Beauty in the Grind

How the hardest rounds can be the most rewarding.


There is beauty in the grind. That’s something I didn’t quite understand as a younger golfer. Even into my 30s, when I didn’t have it during a certain round I’d be devastated.

Last year I went to Pinehurst with my core foursome. The whole group can play, and we have awesome matches at fun places once or twice per year. I set up a day at Tobacco Road for us, following my Tobacco Road rule: if you’re going to play the masterpiece that is TR, you have to play it twice, and it’s gotta be the same day. You won’t truly appreciate the genius of Mike Strantz until you see the course a couple of times in a row.

I shot 77 in the opening round. My handicap sits around scratch, and 77 is on the higher side of scores for me, especially during casual rounds. A younger me would have been kicking myself all through lunch.

But the thing was, on that day, really for that whole trip? I had nothing. No real swing, no go-to shot I could trust. I was fighting a two-way miss with the driver, which is when my game gets the funkiest.

So I could have looked at my 77 in one of two ways. I could beat myself up for the way I played, or I could dive into what I actually did well over the course of four hours on one of my favorite canvases in the country.

I shouldn’t have shot 77 that day. It probably should have been 82 or 83. I wasn’t hitting fairways or greens. It was sloppy all the way around, but I got the ball in the hole as best I could. I made some late birdies to salvage a sub-80 round of golf, and I went to lunch with a smile on my face, proud of the way I grinded.

I felt the same way about the opening round I had last week at the Gasparilla Invitational. Held annually at Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club in Tampa, the Gasparilla is one of the gems of the mid-am circuit.

Have you ever played pickup basketball against someone you assumed couldn’t hoop, only to get absolutely roasted for the next 20 minutes? That’s Palma Ceia. It’s 6,200 yards. Water isn’t really in play on most of the course, surprising for anywhere in Florida.

I showed up with low expectations considering the way I’m currently hitting it. Not to mention that I’m in winter form thanks to five weeks of snow on the ground where I live.

I opened the tournament bogey, double, double, bogey. 6-over through four holes. Not good.

And that’s when I leaned into the beauty of the grind. I knew I didn’t have it in any capacity, but one can always try. And as I stood on my fifth hole, the par-4 9th, I told myself that I just needed to make a par. One par. How simple does that sound?

I started to make par after par after par. High flop up-and-downs, long bunker shots, lengthy saving putts, and a friendly kick from a branch on a pulled tee shot that give me a window I otherwise wouldn’t have had.

I grinded my way to a 76 in the opening round. That was good for 6-over, the same place I’d been after four holes.

Shane lets it rip at the Gasparilla Invitational. (All photos courtesy BEN ADELBERG/BACK OF THE RANGE PODCAST)

There is absolutely no way I would have been able to produce a decent score in that situation with the mentality I used to bring to the golf course. When things went south, I was toast.

Now, though, I understand that the minimal amount of work I put into my own game means that I’m going to play like this from time to time. It’s unavoidable for a guy that relies so much on timing with his golf swing. When that clock is wrong, the swing and the scores are going to be pretty gross.

The moment I started to believe in the grind is the moment my golf game leveled up. Let’s be honest, how many times do we as amateur golfers show up to the first tee and actually have it? Once a year? Twice? It’s not a huge percentage.

So those rounds? Those rounds are the outlier. They are golf’s version of an on-time departure, early arrival, and no plane blocking the gate.

But how do you act when the flight is delayed? How do you handle your bags getting lost, or the gate being occupied for half an hour when you have somewhere you have to be?

You can bitch, complain, and berate the nearest airline attendant, sure. Or you can simply chalk it up to the process of modern travel. That shit is going to happen, man.

I’d be lying if I said I enjoy the grinding rounds more than the days when I’m dialed in. It’s way more fun to shoot lower scores in relatively stress-free fashion. But I will say, when I’m done with a round of grinder golf, I find myself smiling a lot more as I think back on how I escaped various holes with ugly pars.

If you embrace the beauty in that ugliness, it’ll change your entire perspective.