I live a pretty unique lifestyle. I have many hobbies, but only a few things that I am really passionate about. Sports. Music. Photography. My love of sports was created as birth. My Dad wanted to name me Steve Steranka because he thought it sounded like a good baseball name. Music has always been an important part of my life. With a library spanning across all genres, I have recently begun to appreciate Jazz for its improvisations and unique melodies. Photography, like sports and music, has always interested me. From playing with my parent’s cameras when I was younger, to shooting panoramas on my iPhone, I think there is something special about capturing a memory in a single frame.
So, when I started thinking about how I was going start off my blog I thought I would tell a story about my all-time sports moment.
"Was it Fate?"
It was late July, a week after my 21st birthday. My family and I were vacationing in San Francisco, a trip that was long in the making. Years earlier, my Dad and I made a pact that for my 18th birthday we would travel to Scotland and play golf at the famous Old Course at St. Andrews, which we eventually did. Then for my 21st birthday we planned to make the trip to California and play Pebble Beach.
We pulled into Pebble Beach and headed for the clubhouse. It wasn't until I went into the locker room and saw all of the famous names inside. Lockers for Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Tiger Woods. I was about to play Pebble Beach! How many people get to say they have played two of the most famous golf courses in the world. I was about to be one of those people. It wouldn't have mattered how I played. I could have shot 100 and still have had a great time. But something did happen. I had a moment. One that I will remember for the rest of my life.
After an up and down first few holes, we arrived at the 7th hole, a world famous par 3. The hole was playing 100 yards from the tee, a distance that was irrelevant. From the elevated tee box, the wind coming off the Pacific was gusting from 15-20 mph. Our caddie was changing his distances to account for the changes in wind. First it was 95. Then 110. Then back down to 105 yards. I didn't know what shot to hit. Should I hit my 60 degree wedge, or take an extra club with my 56? I asked my Dad what to do and he said, "Go with the 60." I asked the caddie for the 60 degree wedge and teed up my ball. I took a practice swing. After failing to brush the grass, a pre-swing must before I hit any shot, I took another practice swing. The club grazed the grass ever so slightly. I was ready. I took one more deep breath, looked forward at the tee, adjusted my aim a bit right to account for the wind, and then returned my eyes to the ball. "Don't screw this up," I said to myself.
I took the club back and then threw it at the face of the ball. A delightful pop sounded as the ball soared into the air. My eyes strained to maintain sight of the ball in the overcast skies. I found the ball just before it reached its peak and see it is on a beautiful flight path. After what seemed like a minute, the ball began to fall back to earth. I keep glancing from the ball, to the pin, and then back to the ball. "This could be good," I was saying to myself. For a second my heart skipped a beat as I thought that I might have misjudged it and my ball could be going long, into the water. But just then, it landed short of the hole and rolled left to about 10 feet away. I don’t think I’ve ever given a bigger sigh of relief.
The others hit their shots but I couldn’t tell you where they went if you paid me. My mind was on one thing, and one thing only... sinking that putt for birdie. I had no expectations coming into the round. I surely wasn't expecting to make any birdies on such a difficult course. But, as I was walking down to the green I was telling myself not that I had to make it, but that I was going to make it. This is what all the golf lessons and summer camps were in preparation for. This is what my Dad taking me out to play golf with him on Sundays was in preparation for. This is what the JGA golf tournaments were in preparation for. It was this moment. It was my moment.
I take a look at the break in the putt as I walk up to mark my ball. I don't see more than a cup out on the left. After my caddie cleans my ball, the others play theirs, and then I'm back up. I take another look at the line, get a tip from the caddie not to overplay the break and I replace my ball at the marker. After taking one last look from behind the ball I was sure that I was going to make it. It seemed too easy. "I've made way harder putts than this one," I was thinking. So, I step over the ball, putter in hand. Line up the clubface, shuffle my feet. I pick out a spot on my line and forgetting entirely to take any practice strokes, I take the club back. Six inches back, six inches forward. The perfect pendulum motion that I was always taught growing up. This shot would not take nearly as long as the one from the tee. The ball was rolling a bit faster than I would have liked but it was right on line. Before I could even raise my putter in excitement, the ball hit the hole dead center and dropped in. I did it. I did it! At that moment right then, I don't think I could have been any happier. Playing one of the best courses in the world with my best friend, my Dad. Not to mention I just birdied a hole that I had dreamed of playing since I was a little kid. I posed for a picture to remember the moment, as if I could ever forget what happened.
We went on playing and finished up the round. I played a bit erratic but knowing I had that birdie in my back pocket it didn't matter. Later in the week we took a day trip into Napa Valley and went to a few vineyards. At the last stop of the day, Darioush Winery, we bought two bottles to take home to Florida. With my parents departing San Fran on business, and my sister heading back to New York City, I had to take the bottles of wine back home in my luggage. My Mom, like all moms do, was worried about the bottles traveling in my luggage, so she told me to call her when I got home to reassure her that the bottles made it home safely.
After a connecting flight in Atlanta, I landed in West Palm Beach and then caught a right home. Once inside, I opened up the luggage to find the bottles were safe and sound. I picked up the phone to call my parents to check in both for myself and the cargo I was carrying. When my Mom picked up the phone she sounded unusually giddy. I didn’t think much of it so I pushed on the conversation. I told her that the wine was fine and nothing broke. I heard my Dad in the background tell my Mom, “Tell him to go put them in the wine cooler.” I hung up with them, grabbed the bottles, and walked down the hall to my Dad’s office, where he has a 20-bottle cooler. I put the bottles in and turn around to walk out. As I turned around something caught my eye. I’m actually in here quite often, so if there were something new or out of place I would probably notice it. I stop, turn around and see a framed painting propped up on one of the chairs.
I get a closer look, and to my surprise/shock/amazement, the painting was a landscape of the 7th hole at Pebble Beach, the hole I made the memory of a lifetime on just days before. I look even closer and there is writing from artist, "To Stephen - To many great moments together on the golf course with your Pop." Immediately I call my parents back to ask them about the painting. My Dad came on the phone and I asked him how he got the painting home so fast, as I had assumed the he bought it during our trip after I birdied the hole. But he didn't buy it on our trip. He actually bought it six weeks earlier when he was in San Francisco on a business trip. He thought it would be a nice way to commemorate our trip, not knowing that that would be my signature hole of the round. Was it fate? I’m not sure, but it’s a story I’m going to remember for the rest of my life.
The artist, Linda Hartough is known for painting golf landscapes. You can check her work out at: www.hartough.com
Going forward I am going to post at least one photo every day. Every Friday, I plan on writing a little something that has to do with current events or something that is going on in my life. Stay tuned for more!