Musings of a Golfaholic
When it rains it pours
Saturday was my second tournament on the GolfWeek Am Tour. It was at Cog Hill (Ravines), which I played last summer and shot 79. But there’s a reason Bobby Jones used to say, “There’s golf and then there’s tournament golf.” It’s a much different beast than the casual round with friends. Everything about your swing is a little tighter. The repercussions behind every shot are more amplified. There are no gimmes. Every shot must be played as it lies. It’s golf at its finest, but also its most brutal. And that’s what makes it so addicting.
I shot a 97 in my first tournament a couple weeks ago at Thunderhawk, so I was determined to at least beat that. Knowing that I had shot 79 in my previous round at Cog Hill and just shot a 79 at Bay Hill last week, I was pretty confident coming into this week’s tournament. I figured that until I’m able to control my nerves in tournament golf, 79 would be tough, so I set my goal at 85 for the round.
I was paired up with three other guys – Brendan, whose mom came to watch; Junior, who was pretty cool; and Ed, a guy from the Columbus tour – in the 12:26 tee time. The forecast called for rain all morning and then scattered thunderstorms the rest of the day. It rained pretty much the entire time warming up, but mostly stopped by the time we teed off, so we were lucky in that regard.
My first tee shot was slightly better than the first one at Thunderhawk (it actually got off the ground and made it past the women’s tees), but it still wasn’t anything to be proud of. It sliced into the trees on the right. I had a small opening to punch it under, but it caught the last branch possible and bounced back toward me, coming to rest right up against a tree, leaving me with no backswing. I chopped it as far as I could, put my fourth shot on the green, and two-putted for double-bogey. Not a good way to start, but better than the triple-bogey I started with at Thunderhawk.
Hole two was a much better drive that just found the first cut on the left of the fairway, about 75 yards from the green. I put a 56-degree wedge within five feet of the pin, but missed the right-to-left breaking birdie putt on the low side. I was glad to have rebounded from the first hole, but missed an opportunity to gain a stroke and potentially win a skin.
The third hole was a par-five that I bogied because of a duffed pitch shot. Hole four was an uphill par-three over a big ravine. It was the closest-to-the-pin hole for the A flight and I hit a beautiful 6-iron that landed about six feet left of the pin and spun back about 25 feet short of the hole. Still, it was good enough to put my name on the marker (at this time I still haven’t found out if I won it or not). A two-putt par, followed by a par on the fifth left me just three over through five. I was feeling pretty good about things. But that’s when things started to go south.
I lost my drive on six to the right among a group of trees. On my second shot I hit a pretty good punch under the overhanging trees, but making it over the bunker that guarded the front of the green. It wound up in the rough just off the green…pretty good from where my drive ended up. Unfortunately, I was unable to get up and down, missing a par putt I should have made.
Seven was a pretty straight forward par three, but I double-crossed my five-iron and wound up on a hill left of the green – the same side of the green that held the pin, making it virtually impossible to get my chip close. It left me with a two-putt bogey. Six over through seven…still not terrible, but I needed to right the ship.
On eight, I yanked my tee shot out of bounds and had to hit another. The second one (my third stroke) was perfect, but I compounded the original mistake with a three-putt for a triple-bogey. To make matters worse, my tee shot on nine went left towards the woods. I found it, but was forced to just punch out without much room for a backswing. It left me in the rough on top of a hill with a 210-yard approach shot over water. I tried to be aggressive and go for it with a hybrid, but it came up short and wet. I dropped, hit a great nine-iron onto the green, and two-putted for my second consecutive triple-bogey to finish the front nine with a 47.
Hole 10 was the hardest hole on the course that demanded an accurate drive. I put my three-wood perfectly in the fairway, but pulled my five-iron approach shot left of the green. I had a bunker between me and the green, so I tried to open the face and loft the ball over softly, but I bladed it across the green, then got up and down from there for bogey.
The 11th hole was a dogleg right par-five. I crushed my drive, but it ran through the fairway into the rough. What made this hole hard was the fairway that had a huge left to right slope to it, so the ball was well below my feet on my approach shot. I hit my hybrid well, but naturally, it went right of the green. This is where I made the mistake of not fully assessing the green before hitting my chip. Had I done so, I would have realized the green sloped down severely past the pin (back to front). I got a little too aggressive with my chip and ran it past the pin and down the slope, leaving me with about a 80-foot putt up a huge slope. I three-putted from there for bogey.
After a double-bogey on 12 and bogeys on 13 and 14, I set my goal to break 90, needing to par out the final four holes. I did par 15 and then sunk a birdie putt on 16. On 17, a short par-four, I hit a perfect tee shot, but my approach came up just short of the green. I tried using the new 52-degree wedge I had just bought and hadn’t really used yet. I discovered that 120 yards was about 5-10 too much for that club. I wasn’t able to get up and down for par.
Needing to par 18 to break 90, my tee shot hit an overhanging tree and came to rest way short of where it should have. My approach was left of the green and I couldn’t get up and down, resulting in a bogey for a 43 on the back and a 90 for the round.
It was definitely disappointing, but looking back on it, I realized it was the middle nine holes that really got me – holes seven through 14. I played those in 13 over par. Holes one through six and 15-18 were played in just five over (and should have been four over if I had made the short birdie putt on two).
Shot of the Day: This was a combo of my approach and putt on 15. My drive faded right of the fairway among a group of trees. Luckily I was able to take a full shot instead of having to punch under the trees. I hit a nine-iron onto the front of the green. Then I sunk a 15-foot right-to-left breaker for birdie. I was the only one in the A flight to birdie the hole, so I won a $20 skin.
Runner-up: The approach shot on two that left me with a short birdie putt, which I missed.
Bad Shot of the Day: The double-cross on seven that really started the downfall on the middel stretch. I had been hitting my irons well up until that point. I tried to aim for the right of the green since the pin was on the left, but I rolled over it and pulled it way left.
Runner-up: The opening tee shot that started the day off in the trees instead of in a good note.
Bad Decision of the Day: Trying to go for the green from the rough, over the water, on nine. I should have played left of the water and left myself with a good chance to get up and down for bogey instead of resulting in a triple.
Lesson of the Day: Don’t compound mistakes by trying to get aggressive when things aren’t going right.
I know that eventually I’ll be competing for these tournaments. I’m still in the adjustment period that most golfers went through in high school or college. I never played competitively. But watching Justin Rose win the US Open was reason to be optimistic. After becoming a pro in the late 1990s, he missed his first 21 cuts. I’m sure there was a period of time in which he wondered if he’d ever make it on tour, but on Sunday he captured one of golf’s ultimate championship.
Conquering Arnie’s Course
Back in March, I got to attend the Arnold Palmer Invitational for work. Watching the top pros in the world play four rounds, a practice round, and a pro-am on Arnie’s home course, culminating with Tiger’s 300th career win on a Monday finish, gave me the itch to play the course. Luckily, I wouldn’t have to wait long as Carrie and I planned a fifth anniversary/30th birthday/babymoon trip to Bay Hill for the beginning of June.
It was a quick trip, but we got a good deal for the beginning of the club’s offseason and took advantage of it. I got the first non-member tee time of the day (noon) and was paired up with three other guys – a guy from Austin and a father/son from Dallas. While none of us had played the course before, I had the distinct advantage of having walked the course dozens and dozens of times during the tournament, watching where the pros placed their tee shots and which pins they attacked.
My first impression of the course after playing it was how fun it was. I loved the design of it. Arnie really made each hole a risk/reward off the tee. Almost every hole had a bend either left or right with a big fairway bunker at that bend and another one on the other side of the fairway. On each tee shot, you’re forced to either try to carry the trap (usually about a 240-260 yard carry), which would then put you in good position for your approach shot or to take the safe route following the fairway and steering clear of the trip, which would then leave you with a longer approach. But if you go the aggressive route, you run the risk of finding the bunker and essentially being forced to lay up since most of the traps had high front faces to keep you from being able to hit a low shot out of it.
I found this to be a very enjoyable way to play because, rather than simply stepping up to the tee and bombing a tee shot straight down the fairway, you were forced to think about how you wanted to play it. Sometimes it required a three-wood to keep from running through the fairway into the trap on the far side, but it wasn’t quirky to where you felt like you could never really let one loose.
Once off the tee, every approach shot was played to a green well-guarded by either bunkers or water in front, which really placed the importance of finding the fairway. I will admit that the rough was pretty tame and not nearly as thick as it is when the pros play it, so missing the fairway wasn’t as hazardous as it should have been.
Many of the greens slope back to front and towards water, so missing the green long is not where you want to be. Bunker shots from behind those greens are perilous. But the greens were true and probably a bit softer than usual since a tropical storm came through a couple of days prior. They were quick, but definitely not as quick as they are during the API. My favorite part about them were, as with most tour-quality courses, as long as you could judge the speeds and read the breaks, the ball would roll true…no bumps or anything.
My round started off shaky by pulling my tee shot to the left, between the fairway and the driving range. My second shot had to be punched under a couple of trees and drawn right to left. I hit it perfectly, but it caught the last possible limb and ricocheted into the foliage forcing me to take a penalty stroke and a drop. Now hitting my fourth shot, I caught my first bit of magic, hitting a great pitching wedge from 120 yards out, which rolled right towards the hole, hit the flagstick and stopped two inches away. Tap in bogey. I’ll take it.
The second hole was a long par three. My hybrid was struck perfectly, but came up just short on the downslope between the green and the front bunker. Standing in the trap, I chipped to within six feet and sunk the par putt. Hole three was the first one that water comes into play, and I found it. I cut off a little too much of the dogleg left and splashed it right at the corner. After dropping, I hit a 7-iron approach to about 12 feet above the hole and sunk the par putt. Another great save.
After paring four, I again pulled my tee shot to the left on five. It’s a downhill, short par four, and my ball came to rest about 100 yards out, under a tree. With only a three-quarter swing available, I punched my approach shot onto the green, about 15 feet right of the front pin placement. I then drained the right-to-left putt for birdie to pull to even par through five. I was flying high at this point.
Six was the first hole I was excited to play, being the hole I spent the most time watching during the API. It’s a par five that bends half way around a large lake. Apparently in the late 1990s, John Daly tried to go for the green and kept bouncing his tee shots off the rocks in front if the green, ending up with an 18 on the hole. I didn’t try that. The beauty of this hole is you have to choose how much of the lake you wan to cut off, not once but twice. First, on the tee shot, you can play it safe and stay to the right of the lake, or you can cut the right edge of it, which is what I did, but it was close. A couple of feet shorter and I would have been wet. Then, on your second shot, you can go for the green with a three-wood, but it’s not the smart choice. One of my playing partners made it, but with a good round going, I elected to lay up. You have to lay up with an iron, careful to take enough club to cut another corner of the lake while not going too long into the rough or bunkers. The approach is guarded by the lake left , short and long, and bunkers to the right. I took a little too much club and rolled off the back of the green, chipped up and two-putted for bogey.
Seven is a nice looking par three with bunkers everywhere. I came up short in one of the traps and wound up with a double bogey. Eight is another fun hole and one that I was looking forward to playing. A slight dogleg right with a bunch of trees to the right. I nailed a perfect drive down the middle of the fairway, but that’s only half the battle on this long par-four. The approach is to a back-to-front sloping green with a lake in front and bunkers behind. My 9-iron came up short and rolled back down the steep hill into the water. An 8-iron would have been perfect. I got up and down for bogey.
Nine is another one of those holes with a forced carry off the tee if you wish to go over the bunker. I tried and ended up in the trap, having to lay up short of the green and then get up and down for par to close the front nine with a 40.
The back nine starts off with a hole that is pretty much a mirror opposite of the first hole. A dogleg right with a bunker to carry at the inside of the leg and traps on the far side of the fairway, requiring a fade to find the fairway. My drive went dead straight and got lucky with a bounce through a bunker into a nice flat lie in the rough on top of the traps. I put my approach on the green and two-putted for par.
Eleven is another fun hole, a par-four with a lake guarding the front and left of the green. A long drive too far left can get wet. Mine went left, but fortunately wound up short of the lake – not a great spot to be for the approach, requiring a full carry over the lake from 210 yards out. If the rough had been at tour length, I wouldn’t have even tried going for it, but it was short enough that I had a good lie and put my 4-iron right on the green and two-putted for par. I’d say it was the best shot I hit all day.
The next hole is a long par five, again requiring a carry over a fairway bunker. And just like 10, my drive bounced out of the bunker, but this time, left me with a side-hill lie in the rough that just necessitated a punch out as far as I could advance it up the fairway. For my third shot, I nailed a three-wood, perfectly splitting the bunkers guarding the front of the green, and just rolling off the back. I got up and down for par to remain even on the back.
Thirteen is a very short par-four, but it ranks as the third toughest hole on the course. A lake guards the front of the green, but is unseen from the tee. No more than three-wood is required. The approach shot is then to a narrow green over the lake with bunkers behind (see the pattern here?). My drive went left but left me with a great angle to the green, avoiding the lake. Another two-putt par.
Fourteen is an uphill par three that usually plays into the wind. My 5-iron was just off the back and I couldn’t get up and down, resulting in a bogey. Next is another fun hole that requires precision off the tee. Another dogleg right with a bunker to carry at the turn, but this time there isn’t much of a landing area. I carried the bunker and stayed in the fairway, but one of my playing partners did the same and ran through the fairway into the rough and some trees. My approach wasn’t good and I got a double bogey.
Sixteen is where Rickie Fowler choked in the final round of this year’s API. It sets up similarly to 15 off the tee, but is a par-five. My drive went right, and although it didn’t find the bunkers, it required a punch shot up the fairway instead of a chance to go for the green in two. From there, it’s a rather easy approach to a green with a creek in front and bunkers in the back. My wedge approach was pin high to the right and I missed the birdie putt but got par. This is a hole that should always result in par and a good birdie opportunity.
The last par-three is the picturesque 17th over water with sand everywhere. It’s not too long, but I hit my 5-iron too fat and wound up in the front trap. A great out left me with an eight-foot uphill par putt which I drained.
The final hole is relatively simple off the tee. No traps to worry about, but you better hit it straight if you want a good approach to the green. i missed the fairway slightly to the right, but not far enough that I was in the trees. But like 11, it left me with the entire lake to carry on my approach. The pin was tucked on the right, close to a Sunday pin placement, so I didn’t go for the pin. My approach wound up on the left edge of the green and a long two-putt for par concluded my round of 79.