I once had an amateurs dream week back in 2010. I flew to Scotland for a chance to qualify for the 2010 British Senior Open, and nailed at spot at the windy, rainy Montifieth Golf Links. I followed that up with a made cut at Carnoustie and won low amateur honors and an exemption into the 2011 event at Walton Heath. But that wasn’t the best part of the experience, it was my dad flew from Houston Texas after I qualified and watched me play 72 holes of golf in a professional major, and win the Silver Medal.
After repeating this feat again in 2011 at Walton Heath with my mom, brother and other family members there, I had a taste for how it felt to play a game you love, not for money, but just for the love of the competition and all that comes with the experience. Yesterday was a very important day for me, as I wanted so badly to have a taste of that crazy nervousness standing on the first tee at Carnoustie, praying for that shot that goes down the middle.
Yesterday again at Montifieth Golf Club, I drew the very last tee time 13:05. I tried very hard to sleep as late as possible, but the severe jet lag still had my sleep schedule messed up, and sleeping more than 2 hours at a time has been next to impossible. I arrived at the range about 1 hour before my tee time and was the last player to leave. I noticed myself with a severe case of pre-game butterflies, and on the way to the course from the driving range, I felt another episode of SVT coming on (Supraventricular tachycardia). This is something that very few people know about, over the past 30 years I have had 9 episodes of this frightening condition where your heart starts racing at over 200 BPM, and in some cases almost at 250 BPM. I usually can tell when its about to start, and its typically when I feel intense pressure. The last four times I’ve had this condition I’ve had to be rushed to the hospital to receive a drug that re-starts your heart (probably the least favorite feeling imaginable while conscious). The sheer fear of having this drug injected in your IV is to this day one of the things I fear most in life, and I cannot imagine having this condition hit while on some long International flight. I suppose the good news is that its happened 8 out of 9 times while at or on the golf course.
Fortunately I was able to concentrate hard on slowing my pulse down, and my heart never did take off into a heart arrhythmia. But certainly this was not the way I wanted to start my round off worrying about my heart taking off. My pulse and level of nervousness was considerably higher on the first tee as just right of the fairway on #1 is OB. Fortunately I drilled a drive almost onto the green, and chipped to an inch for a beginning birdie. I followed it up with several solid pars, but knew the challenge would be putting in the high winds. Folk, let me tell you that putting side saddle (Face On) in the wind is a nightmare, as the wind moves you all over the place due to your higher up stance.
After making a regrettable bogey on the tough #7 playing back into a 4 club wind, I then drove the 8th green with a baby rescue (23 degrees) and had a 30 foot eagle putt. Honestly I was trying to 2 putt this, as lately I have been putting with my eyes closed to avoid the electrical shock of watching the ball. Yes thats called the YIPS, and to have the YIPS putting side saddle is quite a nightmare. In every attempt to hit a putt with my eyes open, I knew at the last second that I would be better served to quickly close them. After a 2 putt for birdie on #8 I stood even par for the day, which with the high winds was quite respectable. #9 a long par 5 into the wind was a good hole for me, and resulted in a 20 foot birdie try that somehow eluded the bottom of the cup. I was in disbelief that this perfect looking putt some how eluded going in, but as you all know, thats golf, and thats how it rolls sometimes. After solid par on #10 the next hole was a 190 yard par three into a stiff wind, and I ripped a 5 iron to pin high, and again a putt that looked in, somehow got around the cup. Honestly a par on that hole was ok, and at level par I was in very good shape. The 12th hole was a good par after a two putt from 50 feet.
But now I had the in to the wind holes left, and the 13 hole is a long par 4 measuring about 432 yards, but on this windy day, the tee was up 20 yards making this hole very managable. My driver had been so so today, and when I really needed to stripe one here, I got quick from the top, and hit a slinging hook into a small gorse bush (NOT GOOD) after a pitch out and a good shot into the green, I had a 20 footer for par, that again eluded the bottom of the cup, as to say, this is not your day Randy.
The patience required to play in one of these qualifiers when you are grinding your guts out is perhaps the most physically, and mentally challenging thing you can do in life. To swing a club at the tiny ball while your heart is pounding is quite difficult to say the least. I think my round was defined at the next hole, a par three playing only 155 yards over a front bunker, that was dead into the wind. I chose a 6 iron, and like the shot on #11, I saw my ball soaring straight at the pin, and then bounce up towards the hole. I was very excited that I would have a good chance to redeem the bogey made on the last hole. I was surprised when I walked up and my shot was 15 feet short, but still a very makable straight in birdie attempt. Let me tell you about putting with your eyes closed, at times its very difficult to judge the distance with the amount of HIT you give the putts. On this birdie try I was determined to give this a good go, and a good go I gave it. The putt ended 4 feet past, and with great fear, I missed the comeback, thus digging a deeper hole for myself now at +2 on the round. The 15th hole was cross wind, and after a 330 yard drive over a hill, I had 80 yards to a pin that I could attack. I left the hole with a par, and knew that time was running out.
On the short 16th hole measuring 340 yards I chose a 3 metal, despite being back into the strong wind, there were two large bunkers looping out about 260 yards off the tee, and to make a birdie on this hole I needed to avoid these bunkers. My shot went a bit left, but ended up at the front of the 17th tee box on tightly mowed grass, with a perfect lie. I had 116 yards to the back pin, and decided to chip a 9 iron into the wind. This is the point in the round where you either get it done, or you don’t. The brutally slow play was taking its toll on my patience and this shot was my downfall in this qualifier. I very impatiently quick hit this 9 iron left and long, leaving me with an impossible up and in, and making a bogey 5 on this short hole was devastating. I followed it up with another bogey on the 17th hole knowing I was over the qualifying score. There is NEVER any give up in me, so on the tough 18th hole, a par 5 into the wind, I almost reached the green in two, and finally made a putt for an ending birdie. The disappointment was paramount however, knowing I was in control, and in a great position at level par after 12 holes. I ended up missing playing again at Carnoustie by two shots, my 74 needed to be a 72.
So now I move on to the next event, the Senior Amateur being played at Fornby on August 3-5 followed by the Senior US OPEN in Columbus Ohio. I hope to have photos posted of Fornby, and more coverage on how I will play this great Scottish course. Obviously from my latest experience I know that I will need to work hard on many areas of my game. This game is REALLY hard, but under pressure it can be excruciating, and very frustrating. My patience level and inner calm need a check up, and in the future I need to feed off what just happened at Montifieth, and continue to learn from my shortcomings.
In the end, it was the putts I made coming in during the US Senior Open qualifier that got me in, I again struggle with my ball striking once I hit -2 for the day. That is what makes this past weekends British Open so remarkable what those two fine champions did down the stretch. I can only imagine how disappointed Phil must be feeling after such an amazing round. If we all only had it so good!!!
I hate to apologize for the grammatical errors, so please excuse them, and know thats how I roll on this blog. Coming up in a few days, more on the exciting changes to the upcoming 2017 SF City Championship