (Dan will also meet you in New York if you happen to find yourself with an Aston Martin for the weekend.) He allowed me to get out of the “moment” of each shot being a life-and-death deal and just get back to playing the golf I knew I could play and celebrating each victory with every bit as much passion as if they were his own.  Dan andh is wife and Dana and I celebrated the "win" with some Kung-Pao and a bottle of Dom Perignon. Probably one of the best meals I’ve ever had.


The PAT taught me that I could do whatever I set my mind on. It might take an agonizing amount of time and effort – in this case, *thousands* of balls on the range, going in to work early and staying late on more days than I can remember – but in the end, ultimately, I could prevail. And for that, I thank you, PAT. Now, I never want to see you again.


Categories: April 2010, Family

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Reply [email protected]
4:39 PM on April 9, 2010 
Great going back down memory lane Good job.
Reply Craig
3:18 PM on April 10, 2010 
I thought it only took you 3-4 times to pass. I'm not sure if I want to remember it that way, or is it better storytelling to go with the actual 9?
Reply John Sciacca
3:24 PM on April 10, 2010 
Craig says...
I thought it only took you 3-4 times to pass. I'm not sure if I want to remember it that way, or is it better storytelling to go with the actual 9?

Well, better storytelling, or just the sad, sad truth. I took it 3 times when I didn't have ANY business taking it. And, Pierre was caddying for me. And by "caddying" I mean not so subtlely rooting against me at every turn!
Reply Dan
12:05 AM on April 14, 2010 
Caddying for you on the day you passed was truly an unforgettable day. I am very proud to have been part or it. It's true, in a way, I felt like I was taking the PAT. I was so nervous and excited for you.
Isn't it great that the PAT didn't require an annual renewal? I'll carry your clubs anytime, but would rather hoist a large plasma TV or speakers if needed by you instead.