I can barely sleep the night before, waking up early in the morning before practically launching myself out of bed and straight into a pair of shorts and shoes.

Halfheartedly, I guzzle down a cup of coffee, pausing on the way out the door only to grab a fresh sleeve of balls. Better make it two, I think, noting a water-lined par 5 on the front nine.

On the way to the golf course, I’m running shots through my mind like I’m Pacman gobbling little yellow pellets in an arcade machine. All kinds of shots.

Drives, pitches, chips, flops, putts. Long irons and short irons, irons off the tee and irons out of the rough. I’m calculating yardages and grabbing imaginary clubs out of an imaginary bag.

I can’t help but feel like today’s going to be a good day.

The sun is shining, it’s just a little on the humid side — precisely the way I like it — and there’s little to no breeze at all. It’s my home course, and I know it inside and out. Played here two days ago, in fact, and shot my best score of the season.

It’s all lining up just the way I like it, so I step onto the tee box at No. 1 and grab driver. Holding the ball between my thumb and forefinger, I see the minute grass clippings of a freshly trimmed course as I tee it up.

A couple of smooth practice swings, club head just brushing the tips of the grass blades, and I run through my mental checklist.

Head, shoulders, lift, turn, weight.

Head, shoulders, lift, turn, weight, I remind myself. I’ve got this.

The backswing feels good, easy, locked in. Hitting the apex, I start to transfer my weight from back to front, the downswing piercing the air and accelerating to the ball.

And then…

…the unmistakable ‘thud’ of the club striking ground before ball. It’s a high pop fly that Dustin Pedroia would have no trouble fielding.

I vow to shake it off. It’s only one shot, it’s only the beginning of what will still be a very good day.

The second shot sails right. The third never gets airborne out of the rough. The fourth, a chip that is right on target — before continuing a never-ending roll that skirts all the way across the green and into the rough on the opposite side.

Man, I hate this game.

Don’t know why I bother.

Haven’t figured out why I play it.

Still can’t come up with a reason why the simple act of hitting a ball appears so impossible so much of the time.

Off to No. 2, a short par 4 that’s reachable, even for a player of my limited distance. I’m not going to overplay (or overthink) it. I’m going to hit a nice, easy tee shot and see what happens. “Straight is better than long,” I tell myself.

“Let the club do the work.”

“You don’t have to kill it.”

“Keep your head down.”

My drive is good, at least. On the fairway, for a change. Managed not to strike ground before ball. It’s a start.

I leave myself an 8-iron away from reaching the green in two strokes. My favorite club, the one I trust myself with most. A good lie, to be certain.

Even I can’t manage to screw this one up, and I hit a high, arching shot that lands just short of the green — bouncing twice before rolling, mercifully, onto the green. If only by a few inches, it’s a green in regulation — and a victory for me.

“I love this game,” I say out loud, to no one in particular, celebrating my “mental toughness” and ability to regroup from a tough start.

I two-putt for a par, and I’m energized again. I chalk the first hole up to first-tee jitters, to not having warmed up, to remembering why I keep telling myself I need start making a habit of hitting a bucket of balls on the range each morning instead of just gripping and ripping on the first tee for the first time.

Every shot on that hole felt natural, fluid, simple. Solid contact sounds like musical notes floating into the air, hitting the ball so cleanly feels like swinging through clouds of cotton.

I feel as good as I have all week about anything. It’s affirmation of all that I love about this game.

I’m ready for the third hole now, another par-4, another where I’m already adding up how I’m walking off with another par. I’m even entertaining thoughts on where I want to put my approach shot so I can have a birdie putt.

Naturally, I lose my tee shot into the woods to the right with the classic, 90-degree slice. Lose my mulligan, too.

Hit my third tee shot along the ground.

Under my breath, I begin uttering words I didn’t even know I knew.

I begin, once again, wondering why I bother with golf at all. I used to like fishing. At least then I caught fish on occasion.

Over the course of the next three hours, I’m frustrated, thrilled, baffled, fist-pumping, satisfied and angry. In no particular order.

Sometimes, I’m all of those things at once.

What I need is a mental break. A good night’s sleep. A round with more pars than bogeys.

I don’t see it coming anytime soon.

Driving home from the golf course, I’m coming to a realization. I’m beginning to think that some time off would be bene—…

My phone rings, so I answer it.

“I’m playing Natanis tomorrow,” the voice on the other end says. “You in?”

I didn’t even have to consider my response.

“You bet. What time?”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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