The Longest Drive: Part 1 - The Win

I've written a 15,000-word novella entitled, The Longest Drive.
The story follows the fictional exploits of 25-year-old Mark Madden and his ability, or lack thereof, to navigate life as a professional golfer.
While the sport of choice in The Longest Drive is golf--and how Madden deals with added pressures after winning the U.S. Open and being anointed the Next Big Thing--parallels can easily be drawn from what Madden faces to any professional athlete in any sport in 2016. 

Here's Part 1 - The Win


"The sun has begun its descent into the Pacific as the players make the short walk from the 16th green to the 17th tee box. The cliffs adjacent to the ocean are providing a stunning backdrop to what has been a stunning championship. Mark Madden, the 25-year-old from Michigan, stands on the precipice of golf history, two holes away from joining 85 other men who can lay claim to the title of U.S. Open Champion."

                "Madden's up by three, after dropping a shot on the Par-3 16th. And now he faces the toughest tee shot on the course, the 455-yard 17th. The fairway is tightly guarded by trees on the right and a steep canyon that leads down to the Pacific on the left, but it's made tougher by what Madden can see from the elevated tee: the 18th hole and the clubhouse where the championship trophy lies in wait. Letting his mind drift to that trophy could blur his focus on this next swing and that two-shot advantage could evaporate in a hurry."
                "Speaking of that next swing: Is the driver in play at all here, Partner?"

                "I don't think so, Jim. It just doesn't seem worth the risk. Madden's got more than enough distance with a wood or a long iron. Don't even bring the trouble on either side of the fairway into play."
                "Of course, playing devil's advocate, Madden has led the tour this year in driving accuracy. And he's first this week, as well. The fairway has cleared as Madden and his caddie confer."

                "I feel like you're not giving me enough to do," Ben Knight whispered. "At least let me grab the 2-iron halfway out of the bag like I'm trying to convince you to hit it."
                Madden stared at his caddie like he hadn't heard him correctly.

"It will give the reporters something to ask me about after the tournament. I even got my haircut this week, so I'd be camera ready," Knight continued.
                Madden felt the corners of his lips curving upward.  He covered his mouth to stifle the smile.
                "Just give me the driver, Idiot." Madden looked down at his bag, unwilling to meet his former teammate's gaze. Knight obliged.

                "But we are going to have to work on how you talk to me," the caddie quipped. "Aim for the first tree beyond the bend and work it to the left about 15 yards."
                "Now you're being helpful."  Madden grabbed the club and approached the ball as the massive crowd surrounding the tee box hushed.  He unfurled a metronomic swing that crushed the ball into the bright sky, destined for the middle of the fairway.


                Six shots later, Madden walked up the 18th fairway still in possession of a three-shot lead. And there was nothing but an eight-foot birdie putt standing between him and a U.S. Open championship. He doffed his hat to the thundering crowd as he approached the fringe. Thousands of golf fans lining the fairway were bearing witness to the ascension of a young player making the leap from good to great.

                Madden's playing partner, who had self-destructed with consecutive double bogeys to start the back nine, hurriedly finished the hole to clear the stage. Madden approached the putt from behind the hole, displaying the cool demeanour and preternatural calm that had become the signature of his fledgling career.
                He stood atop the putt and everything around him--the crowd, the cameras, the MOMENT--all disappeared into the void. Madden's focus narrowed to the 96 inches of green that separated his ball from the hole. A short backswing and a confident follow-through rolled the ball into the centre of the cup.

                Madden would have to watch the highlights from his victory celebration later that night as it was all a blur in real time: the goofy embrace with Knight, his former rival on their college golf team and now best friend; his parents streaming onto the green after the putt dropped, the culmination of years of sacrifice by the family to get Mark to this point; and a new normal where Mark was now anointed golf's Next Big Thing.
               "Mark, you've had some time to digest what exactly has transpired over the past four days. What is going through your mind right now, standing here as a first-time major champion?"
                Madden stood on a makeshift stage erected on the 18th green with the setting sun in his face. He clutched his new trophy in the crook of his arm, tracing the fresh engraving, Mark Madden, with his finger.

                "Well, disbelief for one," he began. "Not in the sense that I didn't think I had the ability to win because I've always thought that I did, but to actually achieve something I've worked so hard for--it's a little surreal."
                "You shared quite a moment with your parents after that final putt. What did you say to them?"

                "I honestly have no idea," Mark answered, which drew laughs from the crowd. "I'll have to ask them later. But, I hope I told them how much I love them and how instrumental they've been to my career. I think I got my athleticism from my mom--sorry, Dad." More laughs from the gallery. "But she played softball in college. She taught me a lot about preparation and competing and being mentally tough on the course. And my dad was the hardest worker I've ever met.  He worked like crazy to make sure I had the right equipment, the green fees, the means to travel for junior golf. Those bills add up. So, the amount of work he had to put in to not only support the family, but to support my dream of being a pro golfer, I can't even describe how much that means to me. I never want to let them down after what they've done for me and that fuels my desire to always get better."
                "Can it get better than a major championship?"

                Madden smiled. "How about two? No, this is pretty great, but I think there's always room to improve. Oh, and before I forget, I absolutely have to thank, or I'll never hear the end of it, Ben Knight.  He's so much more than a caddie to me. He always knows the right thing to say to keep things loose on the course. Oh yeah, and he wants more Twitter followers. So, if everyone could follow @KnightandDay, he would really appreciate it. And so would I, so he can stop bugging me about it."
                The millions of people watching the coverage across the continent, many of them casual golf fans, were getting their first chance to glimpse Madden's personality. And unlike many of his fellow tour players, he actually had one. That, coupled with his prodigious talent, was going to endear him mightily to the sports world at large. In fact, Madden had no idea of the avalanche of publicity this victory and subsequent interview would trigger.

                "Well, after a victory like this, I'm sure BOTH of you will have to contend with a lot more social media followers."
                Madden chuckled, ready for the public celebration of his win to end so he could enjoy the moment with his inner circle.

                "With this victory, you've broken into the Top 10 of the World Golf Rankings and really established yourself as a major championship contender and a force to be reckoned with on tour. With that, of course, comes increased expectations and pressure, not to mention off-course distractions. Are you ready for it?"
                Madden felt his breath catch. He quickly turned it into a cough. "Well, I'd like to enjoy this one a little before I look too far into the future, Tom."

                The reporter gave a chuckle of his own.  "Fair enough.  Mark Madden. U.S. Open champion and, now, a household name."

Part 2  - The Slip