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Desert Solitaire

I learned firsthand about taking it deep from one of my own playing partners, a thirty-eight-year-old Texas A&M graduate and PGA Tour journeyman named Danny Briggs. Danny is one of those guys you seldom hear much about, but when you see him attack a golf course, you start to wonder why. He calmly proceeded to birdie the first three holes in a row and never quit trying for more until he had run out of holes. Danny finished with a six-under par sixty-six. Although that was the low round of the day, four other guys also shot sixty-sixes, which meant he had to face them in a sudden-death play-off. The winners of the play-off turned out to be two of those other guys.

Although I didn't exactly take it deep, I didn't embarrass myself, and I didn't get in the way of my more accomplished playing partner. I even gave myself an outside shot at qualifying by completing the first nine holes in one under par. Then the wheels came off, and I bogeyed four of the n ext five holes. Talk about feeling alone. Although there were maybe half a dozen other people around me, including players, caddies and spectators, they might just as well have been a million miles away. I was playing the loneliest and most painful form of solitaire under the sun.

In pro tournaments past, a string of feckless bogeys like that usually set my temper to sizzling like the Sonoran Desert in summer or made me explode like the angry god Quetzalcoatl. But this time, I was able to draw an unexpected inner strength from all the trials and tribulations I'd already suffered on my rota of designer courses.

At Papago, I learned the importance of never giving up, no matter how dire the situation appears to be. I could easily have let my frustration take me for anonstop ride on the bogey train, or worse, slunk aboard the double-bogey express and crashed into the clubhouse without even breaking eighty. Instead, I told myself to emulate Danny Briggs and tried to keep on playing like a real pro. It paid off. I parred the next two holes and birdied the last two for a respectable seventy- three.

On the way to the airport the following evening, I stopped off at a deliciously eclectic southern Mexican restaurant called, fittingly enough, Such Is Life. I tried to make sense of the little game of desert solitaire I'd been playing all week. I had come alone to the end of my golfing roads, but I was still struggling to gain an insight into the ineffable quality that all four of the designer desert courses I'd sampled seemed to share.

Then I remembered stumbling across a plaque at the Desert Botan-ical Garden, in Papago Park. It was inscribed with the words of a native-born tribesman who was asked by a white visitor how his people could survive in the harsh environment of the Sonoran Desert. "We don't survive in the desert; we live here," he had replied. "The desert is our home." I had merely survived the desert this first time around. But in the process, I'd learned a little bit about both birth and death, and I had become a much more knowledgeab le golfer. Now that I was leaving, I vowed to come back to the designer courses of Scottsdale again next year and learn how to make the desert my home too.

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