My 27 day trip began with a thud as I had perhaps one of the worst Uber rides ever. I think I was her first ever Uber customer. Her GPS did not accurately locate my hotel, so we twice drove through a construction zone, and then back out to the wrong hotel. Since she had been in an accident recently she would not make a right turn even with a car a mile away approaching from the right. She drove 35MPH on the Freeway and I was scared to death.
On our third time into the Construction zone I spotted my hotel 500 yards away over a fence. I asked her to just let me out and with all my heavy luggage I wildled my way through the fence and finally to my hotel after 2 hours. I’m sure it took her 30 minutes to work her way back out of the construction zone to escape. Oh my, it was crazy.
The next day I had a practice round at Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club for the start of the Gasparilla Invitational. This is a Mid Am/Senior event all of us playing for the title. There is a cut after 2 rounds to the low 50 players. This is a tricky course, not long, but plays long. Miss the fairways and you’ll make lots of bogeys or worse.
The first round I was in the afternoon wave, shotgun start at 1:00 PM. The morning wave had calm conditions and we were met with 20mph winds that made the course play very tough. I fought all day and missed a few 2 foot putts that ended with a 71, which kept me in the top 40.
Playing now in the morning wave on Friday we had to deal with cold, wind and rain that subsided for the afternoon wave. I’ll cut to the chase, I had one hole left the short par four 15th hole. I knew that a par on the hole I’d make the cut, anything else and I’d be cut. After a prefect tee shot, I arrived to find my ball in the middle of a sand filled divot, however I was only 90 yards from the pin and I thought no problem, I can trap a 54 degree sand wedge onto the green. I caught the shot a bit heavy, it hit the front of the green, and for some reason spun back down the hill and into the pond fronting the green. I immediately knew I missed the cut and was done for the event.
I was gravely disappointed and faced yet another massive drop in my WAGR ranking with a T67 place in this highly ranked event. WAGR now uses a power system, and this would have been a great event to play well in to move up in the standings.
Why do we care about our WAGR ranking? Because the rumor is that this year the top 25 WAGR senior golfers will be exempted into the USGA Senior Amateur thus avoiding a very tough qualifier in August. I’m currently ranked 31st and need to move up not down, so this was a disappointment.
As always when I miss a cut I want out of the area as fast as possible, and since the Jones Cup was beginning in 9 days, I needed to decide where to go next. I was in Tampa, and decided to head to Monterrey Mexico for some R&R with some friends and play some golf. Unfortunately I got sick the day I arrived, thought I had COVID and dreamt about dying in a Mexican Hospital and being thrown dead into a big dirt hole and covered with dirt. With a high fever and in bed for 6 days I feared the worst, and had many COVID symptoms except losing my sense of taste.
In order to get back into the USA I needed a negative COVID test, and took mine on Wednesday for my flight back out on Friday (you need to take a test within 72 hours of your flight). I was EXTREMELY relieved when the test came back negative, and after spending 7 long days in one hotel room, I happily left Mexico and flew through Houston to Jacksonville, waited 3 hours for Hertz to find me a car and then on to Sea Island GA.
With very low energy I played my practice round on Saturday with the tournament starting on Monday. I was very disappointed that we did not get to play the fabulous Seaside course at Seaside, instead they had us on the newly renovated Plantation Course (I wonder if they need to change the name).
We had great weather on Monday, and I shot a mediocre par 72 round and found myself in T12 completing against the best Senior amateurs in the world. The next two days were miserable with hard rain, wind and very cool temperatures. We had one three hour rain delay on Tuesday and every inch of me was wet and cold. I did not enjoy either Tuesday or Wednesday, making mental mistakes, losing patience and missing multiple putts from 1 foot to 3 feet.
Basically I gave up and shot disgusting rounds of 79 in Tuesday and 78 on the final round, and as expected fell to T31 in the event with another huge WAGR drop coming. This was the second of four events I will play in over my 27 days trip. Next up the Moot Thomas in Ocala Florida.
I couldn’t get out of GA quick enough and on my way for the 3 hour drive to Ocala. What I didn’t anticipate was all the events being held simultaneously in Ocala. The LPGA event, and several large horse shows had the hotels full, and those with vacancies, prices jacked up 300%. I made the mistake not booking a room earlier, so I had to pay the piper.
A decent practice round on Thursday to re-figure out this short but tricky course. We started with amazing perfect weather on Friday with 75 degrees and light winds, resulting in low scores. I think there were about 10 scores under par, and I stood at 71, within 3 shots of the lead.
Saturday was very challenging with high winds and temperatures in the 50’s and the scores showed it. I continued to struggle with the putter. On day one, I hit 17 green, and three par fives in two shots and only shot -1 under par. I was disgusted with myself and all the various grips and eyes open, eyes closed. On Saturday I actually took out a club and put two putters in my bag. The first one up was an very old “So Easy”putter made in Jack Koski’s garage, and it looks like it. I started off my round 3 putt, 3 putt and that was the end of that putter for the day. But the STX was not much better. After hitting 16 greens and one par 5 in two shots, I had another 71 in tough conditions.
I decided not to look at the score board and play the last round not knowing where I stood. I also decided to just use one putter for the day. But after bogeys on the two par fives, I knew that something would need to change to have a chance in this tough final round. It was cold and the wind was strong at 15-25mph gusts.
After a disappointing one over par 37 on the front nine, I knew I was still close to the lead as the others in my group also struggled. I was paired with my pal Jerry Slagle, and was rooting for him as well.
But things changed for me on the back nine. It started on the tenth hole when I hit a good second shot to 5 feet, but this time I decided that I would blade putt with my 60 degree sand wedge. I’m sure the guys in my group were wondering what the hell I was doing, but it worked and I calmly rolled in this 5 footer for an important birdie. The 11th hole I hit a shot on this short par three to about 25 feet, used my regular STX putter on the long putt, and cleaned up the 1.5 foot putt with the sand wedge again.
Again on the 12th hole a quality second shot left me with a 6 footer for birdie, and again I used the bladed sand wedge to make another birdie. On the par 5 13th hole I made a tricky downhill slider to make my 3rd birdie in 4 holes, but the best was yet to come.
The 14th hole is a pivotal hole, a par three straight into a very strong wind over a lake with a very shallow green. Many options are available to a player with a far right pin, with lots of green to the right. But a long putt from the left would leave a very tough 2 putt. I decided to go for the right corner of the green, and hit the best shot of the tournament for me, leaving me with a tricky 12 foot putt for birdie.
I walked to the green with my two putters, the STX side saddle putter, and my trusty 60 degree sand wedge. I wasn’t sure which I would use for this 12 foot birdie try, but since it was a breaking downhill putt, I decided that I would just try to 2 putt it and move on with probably the lead (I was still unsure where I stood). I decided to give the STX a try on this tough putt, and as I took it back closed my eyes and struck a decent putt, and to my surprise opened my eyes in time to see the putt go into the middle of the hole.
Now I wanted to know where I stood after making 4 birdies over the first 5 holes on the back nine. I figured I was 3 shots ahead of my pal Jerry, and took on the tough 15th hole straight back into the wind. After a good tee shot and an iron into a far left pin, I had a 20 foot birdie putt up hill that I yipped with the STX putter to two feet, and cleaned it up again with my sand wedge.
But the 16th hole did not work out well for me. This time I missed the 1.5 foot par putt with the sand wedge leaving me three ahead of the hard charging Jerry Slagle. He made a great two putt birdie on 17, with me about 2 feet for par, again my putt somehow found the right edge and curled in, otherwise we’d be separated by only one shot going to the last hole.
On 18 Jerry hit his tee shot way left, making birdie very unlikely, meanwhile I hit a good drive down the left side, and then onto the green about 15 feet away. Jerry’s chip shot from short of the green almost went into the hole, and left me with two putts to win, however not knowing how the guys in the group in front of us played, I felt I needed to two putt to win. I ran my first putt 2.5 feet past the hole and it was a no brainer to again use the sand wedge leaving the best chance. I didn’t hit it perfect but it found the bottom and secured the W for me.
I can assure all of you that if I had just used my STX on the back nine, I would not have win this event. I now have 4 days off to prepare for my final event, the Florida Azalea in Palatka Florida where I defend my 2020 win in this really good event. I will again be using my bladed sand wedge on the short putts, and I’m sure I’ll be getting a lot of strange looks from my fellow competitors. My feeling is, for now, whatever works is what I’m going with. This has been a WILD 20 days starting in Tampa Florida, and will end this Sunday in Palatka.
STAY TUNED FOR RESULTS FROM PALATKA