This is what rust looks like: My shot at the state amateur

Biggest thing I miss about playing college golf: (mostly) unlimited and totally justifiable time to work on my game. I used to have a conversation with a handful of golf buddies that centered around the existential-ish question of unlimited range access. Could any ho-hum Joe turn himself into a next-level golfer if he just had unlimited course and practice-facility access (plus, of course, ample time to use it)? I remain undecided.

Being in golf shape is not a myth. It’s probably more mental than physical (even though I can be in the middle of a marathon-training cycle and still feel exhausted after lugging my golf bag around 18 holes). Before last week, I’d spent almost six months building up to my Florida Women’s Amateur debut. That included a lot of range balls and short-game sessions, but only about eight rounds. The lesson I learned, which I probably already knew from a handful of failed USGA qualifiers, is that you can’t just waltz into those things. My game was holding on by a thread, and as soon as I started trying to steer the golf ball, it was all over. I backed up 79 with 91.

Of course, the really cool parts of last week included playing in the same field as a member of the 2015 Stanford national championship team, eventual winner Shannon Aubert, and a USGA champion, Meghan Stasi (four-time U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur winner). I also got to play in the same field as one of my high-school players, who beat the proud coach handily. I take away different things from competition now than I did when I was 22.

These are some of those things:

I’m not the kid anymore.

I was paired with four teenagers over the course of two days. All looked at me a little funny and I could see the question going through their heads. One finally asked, “How old are you?” There was a 12-year-old and a 68-year-old in the field. At least I fell comfortably in the middle.

The golf world is small and always watching.

I was on top of the world after making a 15-footer for an opening 79. It was a round where I was chipping in for par and dropping 30-footers that rammed the back of the cup so hard dirt fell. It was as good as I could have scored. To my delight, a handful of golf coaches and former colleagues noticed! Social media is a blessing.

This means they also saw the following 91. Mercifully, no one commented on that. The Golf Gods giveth, and they taketh away.

Tournament golf is long.

I grossly underestimated the strength of the field, based on a Missouri Women’s Amateur experience 10 years ago in which 26 over for 54 holes left me in the top 10. Florida is not Missouri, and the 36-hole cut to match play (32 players) was 5 over. For the second round, World Golf Village’s King and Bear course was set up over 6,000 yards and it played soft. That puts a lot of stress on short game. Tournament golf requires strength off the tee, not just a hot putter.

Competition is a mindset.

You can’t go into a tournament -- or I can’t, anyway -- without some confidence in your game and some experience with pressure. While I was playing the Women’s Amateur, mid-amateur Stewart Hagestad (four years my junior -- this is hard to believe) was playing the U.S. Open at Erin Hills. Granted, Hagestad is a USGA champion and now a Masters veteran, so we’re not exactly in the same boat, but we still both have a day job that isn’t golf. Hagestad missed the cut at Erin Hills, but my experience really put into perspective for me how much trust you’d have to have in your game to succeed without the luxury of unlimited play and practice time. I can’t imagine taking that to the nation’s championship.

Women’s golf is thriving.

This tournament had the distinction of being the largest Women’s Amateur in Florida State Golf Association history. The organization opened the field to 156 players this year -- 182 entered and 130 started. According to the FSGA, that field size is 28 players larger than in 2016 and 50 players larger than in 2014. The FSGA runs top-notch events -- just as many state associations do -- and our sport is growing as a result.