As indicated in my post from yesterday, my golf game has been just awful throughout the month of August. Horrible in fact. The self doubt creeps in and you think that you should just abandon any thoughts of playing competitively anymore because you’re having trouble breaking eighty on a low-key Saturday or Sunday morning.
And then today happens…
I finally got out of bed around 7:10am after hitting that snooze button every nine minutes for about an hour, giving me twenty minutes to shower, dress and drive to the club to make my 7:30am tee-off time. There were going to be six of us playing today, meaning two threesomes. My buddy Jay was coming out for his monthly game, regulars Toast, Harris and Gary were going to be there along with Charlie, a Sunday regular making his first Saturday appearance.
I arrived with about five minutes to spare and ran into Charlie at the practice green. Jay followed shortly thereafter so the three of us headed to the tee. Toast was just arriving, so he’d drop back and play with Gary and Harris.
Our group almost always plays the back tee deck at St. Catharines G&CC, which measure 6792 yards with a slope rating of 130. However, Charlie was having difficulties with his wrist and asked if we minded playing the blue tees. “No problem, Char”, was my response. “I’m playing like garbage right now anyway.” The blues measure 6477 yards with a 127 slope rating so there really is only about a one club difference per hole anyway.
So we’re off. I bunt a mediocre four iron down the par four 345 yard first hole and have about 160 yards left from the rough. I end up pulling my 7-iron second long left and chip it to about 10 feet. All I’m thinking about right now is “here we go again.” Well, somehow, I was able to coax a putt that broke at least three balls right to left into the middle of the cup for a great par. Okay! Let’s start PLAYING now!
The second is a 399 yard dogleg left par four. I drove perfectly down the right side of the fairway and hit another seven iron from about 155 to about 30 feet. Bam! In she goes for birdie! “Did you drop any bombs like that last Sunday in your Niagara Cup match?”, asks Charlie. “If I did, I’m quite certain that my fate would have been different”, I replied. The 397 yard third hole plays over a large ravine with a raised fairway requiring a drive of 240 yards to reach the apex. I pushed my tee shot into the right rough but was able to recover with a shot to the left fringe, about 30 feet from the pin that was back left. I hit a great putt to about a foot to guarantee my par. I then walk up to the 164 yard fourth and hit a knockdown 7-iron to about 8 feet. I read the thing straight in but it ended up moving a bit left on me, giving me a disappointing par. The fifth is a monster; 423 yards straight away into the wind. I hit a drive down the left side of the fairway and had about 180 left to the back pin. I hit a perfect 5-iron but ended up on the front of the green, over 45 feet away. My lag putting was on, however, and almost holed the sucker, leaving a tap in par again.
Six is another monster; 555 yard par five that doglegs left. I hit my worst drive of the day, putting myself behind a tree in the left rough. I had two options: either pull out a four iron or something similar and try to hit a low hook under the tree in order to get down the fairway to a reasonable distance for my third OR take the safer route, hit something like a nine iron over the tree and work from further away. At one under par, I decided to play safe. I hit a perfect nine iron that barely climbed past that top limb and actually surprised me by going all the way past the 200 yard marker. I ended up having about 175 into the front pin and hit a six iron that never left the flag, ending up 8 feet away. After watching Jay hole a 75 footer (!!!!!!!!) from the back of the green for birdie, I calmly cut him up (we play a skins game and this means halving the hole, necessitating an eagle to win the skin) by rolling my putt into the hole to go to 2-under. I made a pretty routine par on the 172 yard par three seventh before reaching the 487 yard par five eighth. I hit my best tee shot of the day here, leaving myself about 220 yards downhill, into the wind, over water, to a green about 50 feet below the upper fairway. I pull my two-iron out and slightly pull it. I did my best Sergio Garcia impression by running to the crest of the hill to see where it ended up and was disappointed to see it just go into the hazard left of the green. Damn. So I drop back about 60 yards from the pin on the line of entry and promptly hit the wedge to six inches. Charlie is just laughing by this point. Tap in par after taking my one stroke penalty. Still on track! Nine is a 411 yard par four that is downright easy compared to the 449 yard tiger we usually play from the back deck. I still have a 5-iron second into the green but hit another perfectly straight shot to 20 feet. Easy two putt and I’m out in 34 shots for the front nine.
“Keep her goin’ kid”, Charlie shouts out.
Charlie is a two time Club Champion at St. Catharines so I was leaning on him a bit during the round because of his experience “going low”. My career low round is a 1-under par 71 and I’ve only been under par that one time after 18 holes. I always seem to get into trouble around the 12th or 13th. I’m already thinking about that on the 10th, a short 467 yard par five. I hit my drive into a nasty lie in the left rough and am forced to hit a seven iron out to about 85 yards from the pin. I hit a nice lob wedge to 10 feet but miss the putt. Eleven is another short one, this time a 315 yard par four. I hit a big four iron to leave myself 70 yards into the back pin. Another iron shot that never leaves the pin and ends up less than a foot away for my third birdie of the day. Now, my nemesis…
The 12th has caused problems all year for me. From the back tee, it’s a 205 yard par three downhill to a green protected on the left by water and the right side is protected by two deep bunkers. Early in the year, I was pulling everything into the drink; lately I’ve been overcompensating, pushing my shots into those bunkers. I’m probably averaging 4 1/2 shots on that hole this year. Today, from the blues, I get a break. It’s only 185 yards but downhill to a front pin means a 7-iron. Right at the flag again!!
THIS IS FUN!
Alas, I must be a bit pumped because it sails over the flag and ends up on the upper tier of the green about 25 feet away. I had so much trouble reading this putt that I asked Jay which way he thought it broke. Undecided, I took my stroke and showed my thoughts about line should have been superseded by the pace, as the ball ended up going 13 feet past the hole. I would just miss the comebacker and tap in for my first bogey of the day. And a three putt at that.
Discouraged, I hit the 13th tee and the #1 handicap hole at St. Catharines, a 383 yard par four that doglegs right around a huge forest of trees. Very intimidating driving hole, as the fairway slopes off to the right and feeds balls right into the woods and out of bounds. I confidently struck my drive right down the pipe and had only a knockdown eight iron into the green. AGAIN!!! Right over the flag to about 14 feet. I’m just shaking my head now. I just can’t mishit one right now! The putt is severely downhill and has at least a foot of break. Right in the back of the cup! “Why not?”, Charlie exclaims. Jay is just laughing. I give a little fist pump. It’s SO ON TODAY! Back to three under.
14 is a 167 yard par three. It’s playing longer today with the back left pin position. I decide I’m going to play safe and aim for the middle of the green so as not to mess with the bunker that protects the left side of the green. Ummm…not today big guy! I slightly pull my 6-iron; either that or my ball was just strangely attracted to flagsticks on this day. The ball soars right at the flag and softly lands 7 feet away. Oh my! I couldn’t have an easier putt as this was straight in. I badly pull the putt and start walking only to find the ball somehow going hard right back toward the hole…only to lip out! Ha! Even my bad strokes are working hard for me! Of course, Charlie and Jay are beside themselves at my “bad break”. “How did that not go in?” “You were robbed Matt!”, they say. I just laugh and let them in on the truth.
Number 15 is a 518 yard par five that doglegs slightly right after an elevated tee shot. Water comes into play on the left side, gobbling up any pulled second shots. I hit a really nice tee ball and hit a perfect 3 iron to only 50 yards. A little lob wedge leaves me 18 feet away and I have the putt tracking but it just comes up short.
Now, all this time, we’re talking about anything but my score. You know the old adage about not talking to your pitcher about his no-hitter or perfect game, right? Well, it applies to golf too. There’s a little halfway house (snack bar) on the way to the 16th tee and also serves people coming off the 3rd and 7th holes. Here we run into Andy, another Sunday regular and Charlie’s brother. “How’s it going Bo?” he asks. “Doing good Double A, how bout you”, I inquire. After exchanging pleasantries, he moves to his brother. “Anyone doing some shooting in your group Char?”. “Immelman here (pointing to me and referring to my resemblance to pro golfer Trevor Immelman with my visor on) has really got it going today”. “Nice! Where are you at?”.
“3 under”, I reply. Andy winks and says “Keep it going Bud…see you on the patio”.
I start my walk toward 16 and feel my knees starting to stiffen. I try to do some breathing but fail miserably. Get a grip man! I try to focus as I tee up on the 496 yard par five, which doglegs ninety degrees to the left. From the blue tee, you can easily cut the corner of the dogleg, hitting it over the trees to the fairway in order to give you a shot at the green in two. I pull out my 2-iron rescue club in order to guarantee a shot high enough to clear those trees and proceed to SHANK THE SHOT! Of course, since I was aiming way left to go over the trees, the ball harmlessly dove sharply to the right and rolled nicely right down the middle of the fairway. I would have a very long layup into the lower fairway for my layup but I was completely safe. If you can believe it, that really settled me down. I laughed off the shot and hit the best long iron in ages, leaving an 88 yard third shot. I promptly stuck that one into about 6 feet and calmly knocked that putt in to reach four under par for the first time in my life!
Funny game golf is. I hit the 17th tee and I’m thinking “Ya know, if I double the next two holes, I STILL SHOOT EVEN PAR!!!” Ha! Well, not today bucko! The 206 yard par three 17th is a toughy but I’m JACKED! I hit a big five iron about four paces onto the putting surface and my putt snuggles right next to the cup for another tap in par.
I walk up the hill to 18 all alone. I’m that pitcher walking to the mound in the ninth inning.
With no words being spoken, I tee up on the par four 387 yard finisher, with out of bounds looming right and slightly sky the drive. Thankfully, it’s hit straight and I end up just in the first cut about 165 yards away. Somehow, with no nervousness whatsoever, I decide to pick this moment to hit the only poor iron shot of the day into the greenside bunker left. The ball is sitting nicely but on an uphill lie close to the lip. OK…even if you duff this, you’ll still make six and shoot 70! Damn! Get those thoughts out of your head! I make sure my eyes never look toward the patio to see who’s watching the groups coming in on 18. No need to make myself more nervous. I dig my feet into the sand and the club falls perfectly into the Ohio White. I look up and the ball is just coming down to the right of the hole, ending up 6 feet away. “Beauty!”, Jay shouts over in encouragement. After waiting for Jay and Charlie to hole out, I take one last look at my line, take two quick practice strokes and nail the putt dead centre into the back of the cup!
“You finally did it!”, Jay beams as he shakes my hand. “Sixty nine!!!”, he says.
I laugh. “That’s a sixty eight, buddy!!!”, I beam.
I shot a sixty eight! That’s right! 68!
My first time in the sixties in my life. I best my career low by three shots. I better my handicap by eight, which is VERY RARE for a lower handicap player.
Five birdies and one lonely, three-putt bogey on the card.
I can play till I’m 90 years old and may never improve upon the round I played today. I can tell you without doubt that if this is as good as it gets for me in golf, I’ll still be satisfied.
Like Al Bundy and his four touchdown game at Polk High, I’ll be remembering this day for a very long time…