The Longest Drive: Part 7 - The Summit

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

Part 3 - The Slide

Part 4 - The Fall

Part 5 - The Bottom

Part 6 - The Climb

Here's Part 7 - The Summit
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               It was the end of January, but both Madden and Knight were in short sleeves. It was a gorgeous Southern California morning—bright, blue sky without a trace of cloud. The pair were on the putting green at the third stop of the tour's west coast swing to kick off the new golf season.

                Madden had four balls spaced out at 12, 3, 6, and 9 o'clock, each ten feet from the hole. He worked his way clockwise around the circle, draining each putt with a sure-handed stroke. This was how Madden ended every warm-up before a tournament round. And he would keep going around the circle until he sunk the four consecutive putts in succession, the same clockwise pattern every time.
                "Let's go," Knight said, grabbing the putter from Madden's hand and stuffing it into the bag. Madden quickly towelled off and moved toward the front of the putting green and the cart path that led to the first tee.

                Cameras flashed and the fans lining the cart path shouted encouragement at Madden as he walked past, but their words fell on deaf ears. Madden didn't notice the cameras either. He was already thinking about the next, and this time, the first shot.
                Although it was the third tournament of the season, this was Madden's first appearance at a tour event since the Metroland.  And those who figured the media would have a short memory were sorely mistaken considering the coverage of Madden's return. His management team had declined dozens of interviews in the weeks leading up to the tournament once Madden had designated the event for his return.

                His practice rounds earlier in the week were appointment viewing for the major sports networks, but Madden was sure not to give them much fodder. He never actually played full round, instead taking shots from different areas and playing multiple balls. Madden declined to speak at the end of each session, politely telling the press that he would 'talk after the tournament.'
                And now it was minutes to go time. Madden felt his heart rate escalate as he emerged from the grandstand tent and onto the tee box amidst thunderous applause. The gallery had swelled to bigger-than-normal numbers, no doubt many in the crowd like fans at a NASCAR race: wanting to see normal action, but deep down perhaps hoping for another spectacle.

                Madden gave a perfunctory wave in recognition of the applause, but he wasn't paying attention to anything transpiring outside the ropes. He was looking down the first fairway, visualizing the tee shot.
                Knight sidled beside him. "How you feeling?"

                Madden breathed deep. "I feel good."
                "Great," the caddie replied. "You keeping those on?"

                He motioned to the sunglasses on Madden's face.
                "Yep. For this tournament anyway."

                Madden had never worn sunglasses during tournament play before, but Dr. Sweeney suggested that they may be beneficial initially as he worked with his new strategies to keep his mind away from the noise while on the course. He did feel more at ease with them on—as though he could hide in plain sight. If the eyes were the windows to the soul, then Madden had the 'Closed' sign displayed prominently for those trying to glimpse his mental state.
                The announcer put the microphone to his lips. "And now for our 11:15 tee time. Please welcome, former United States Open Champion, Mark Madden!"

                Another big round of applause. Knight leaned over. "Show time. I think the big dog looks hungry. What do you think?"

                Madden looked down at his bag and smiled. "Well, let's give him something to eat then."
                Knight handed him the driver. "First shot of the rest of your career. Just like we've been practicing."

                Madden took the driver and approached the tee. He went through his ritual with his eyes closed, but no one could tell. This was the culmination of months of hard work.  Early on, he wasn't sure if he'd ever be in this position again. Madden had hit rock bottom and climbed his way out.

                He addressed the ball. The club head came back easy, reached the top of the swing in rhythm with his hips, and came through the downward plane with perfect timing. Contact was pure.

                Madden striped it down the middle of the fairway.

                One shot down.

THE END

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