In my last post, I whined about my tragic US Senior Open qualifier which didn’t go my way. I’m still learning every time I play in an important event that doesn’t go my way. The margin for error is razor small in a 18 hole qualifier with only 2 spots and 85 players.
However my week improved drastically with my next two events I played in back to back. Thursday and Friday was the Billy Bell 2 man championship at the awesome Del Rio Country Club in Modesto. I’m posting the short write up about the tournament here:
The Billy Bell Cup Championship by Brent Gardner
Over the years Del Rio has been one of the most coveted stops on the Northern California Junior circuit with the Bumgardner Memorial Tournament. It has hosted the likes of Johnny Miller, Roger Maltbie, James Hahn, Ricky Barnes, and Nick Watney. On a personal note…I will never forget years ago as a junior golfer getting to talk to Johnny Miller while playing in the Bumgardner. Johnny would come every year to watch his sons play. I asked Johnny what he thought of Del Rio….. “Hands down one of my favorite courses of all time” he replied. How is that for validation? We should be proud.
Without question, the top golfers in California seem to always have a fondness for Del Rio Country Club. We felt by adding the Billy Bell Cup to the NCGA tournament schedule as an elite 4-ball two day amateur event it would give them the opportunity to come back to our great Club each and every summer. I dreamed up the concept of the Billy Bell Cup more than 5 years ago and brought it to reality in 2017. This tournament adds another reason why Del Rio Country Club is the premier club of the valley.
The Billy Bell is unique because it is one of the few best ball format events on the schedule today. I couldn’t be more excited about where this tournament is headed. In 2017 we not only had some of the best amateurs in the state of California, but also the Country! Not bad for year one. It only got better this year as the word spread. From the immaculate condition of the golf course to the amazing dinner after round one, without question, this event will mature into one of the leading stops on the amateur circuit.
Thank you for allowing me to be a part of giving our club what it deserves, an elite amateur golf event!
My long time friend and partner Joey Ferrari is always fun to play with as he is spirited and great competitor. Despite what I thought was a decent 68 in the first round in the heavy valley breezes, we found ourselves 3 back and 2 back to some great teams – Terry Foreman and partner Ken Noonen shot an impressive 65, and defending champions the legendary team of Casey Boyns and Jim Knoll shot a fine 66.
Joey and I had our work cut out as in best ball, being three shots behind is tough. Off to a fast start on the second round on Friday, we had a smooth -4 on our first nine holes, I then made birdie on our 10th and 13th holes to go -6 on the round. Still thinking we needed to get to -12, the 15th hole proved to be costly (or at least we thought so). This short par 4 into a breeze is not one of the tougher holes at Del Rio, however any hole awaits a mistake. Since I was carrying two putters in my bag, I had taken out my 54 degree wedge, and from 100 yards out tried to hit a BIG 60 degree wedge which I pulled, leaving me a 60 foot putt. Joey was in the bunker and made bogey, and after a terrible lag putt, I missed my par attempt leaving it a half roll short from 10 feet.
It was a severely deflating feeling, but despite the setback, I knew we still had three holes left and would need to birdie all three of them. Our 16th hole (#7 the par five into the wind) allowed me to hit a good drive and 4 iron onto the front of the green. But again from 40 feet I left the putt 8 feet short and missed my birdie try, resulting in a VERY disappointing par. We closed out with par-par on the last two holes and posted -9 total for the event. And hoping for a 3rd place finish.
while sitting at lunch waiting for the final leader group to come in, a fellow golfer stopped by and said congratulations guys for winning. Joey and I looked at him, and each other and said NO WAY. The fellow golfer had been out watching the lead group finish, and said these legendary golfers shot 72 and 74. Still not believing it, we waiting as they posted their score on the boars…..oh my 72-74 was their scores in the last round, and much to our surprise and delight Joey and I won the 2018 Billy Bell Senior best ball event.
If there is a lesson there, I guess its never give up, your never out of it, and guys playing in the lead group always have more pressure on them!
The win made the drive in bad traffic combined with a one hour Tesla charge well worth it, and time for a little rest before my Saturday 7:30 tee off at Olympic Ocean Course for the start of the Olympic Club Stroke play championship. I admit 6 days in a row of golf, my body and back were a bit sore. For those of you that have not played our Ocean Course at the Olympic Club, under ideal conditions with firm and fast greens, its a great test of golf, with some awesome finishing holes.
I won’t go through my round in great detail, as I made one bogey on #2 and had birdies on the tough 8 and 15th holes. Many short birdie opportunities were missed, especially the 4 footer on #18 that would have given me a 69.
With a three shot lead over my pals Kory Storer and Dave Swanson, I knew that moving over to the Lake Course would be tough especially given my tired and sore back. The start of the 2nd round could not have gone any better with a long drive around the corner on #1 followed by a 4iron to 10 feet for an eagle putt. I must admit I was okay with a starting 2 putt and birdie to increase my lead to 4 shots.
Despite some very shaky golf on the front nine, I thought I had a 5 shot lead going into the back nine. I knew that I would probably need all of it as Kory was not going to be denied his birdies all day. On this day, my short game and putting, grit and determination played a huge roll in the outcome of this important event on my calendar.
After Kory made back to back birdies on #15 and #16 my lead was now down to 1 shot, and fading fast. On the 17th hole, I made my best driver swing of the day, leaving me 245 uphill into the breeze to the par 5 hole. Kory hit first and hit a decent shot short right of the green and not in the many bunkers over there. This is when I had to make a key decision of going for it, or laying up. Since I figured Kory was going to get up and down for a birdie, I decided to hit my new trusty Taylor made M3 three medal. If this second shot is missed, a bogey or worse is waiting for you.
I breathed deeply and said to myself, this is what you’ve been doing your whole life, living in the moment. I took this opportunity to hit one of my very best shots, a high draw that landed in the narrow opening, and left me on the fringe of the green. As GREAT as that sounds, my long range putting has been a serious issue, so I decided to chip it instead. A good chip to 3 feet below the hole was a very good result. After Kory failed to get up and in, I converted on the 3 foot putt and thought I had a 2 shot cushion.
Since I don’t necessarily like to write about past misfortunes, anyone that knows me, knows that the 18th hole at The Olympic Club Lake has cost me dearly in the past (having lost on this hole in an all square match on ESPN in the 2007 US Amateur, along with 5 losses on this hole, or bogeys to allow a guy to beat me in sudden death in the Club Championship (our match play event in October) Putting that much negative history behind me was a challenge. Deciding on what club to hit off this tee is critical as you can have a short sand wedge shot, or lay back and have a much tougher second shot to a VERY narrow green.
I chose again my trusted M3 3 metal, and left it in the right rough, now with the big guarding tree to navigate past. I thought I hit a good shot, until I saw it hit the top left lip of the bunker and roll back down into a downhill lie, with a high lip in front of me, and the pin only 20 feet away (I think that called the dreaded short side). After Kory hit a brilliant shot to 6 feet, I thought for a moment, here we go again. HOWEVER, I refused to let these negative thought stay with me, I decided to just do the best I could with the situation at hand. My bunker shot was probably the best out of a 100 shots I could have hit from that spot. It just cleared the lip, and rolled three feet past the cup, leaving me a scary downhill par putt.
After Kory missed his short birdie putt, I thought I had two putts to win, and thought about just trickling this par putt down as to ensure I would two putt in the worst case. Once over the putt, I felt I just needed to hit this putt straight downhill and into the cup. I visualized it, and executed the putt for another saving par.
Once in the Clubhouse, I was a little shocked to see that my good friend, and great player Andrew Biggadike shot a stellar 71 for a 146 total, meaning I HAD to finish birdie-par to win by one shot.
The lesson here again, is you never know what the other guys are shooting ahead and behind you. You always need to stick to your game plan, and play the shots you are most comfortable with. I believe match play is different, if my opponent is in trouble, perhaps I will play a safer shot, and keep the pressure on him.
All in all an incredible week, which is now followed by this weekend at Poppy Hills for the NCGA Mid Am Championship.