How do you prepare for a one day qualifier for the right to play in the USGA Four ball championship knowing that about 60 teams will compete for only 2 spots. On Wednesday my partner (Jason Anthony) and I went to battle the elements and tough conditions at Poppy Hills after a huge rain storm just dumped a couple inches of rain on the course.
We both are nursing serious injuries, mine is only a bad left ankle that requires surgery on Dec 11th and a wrenched back as a result of how I need to swing a golf club without going to my left side. Jason has a severely messed up wrist, two bad knee’s and my god he’s only 36.
Nobody wants to read about two guys with injuries, especially when on Thursday they will receive NCGA Player of the Year, and NCGA Senior Player of the year. So I won’t mention the aches and pains anymore. But what I will attempt to describe is two guys on a mission, trying to fabricate whatever game we could muster up.
In the tougher conditions, you never know what kind of score will punch their ticket into the main event, and with this being the 6th USGA Four Ball Qualifier, and our worst finish being 2nd runner-up, we feel like we belong. After a great start with a birdie on the first hole at Poppy, a 540 yard par five, where Jason made a very nice 10 foot putt for birdie. We then rolled off 6 pars in a row, and badly needing a spark. On the tough downhill 8th hole, I was able to finally time my arm swing and properly hit a 7 iron to 6 feet from the hole. With eyes shut as I took the putter back, I was thrilled when I didn’t feel a jolting flinch at impact, and knew that it had a chance. In it went to move us to -2 thru 8 holes, and probably off the pace we needed.
Poppy Hills 9th hole is a very reachable uphill 520 yard par 5, with the pin in the very back, it was not a certain birdie hole. After we both hit good drives, Jason hit a decent rescue onto the very front of the green leaving himself a 120 foot putt up the hill. I hit my 17 degree fairway medal hooking left and into the greenside bunker with about a 40 yard shot that I needed to carry about 20 yards. My bunker play is not my forte, however on this occasion I hit an acceptable shot to about 20 feet. Jason was unable to hit his uphill putt hard enough and it ended up about 18 feet short, leaving a low probability of making what was left. I again stood over my putt, not knowing if I was going to go EYES OPEN OR EYES CLOSED, and at the last moment as the putter was going back I closed my eyes and made decent contact with the putt. I opened my eyes and saw the ball rolling on a decent line and then disappear into the cup. Now at -3 through 9 holes we were back within striking distance of a score we thought might sneak in.
Back on the old #1 hole at Poppy and now the very tough 10th hole we again both hit good drives and followed it up with decent iron shots. I went first from 30 feet and with eyes open this time gave my putt a serious GACK, whatever that is. I got it to 3 feet however giving Jason a good run at his. We picked a good line and Jason knocked his birdie putt right in the middle to give us three birdies in a row, and not at -4 through 10 holes an even better chance. Onto the 11th hole, par three playing 175 over the left bunker, Jason hit a nice shot to 15 feet right of the pin, and I decided to go flag hunting. That didn’t work out to well as a I had my 7 iron hooded and hooked it way left of the green, leaving Jason all alone to lag his birdie putt down the hill for a par.
The tough 12th hole was playing into the wind, and after 2 great tee shots, again I went left of the green, leaving Jason with a decision to go straight at the pin or head safely left of it. He went straight at it, and uncharacteristically the shot pulled back 5 feet leaving Jason a 15 foot uphill birdie putt. We misread that one, and went to the par 5 13th hole needing a birdie. There we both had long birdie putts, mine was yipped again, leaving Jason with an uphill 20 footer that he buried in the center of the cup, getting us to -5 with 5 holes to play.
The tee was back on #14 making it about 440 into the wind. We both hit our drives down the right side, mine leaving me 225 into the breeze which I then deposited into the right bunker. Jason hit a brilliant shot into the wind about 20 feet left of the hole pin high. Here was one of those putts that you’ll never forget, basically a straight putt, rolling perfect into the hole with just inches left, hit something to make it start to roll funny, and then still going into the left center of the cup hit something again and decided to graze the left center of the cup and not go in. All 5 of us (including our playing partners and my caddie) stood there for a few seconds with our mouths open. I said I’ve seen thousands of putts in my life that I thoughts were going in, BUT NEVER ONE LIKE THIS.
On we went to make 3 more pars, just missing birdie on 17, we were desperate for something big to happen on the 18th hole, a downwind reachable par 5. After two good drives, we both knocked our shots on the green, but again this was a different Poppy Hills with the rain, the balls were hitting and stopping. Jason had a 90 foot eagle putt, and I had an 80 footer. Jason went first and knocked his putt 18 feet past the hole, so now the pressure was on me to convert at least a close putt to ensure a birdie for the team and get us to -6 on the day. I had to keep writing about gacked putts, but this was the worst one of the day, from 80 feet, I left my eagle putt 20 feet short. I was embarrassed and in disbelief that I could hit a putt so poorly. My birdie attempt was better and to further torture me, it grazed the low side of the cup. I was SICK thinking we came all this way, just to miss on the last hole like we have done on three other occasions in this qualifier.
But the true champion that Jason Anthony is, he pored his uphill 18 footer in the hole, gave a fist pump and gave us life to see if -6 would get us again into this amazing event. When we reached the scoreboard we noticed a number of 66’s and one 64, leaving us in second for the time being.
We went up stairs sat down and had some lunch, watched the scores online, and when finished we went down to wait for the last group to come in. We heard a scream of joy coming from the 18th hole and I just figured someone made an eagle to shoot 2 or 3 under par. Boy was I ever wrong. The final group, two lads from Utah that I was not familiar with, finished birdie, birdie, par, eagle to shoot 63 and drop us to first alternate.
Jason and I are so numb to these occurrences having finished 2nd 3 of the past 4 years in the NCGA Four ball at Spyglass where each time we thought we had finally won the event, only to have some team ham and egg a -6 on the back nine at Spyglass. So we are used to this happening, and in golf it happens more and more with how deep the talent pool is. It’s just life, and we’ll wait for many months sitting on the first alternate spot with very little chance of getting into this amazing event. In a few days I will be 61, and at 61 you have limited opportunities in these types of situations. But in the end, going to battle with Jason with not our best bodies, we still are quite proud of how we played, and certainly Jason with a 68 on his own ball is my hero, and my most favorite partner I’ve ever had a privilege to play with. My other past partners are also some of the best amateurs in the world, with names like Chip Lutz, Darryl Donovan, Bob Blomberg, Gary Vanier, Aly Trompais and many others that made playing in better ball events a real treat for me.
Now its off to surgery on Wednesday, I have never been put under, so I am already having major trepidation and some anxiety. Hopefully I will wake to a fixed ankle and a chance to continue doing what I love most, playing the game that has given me so many opportunities to meet the greatest people on the planet. Sorry about the typos and grammatical errors, as I needed to just rip through this:)
I will write after surgery, and meanwhile I wish everyone the most merriest holiday season ever, god bless, and stay tuned.