The Longest Drive: Part 3 - The Slide

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. 

Part 1 - The Win

Part 2 - The Slip

Here's Part 3  - The Slide
               "I'm scrambling my ass off," Madden bemoaned, checking his scorecard. "I can't get anything going. And I hate playing at this snail's pace."

                The good news was that his scorecard was devoid of bogeys or worse. The bad news is that there weren't any birdies on there either. Madden was even-par through 14 holes in the final round of the Bethesda Invitational. He was six strokes behind the leader but, if he maintained his current position, he would pick up his third top-10 finish of the fledgling season.

                "You're battling really well, though," Knight countered. “Tee to green, you're a little leaky, but your short game looks great. And that's what you're going to need heading into the majors."       

                In the tournament thus far, Madden was languishing in the middle of the pack in terms of fairways hit in regulation-- anomalous to his stellar driving performance during his breakout season. In fact, middling stats off the tee appeared to be theme of his year to date. Madden had been unable to embark on a sustained run of excellent golf. Money-wise, he was off to a solid start, but many had expected him to continue a meteoric trajectory to the top of the game, but it hadn't happened yet. 
                "Well, if my short game wasn't saving my rounds, I would have been sitting at home most weekends," Madden said. "What distance do we want here?" He surveyed the hole as Knight checked the yardage book.

                "About two—"
                "Excuse me, Mr. Madden?"

                Madden turned around to see a tour official standing behind him on the tee box.

                "I have to inform you that your group is out of position," the official stated. "We'll have to put you on the clock, as you were warned on the front nine."

                "What? Seriously?" Madden looked beyond the official and toward the fourteenth green.  The group behind them was already on the green putting.
                "Yes. Please try to increase your pace of play, or we'll be forced to administer a penalty stroke to your scorecard."

                "Fine," Madden snapped. He yanked his three-wood out of his bag. Madden grabbed his ball from Knight and hastily stuck his tee into the ground. As he moved to the back of the tee box, he noticed the on-course TV reporter conferring with the same official.
                Great, now the entire world will know we're on the clock.

                Madden exhaled deeply, trying to regain his focus.

                 And they'll all be watching my every move to see how this is going to affect me. That reporter will be searching for any sign of trouble.
                He addressed the ball. Madden started to feel tight again. It started in his chest and travelled through his extremities. His arms felt heavy, while his feet were wobbly. Ordinarily, Madden would step back and regroup. But now, on the clock, he felt the pressure to play quicker.

                His body didn't want to go, but his brain stepped in and forced his muscles into action. The swing was rushed and clumsy. Madden created too steep of an angle and he couldn't fix it before impact. The ball started left and kept going left.
                "Fore!" Madden shouted, his left arm outstretched following the path of the ball. His gaze was cast down. He couldn't bear to watch the ball's final destination. Less than 200 yards away, a large throng of fans scurried out of the way of Madden's poor drive. The ball came to rest among a cluster of trees where thick shrubbery blanketed the ground.

                Madden walked back beside Knight, shaking his head at the poor shot.
                "Maybe we should think about playing a provisional?" Knight whispered. "It's pretty nasty over there."

                Madden's playing partner teed up as they spoke in hushed tones. The thought of hitting that same drive again left a queasy feeling in Madden's stomach. Anxiety seeped into his brain.
                "I'm not hitting that shot again," Madden said. "Play it where it lies."

                "And where it lies might not be playable," Knight countered. "You can still make par from here. From there, we could be looking at double or worse. We'd have to find it first."
                Madden wiped the back of his neck. It was slick with sweat. His face flushed. Madden could feel the gallery's stares.

                "I need to get off of this tee box. I'm not hitting a provisional, okay?" He had meant to be firm but, instead, his words were meek.
                Knight could see the concern etched on his friend's face. "Okay, we'll go find it. It will be fine, you can punch it out, up and down for par, and we'll still be in the top 10."

                Madden marched off the tee box and down the fairway. Knight slung the bag over his shoulder and followed suit, wondering how he was going to massage his player out of this predicament.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------          He didn't. Madden ended up with a triple bogey on the fifteenth and played the final four holes of the tournament six over par. What had looked to be a top-10 finish was instead a tie for 35th and a laundry list of questions regarding the state of Madden's game.

                "It has been reported that you were put on the clock while on the tee box on the fourteenth. You ended up with a triple on the hole. Did the knowledge of being on the clock impact your play?" That was the first question posed to a glum Madden in the press centre after his round.
                "I'd like to think not," he began. "I would hope that I'm mentally strong enough to not let something relatively trivial affect my performance. And I believe I am. The last four holes were just a series of bad swings. It happens."

                The microphone was passed to a grizzled golf lifer in the front row. "Mark, for someone who, in his short career, had made a name of himself as exceedingly accurate off the tee, the numbers so far this year point to a player with driving stats that are average at best. What has changed since last year?"
                Well, let's see. I have to do press conferences like this after every single round. I answer the same questions over and over again so you guys can post your content ASAP. Everyone wants just '15 minutes' of my time which adds up. I'm being pulled in every direction trying to keep up with media obligations, endorsements, being an ambassador for the sportoh, and trying to work on my craft to become a better golfer. A lot has changed for me in the past year. It seems to be no longer just about golf.

                That's how Madden wanted to answer the question, but he knew he couldn't. He'd be pilloried in the media for daring to speak the truth. Instead, he went with the tried and true clichés.
                "I'm just going out there and trying to take it one round at a time, you know. I'm not looking back for a comparison to last year, I am just focused on playing the best golf I can this year. Am I happy with the way I'm driving the ball right now? No. I know I can play better."

                Madden paused and surveyed the press room. He saw the eyes of the reporters glaze over as he spoke. They were losing interest, which was Madden's goal. He was speaking, but he wasn't actually saying anything. Wanting the interview session to end, Madden came up with the blandest, most uninteresting answer he could muster. The press couldn't draw blood from a cliché-ridden stone.
                It was an unwritten rule among players and the media. Whenever a player started resorting to clichés and non-speak during an interview session, it was the cue that the player wanted it to cease. It was the sports media equivalent of 'it's not you, it's me.' Neither party wanted to waste their time, so if the player was finished providing interesting fodder, the press didn't want him at the podium.

                Madden decided to double down, to ensure that he got his point across.
                "I'm close. I really am. I just have to keep swinging, keep putting in the work. It's about what happens outside the ropes, during practice sessions. Practice makes perfect. I'm really happy with my short game, my putting has been solid. Like I said, I'm really close to putting it all together."

                Satisfied that the media had gotten his message, Madden pushed himself up from the table. But another hand shot up into the air from the front row. Stifling a grimace, Madden sat back down.
                "Mark, are you one hundred percent physically?"

                "Yes," Madden responded. "My body feels great." His attention was already out the side door of the press room and into the player's dining area.
                "So, your issue with the driver must be mental?"

                That brought his attention back. The word 'mental' flashed in his brain over and over like a neon sign. Madden shook his head, ridding his mind of the image. He started to answer, but stopped.
                Uh oh.

Part 4 - The Fall