I’ve had to think long and hard about writing this blog post about what happened to me at the Senior Amateur at Sunningdale outside of London. But since I like keeping this blog real, I’ll tell you about yet another very serious misfortune that led to another disappointment.
I don’t feel its necessary to go into all the details, but for those of you that have followed this blog over the years, you know I write a lot about sidesaddle putting (Face-On). Many have considered me to me an outstanding putter, which I would have agreed post 2012. Since 2012 I have struggled mightily with the YIPS, yes even putting sidesaddle. I have tried almost everything to fix this issue. Yes I have won many tournaments since 2012, but not the BIG majors, and I’ve had to rely on my ball striking way to much.
In June I played in a two day best ball tournament at Del Rio called the Billy Bell. I was the inaugural event, and I paired up with a long time friend of mine. At the event I spoke in great length with another top player that suffers from anxiety, and has to take a combination of many very strong prescription drugs to enable him to even play. After the first round we played horribly and were well back with a -1 score. I decided to try a small dose on Xanax to see if it might calm my putting nerves down.
The results seemed to be astounding, I holed out from the fairway on our 3rd hole (#12 at Del Rio) and followed that up with 4 more birdies on the back side to turn at -6. I then birdied the 1st hole and we were on our way. One of the problems with these kind of drugs is they wear off, so a bogey was produced on the 12th hole, but then another birdie on the par 5 7th hole our 16th hole. After a very long drive on the 9th hole our 18th of the day, I made a poor decision and went flag hunting with an 8 iron which was not necessary. We finished with a final bogey which I knew would eliminate our chance to win this event, and that’s what happened.
I thought long and hard on wether I would ever want to play golf while being medicated other that Advil of course. I had my son send me some Xanax for my trip to Europe for the Senior Open and Amateur championships. I decided not to use anything in the Senior Open, and qualified for the event and made the cut. But in the Senior Amateur at Sunningdale I made a very poor decision.
The first round was washed out for those of us with later tee times, as the course was under-water. So now Thursday would be a marathon of 36 holes, and I was well rested and prepared. I knew that morning on the driving range I had good range of motion and was in good balance.
It all started off brilliantly with a drive a 5 iron onto the par 5 first hole and a two putt birdie. The second hole I made a mess of with a poor drive, to aggressive out of the rough, three putts later I carded a double bogey 6. I followed that up with another birdie on #3 and was back on my way. On the 6th hole I badly missed a 3 footer for par, and headed to the 9th hole one over and on the leader board. On the drivable 9th hole, I ended up with another 3 footer for birdie and a chance to get even on the opening nine. But again with my eyes closed I missed the putt, and was quite upset at the horrible putting on the opening 9.
This is when I reached into my bag, and for the first time opened up the bottle that had been sent to me. There we four small pills all connected together and I thought the dosage was to take the whole thing. It took all of two minutes before I knew that I was in big trouble. Its very difficult to describe what was happening to my body, because I had never felt this before. My balance was gone, timing gone, everything gone.
I somehow finished the back nine with a +12 47 and at the scorers table the called for the paramedics that were waiting at the course. I was rolled off in a cart to the ambulance there and spent 45 minutes being tested and looked at. The told me that what I had taken clearly was not Xanax, and that they thought it was laced with something very strong. I feel fortunate that I am still here to tell this story, and feel like a fool for having taken such a risk for a game that we play for fun as a hobby.
As some of you may know, this game can drive you a little crazy, especially when you suffer from anything close to the YIPS. I have tried different grips, putters, eyes open, eyes closed, one eye open, looking at the hole. But one thing is for sure, I will NEVER take any kind of medication to calm my inner twitches again.
I came back from London and almost immediately went to the NCGA Amateur Championship being held at Poppy Hills and Spyglass Hill. I was a seeded player so I didn’t need to qualify on Monday. On Tuesday in my first match I was able to mount a small lead, that kept the super intense pressure off my putting. In match play the pressure on the putting is greater than stroke play, especially when you have a putt to keep from losing the hole. I got to my third match now being played at Spyglass Hill against a good veteran player, and I got down for the first time in the event, and had to claw my way back. I was two down with 4 holes to go, won 15, and went to the 18th hole 1 down. This is when the putting is at the highest level of pressure, and I gave myself a chance with a huge 300 yard drive and sand wedge to 18 at Spyglass. I knocked my wedge to 5 feet, and had that to go into sudden death. I decided over the putt to go eyes closed, and somehow was able to stroke this putt straight into the bottom to extend my life in this match with darkness coming fast as we didn’t start the match until 3:30.
Our sudden death went to the 10th tee just off the 18th green, and I was able to hit a good tee shot, and an approach shot to 25 feet from the pin. My opponent made par, and I knew this was my chance to end it, and get off the course with a very unlikely win. I knew the putt, but getting the putt on its line with the correct speed has been the issue. But this time I hit a good one, it took the break and its last roll found the bottom of the cup, putting me into the semi-finals against my good friend and legendary golfer Casey Boyns.
I played my best golf of the tournament against Casey making 5 birdies and one lone three putt bogey on #2. That victory took me to another hard fought match against David Games on Friday in the final match. I got two down early after 2 three putted greens, but clawed back and just started making solid pars on every hole. We came to the tough 16th hole were I knew I might have an advantage as David typically draws the ball off the tee, and I prefer to cut it. After a perfect drive, I knew that a par would probably win the hole, and a huge edge in the match. I made a poor decision to hit a 7 iron to a back left pin, and mis-hit my shot slightly into the left bunker. David came up left, leaving himself a tough 20 footer for par. I hit a wonderful bunker shot, to 5 feet above the hole. After David just left his putt dead in short, I knew this was the moment to grab my first lead in this match. I was standing over this putt trying to figure out if I was going eyes open or closed, until I actually started my backstroke, and closed my eyes as the putter approached the putt. To my delight I opened my eyes to see the ball go into the left center of the hole for a 1 up advantage.
This was a very tough match for me as I did not have my A game like the day before, and again I was left with a 5 foot uphill putt on the 17th hole to maintain my one up advantage going to the 18th hole. Again I used my eyes closed method and saw the ball roll into the cup with great tension.
Finishing out a major tournament on the 18th hole is never easy, and the 18th hole again tested me to the limit. I hit what I thought was a great drive, but ended in the left rough about 8 inches down. I had no shot to the green and was lucky to get within 80 yards. The pin was over the middle ridge of the green on the right in a swale, a very tough pin location. My third shot was a good one, but did not skip all the way to the pin leaving me a 10 footer for par. David came up short of the green on his second shot, and chipped his 3rd to 6 feet. This time my eyes closed approach didn’t work and I pushed my putt right of the hole and 3 feet past. I thought for sure David would bury his 6 footer and we’d be off to sudden death. To my surprise, he pushed his as well, leaving me a chance to win with a tricky three footer with a little right to left break. OMG with my heart pounding and my hand shaking a bit, somehow with my eyes closed, this putt fond the bottom, and earned me a repeat victory in this great championship event.
I apologize for the length of this post, and the grammatical errors, but it was tough to relive the events of the last few weeks, and wanted to share with you some of the emotion that went into this roller-coster ride.
Stay tuned for some tips I picked up while on my trip.