Farmington • As we stood near the practice green of Oakridge Country Club, awaiting the announcement of the winners of the Special Olympics Short Game Challenge, I already had determined the outcome after hearing about other scores. I knew that the 3-foot putt I’d missed on the last hole had dropped our team into a tie for first place, and we would lose via a scorecard playoff.
My partner, Jeremy Campbell, was just hoping to hear our names called. So when we were declared the second-place finishers, Jeremy waved his arms in triumph as we accepted our trophies.
Never mind that I had just turned into the Oakridge version of Phil Mickelson at Winged Foot or Jean Vandevelde at Carnoustie. Jeremy was thrilled, and he taught me something I could have learned only by failing at the end.
The annual event, part of the Siegfried & Jensen Utah Open, pairs a Special Olympics athlete with a media member or local celebrity for a nine-hole competition that involves only chipping and putting. The alternate-shot format makes each team member’s contribution important, and there’s some disparity in the golf skills of the athletes with intellectual disabilities.
Jeremy can play, that’s for sure. His chips left me with easy putts and he also saved us with some clutch putts, including in a 15-footer for an ace on one hole. As of the middle of the round, I was targeting the course record, beyond merely winning the competition.
As I later calculated, we had a two-stroke lead going into the last hole — consisting of a 20-foot, uphill putt. Jeremy’s putt was short, leaving me with that 3-footer, and my par attempt from that spot was not even close. So we made a bogey, and ended up tied after another Special Olympics athlete drilled the 20-footer on No. 9. That team was declared the winner, thanks to the lower score on the last hole.
Considering how I — like most golfers — remember shots from nearly 40 years ago, that missed putt will stick with me for a long time. But it will be a positive memory. Believe me, Jeremy wanted to win — and we should have won, based on his performance. But I’ll never forget how happy he was to receive that second-place award.
The Short Game Challenge is always a great experience, the best part of Utah Open week. I’m struck by how the Special Olympics athletes seemingly are never nervous, enjoying the opportunity to perform in front of people.
I’d love to be able to approach golf the way Jeremy and his friends do — hoping to do well, but accepting whatever results come.
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