After enduring the torture of multiple-stop travel of Saturday from Detroit connecting through Chicago to Oakland, then to SFO to get my bags that had arrived on Friday on the flight I was llast man holding the golden standby ticket. My bags were at least in one piece as I thought perhaps the clubs would be battered without a hard case travel bag for them. Bottom line was by Sat eve my body had no idea where I was, nor did it know what time zone I had arrived to.
Waking up early on Sunday I decided to send the USGA an email to see if I could switch my US Am qualifying site from Peninsula CC on Monday to Richmond CC a week from Monday. The way my body felt, I was sure walking 36 holes at the hilly Peninsula Club would do me in. I asked to be switched to Richmond, and then after thinking how successful I’ve been at Peninsula, and how UNSUCCESSFUL I’ve been at Richmond, I asked to be switched back to Peninsula. This of course was quite irritating and I apologized profusely for my wishy washy can’t make a decision fog I was in. My legs ached, my eyes hurt, my back was sore and I felt my age. BUT I thought with another days rest I would maybe have enough in the tank to get the job done, but honestly knew the chances were zilch playing against 90 20 yr olds that can walk 72 holes in a day carrying their own bag.
I further compounded the “day off” by going to the Olympic Club to see which rescue/hybrid club I would go to battle with on Monday. I have been having a terrible time with this club for some reason and I needed to get some confidence before teeing it up on Monday. Of course I couldn’t resist the temptation of hitting two large buckets with no clear choice on the rescue dilemma. All I did was further tire my legs which had no juice left in them. I know from experience that it takes 2-4 days to rest your legs to get the spring back in them. I knew I was going into Monday with 25-40% of the usual power and juice I have with my legs.
Fortunately my son was caddying for my pal Michael Staskus, so he drove the car to the course Monday morning while I laid in the back seat in a flat back position to get another 30 minutes of rest. Standing on the 10th tee (my starting hole) my legs felt like I had already played 27 holes. BUT I launched a rocket drive down the middle, hit a nice 7 iron on the green and made a good solid par. This was followed by the par 5 11th hole that I’ve had great success on in the past, but today I found myself moving on all my putts with my unstable and tired legs. After a 3 putt bogey on #11 thoughts of playing 18 holes (not the full 36 danced in my head, but what I love about this level of golf is the adrenaline that you get when your in the heat of battle. It doesn’t need to be the US Amateur, it can be a match against a pal, or just competing at any level.
My round continued with excellent shot making, followed by poor putting that began to frustrate me as I approached the 18th hole (my ninth) at one over par. My goal is to always play each nine at under par, and a birdie on 18 would only get me back to even. I FINALLY made that elusive 8 foot putt for a birdie, after three putting #17 for par after driving the short par 4 green. I went into the first hole with some momentum until I hit my new hybrid club off the hossel dead right in the rough with a severe side hill lie. I needed to hit the same rescue for my second shot and somehow I hit a miraculous shot onto the green from 215 yards out with this new club. After a two putt par and another missed opportunity at #1 and #2 I had the short par 5 4th hole to play which is the easiest hole on the course. After a nice drive down the middle I had a hybrid into the green which again went staright right short sided into the bunker. But no worries, my last 3 bunker shots at Inverness in the Open were heroic and I felt my bunker play was ready for prime time….how wrong I was. after leaving my 1st shot in the bunker and hitting the next one long, I walked off a hole that should have been a birdie 4 at worst, I just made a bogey and lost two shots the field. That was followed by another poor bunker shot on the tough par 3 4th hole resulting in another bogey to reach +2 on the day.
Here I was stripping the ball, making no putts, and having to endure the bogeys with the few bad shots I did hit. This is not the combination for qualifying for the US Amateur with 90 players in the field of the best college players in the Bay area with only three spots available. I was in deep trouble at this point but didn’t panic. The next 5 holes I gave myself make able birdie putts and missed them all shooting a morning +2 73 and had 16 players ahead of me. I try not to look at the scoreboard, but I needed to know how low I was going to need to go to have a chance. I saw Cory had 65 (he’s a lock for one of the three spots) there was a 68, 69 and several 70’s. I was WAY back and had some serious work to do in the afternoon round. The issue was the fatigue, I was dizzy and so tired I felt nauseous at times. We had 20 minutes between rounds and I needed to change my shoes and club configuration for the second 18 holes, but my son Nick had the keys to the car. I was able to get someone to get them and get in the car to change my shoes and socks just before I needed to rush to the 1st tee for my afternoon round.
This time the par five 3rd hole was playing into a stronger wind and I hit three metal to 20 feet and just missed making eagle. That put me at +1 on the day and still well back of where I felt the qualifying score was going to be (probably -2 to -3) but I fell backwards with a three putt bogey on # 5 followed by a missed three footer for birdie on #6. After missed birdies at 7, 8 and 9, I turned to my final 9 holes +1, exhausted, but with hope I could somehow find the strength and shot of adrenaline to make it happen. The tenth hole I hit my longest drive of the day and only had a wedge into this 430 yard par 4 hole. After a par on ten, I said to myself “well it’s now or never, I need to nail this par 5 11th hole especially after making bogey on it in the morning rd). We had to wait on the tee for a long time as a player lost his ball ahead of us. Finally after a rest under a shady tree I cranked a drive down the right side that gave me a chance to reach the green in two shots (something I have never done before on this hole) despite being only 515 yards long, it plays significantly uphill and straight into the wind, making the hole play more like 580 yards. I had a great lye and I launched a 3 metal to the back of the green and secured a very important birdie. After missed birdie tries at 12 and 13, I hit a wedge on 14 to 6 feet and made another birdie to get to even par for the day.
I could feel I was close, and for some reason I was hitting the ball further than I ever have on this course. After a nice 7 iron into the wind on the par 3 15th hole I had another nice chance for birdie which again eluded me. With three holes left, my goal was to birdie all of them to give me a shot at coming from way behind to make this happen. On 16 a downhill downwind par 4, Reiner later told me I hit my drive 358 yards and had a half 60 degree sandwedge left that I pulled a bit leaving me a 10 foot birdie putt which I hit poorly settling for a par. Unfortunately there were three groups waiting on the drivable par 4 17th tee box. So I found a tree and laid in the shade for twenty minutes until it was our turn. After the long wait I had stiffened up which resulted in a pulled drive left of the green and in deep rough. I hit an abysmal shot that only got to the fringe and a spot near where I had three putted earlier in the day. This putt was fast with a lot of break left to right. I hit what I would call a decent putt to 4 feet away, but in an awkward spot leaving a downhill slider that I was not sure exactly how to play. I could either put some speed on the putt and risk three putting from 4 feet and being eliminated, or I could trickle the putt down the hill and expose the putt to significant break. I chose the faster speed on a more direct line as this was a due or dye putt. It found the left center of the hole and I again was able to breath.
Now my pulse was up, with my heart pounding knowing that I had a chance on the last hole, my 36th hole of the day. And with a birdie 4 would shoot a 68 and have a shot at being in the starting field at Erin Hills outside of Milwaukee. I absolutely BOMBED a drive on this uphill par 5 hole, leaving me 225 yards uphill to a back right pin position. After scoping out my shot I got over my shot and at the lest second backed off the shot (something I rarely have ever done) but this was to important of a shot to go at without the club feeling good in my hands. I tried on two o more gloves until I found one that felt good. I decided on a cut shot off a hook lye to get the ball working left to right towards the hole. I chocked down and hit a decent shot, but 10 yards short of the green leaving me with a pitch shot that normally I would suffer over. But this time I felt confident and with a solid chip to 2 feet I had secured my birdie 4, a tie for second in the qualifier, and a trip to the 2011 US Amateur at Erin Hills. I had to wait for 90 minutes on pins and needles to see if my 73-68=141 score was going to be good enough, and at the end was exhausted and elated that I had gutted out perhaps the toughest challenge I’ve ever faced in tournament golf. And at age 52 to be going to the US Amateur to face all the teenagers and star amateurs is a thrill beyond words.
My last trip to Milwaukee to the USGA Mid AM was amazing as all of my relatives reside in Milwaukee, and again I will have their support in the upcoming amateur starting on Aug 22nd.
If you read this all the way through, I applaud and thank you, and I promise to provide you some good insights and preview of this years US Amateur from my vantage point.
Much more ahead in the coming days, stay tuned!!