My goal was to finish in the top-five for the first time ever, as my best previous finish in the Clubs is 6th, something I’ve done twice before.
I had an interesting foursome. Larry (155) is a relatively new member at the club and someone I had never had the pleasure of playing with before. Gerry (tied with me in 6th at 154) is someone I play with quite often and like me, he’s on the Niagara Men’s Tour. Mike is the two-time defending Club Champion and I believe has four titles under his belt. He is a very accomplished amateur player at both the provincial and national level and I was really looking forward to matching up with him on this day.
The ‘lefts’ that I was suffering from on Sunday reared its ugly head right away, as my 4-iron tee shot on #1 went over the fairway bunker towards the trees lining the fairway. I had to punch out in front of the greenside bunker then got unlucky when my pitch shot didn’t release up the hill, leaving me a 12 foot par putt.
I drilled it in center cut and I was off with a fighting man’s par on the first.
I hit a perfect drive on #2 and my 9-iron from 145 yards stopped about 2 feet away from the cup. I had to watch all three of my playing partners three putt the hole and Mike pulled out the gamesmanship early:
“Geez Matt. It must seem like it’s been an hour since you hit a shot!”
Mike has a bit of a reputation as a guy who tries to play mindgames on the course, although I don’t necessarily think he had bad intentions with his comment.
I mean, I’m TEN SHOTS BACK! If he feels threatened by ME, the hack that I am, he seriously should just hang up the soft spikes!
But again, I didn’t really think anything of the comments and calmly stepped up and holed my short birdie putt to get to one under through two holes, picking up two shots on him in the process.
I made a pretty routine two putt par on the third while Mike made a nice birdie to bring himself back to even for the day.
I threw up all over myself on the par three fourth hole. My 7-iron tee shot sailed left and I had a very difficult downhill chip to the middle front pin position. I got a bit too cute with my chip shot and it barely made it through the rough, leaving me with a 25 foot downhill par putt.
I got frisky with it, just missing the hole but it rolled about six feet by. I would miss that for a crippling double bogey five. +1 through four holes. Mike had trouble of his own here, duffing his first chip than thinning the next one past the hole to leave himself a 12 foot downhiller for bogey. He showed great poise in knocking that sucker down to save at least a shot.
I made a solid par on the long fifth hole and just missed a 10 foot birdie putt on the par five sixth after a nice wedge shot to the back pin location.
That brought us to the par three seventh, with one of the toughest pin positions on the course: back left just over a large swale. This was the first hole where the galleries started forming, with about 8 people, including our pro, watching from the waterfall right of the green.
Mike hit first and nailed a beauty of a 5-iron shot right at it. However, in something that would become common for him throughout the round, he mis-clubbed slightly, with the ball coming to rest in the rough behind the green.
I was next and hit a PERFECT 6-iron that started in the center of the green and drew left toward the flag. It rolled over the swale and I knew it would be close – it ended up about five feet short but it was still a tricky downhill right-to-lefter.
I put a pathetic, wishy-washy, “don’t three whack” stroke on the ball and even Mike let out a groan as the ball limped miserably left and short of the hole. Disappointing par.
I followed that with one of my worst drives of the day, blocking it way right into the adjacent 3rd fairway. That forced a layup short of the creek and I would go on to make a relatively easy par.
The long par four ninth was next and I blocked my teeball once again. This time, the ball came to rest right alongside the driving range net, which strangely enough is considered ground under repair this year. That gave me a free drop and I hit my 7-iron approach right to the center of the green and made the easy two-putt for a solid 37 (+1) on the front. I had lost a stroke to Mike, who finished with a 36 while Gerry and Larry both went out in 39 shots (+3).
After hitting a great drive on #10, I hacked my way up to the green and ended up making an 8 foot putt to save my par. Unbelievably, Mike had even more trouble and made a similar length putt just to save bogey. He wasn’t a happy camper.
He was whispering to himself on the 11th tee, “time to make a birdie”, but wouldn’t like the result, as he missed the green long again with his approach and couldn’t get up and down, making a second consecutive bogey on what are considered the two easiest holes on the golf course. I barely missed my 12 foot birdie attempt as we hit the backlog on the par three 12th.
This hole was my ‘nemesis’ last year, as I put more balls than I care to remember in the water left of the green. However, I’ve played it incredibly well this year – maybe only one ball in the drink.
Make that two…kind of. My 5-iron shot was kind of hit fat and it cleared the hazard and took an awful kick to the left. It ended up going into the hazard but it was playable in very long grass. I thought hard about my options and really felt I would make a big number if I attempted the recovery so I made the choice to take the one stroke penalty and drop.
It was a good decision: I almost made the chip shot and tapped in my two foot putt for a good bogey. I’m a big believer in the fact that bogeys aren’t bad…it’s the doubles and ‘others’ that kill a round.
So I’m +2 on the day as we hit the toughest hole on the course, the treacherous par four 13th. I nailed the best drive of the day right down the middle as the gallery following us and the last group really swelled. We had about 10-12 people following us in carts by this point, including my buddy Harry, who took off from work early to catch some of the action. There were about 20 people following the other group as well, with the rest of the gallery sitting on the patio or the grass surrounding the 18th hole.
Back pin location and a perfect lie and I pick this time to hit a horribly fat 9-iron short left. My lob shot is a good one, leaving me only four or five feet but I make the same pathetic stroke on my par putt that I did earlier in the day on the 7th hole and I make my second consecutive bogey.
I’d recover somewhat on the par three 14th with a good two-putt par while Mike would make his fourth bogey in five holes to pretty much eliminate himself from the championship.
However, we started getting word at this time that the group behind us was struggling immensely. Reports were coming that Bernie was +4 or +5 on the day and the other three weren’t much better. That seemed to spark Mike a bit.
We both striped perfect drives down the middle, with me actually out-driving him for the first time.
“I hoseled that one just a bit”, he said with a smirk upon finding that he was behind me.
He then said “if I make two birdies coming in, I just might have a shot at this thing.”
Mike hit a nice 3-wood layup to about 80 yards and I decided to be aggressive as well, taking out my 2-iron rescue. I would proceed to hit just an awful shot and the ball ended up rolling weakly into the pond left of the fairway. I would do well to make a bogey after taking my penalty stroke while Mike came through with one of those birdies he was looking for to pull himself back to +3 on the day.
Gerry was really struggling at this point, as he hit two balls out of bounds on this side while Larry was moving along nicely at +3 after going even through the first six holes on the back.
Geez, I was now back in a tie for sixth overall, unless someone REALLY blew up in the last group.
I’d barely miss my birdie putt on the 16th hole but Larry sunk a gorgeous, downhill 12 footer to move to +2 and move ahead of me by a shot.
The difficult par three 17th was playing a bit shorter on this day than usual, as the wind was more of a cross instead of being in our face. Larry, not a long hitter, tried to hit an iron and came up woefully short, in the bunker short right. Mike’s 3-iron was nicely hit and ended up on the back fringe. I decided on a 4-iron and hit one of my best irons of the day to about 20 feet. I’d have the putt tracking but JUST came up short while Mike parred and Larry bogeyed.
Last hole jitters were slightly in effect but I murdered my drive right down the pipe and was only a couple yards short of Mike. The wind was howling at this point and I changed clubs at the last minute, hitting a 6-iron from 162 yards. With a huge gallery watching, I hit my best shot of the day to about 9 feet. Whew!
Mike, still at +3 on the day, came over the top of his a bit and was on the left fringe, about 20 feet away.
Larry must have had the nerves kick in, as he hit his first poor drive of the day over on the 1st fairway and had to punch a shot back over to 18. He’d eventually make bogey to finish at 76 (+4) for the day and 231 (+15) for the tournament.
Gerry tapped in for bogey on the last and a very disappointing 86 on the day (+14), leaving himself at 240 (+24) for the event.
Mike was up first and was able to sneak his putt in for a closing birdie and a huge round of applause from the gallery, shooting 74 and finishing at 224 (+8). Perhaps he still had a shot but would need Bernie to shoot an 80 to get in a playoff or worse to win outright. Last we heard, Bernie was +5 through 12.
I had the green to myself and hoped to close out with a birdie but my streaky putting let me down, as I just ran the putt past the hole and tapped in for par and a final round 76 (+4) and a 230 (+14) tournament total.
Bernie would par the last hole to shoot 78 and finish the tournament at 222 (+6), good enough for a one stroke victory and his seventh club championship title. Congratulations my friend.
I would end up 8 shots back in 6th place all alone, tying my best finish in a club championship. I just couldn’t make enough birdies during the weekend but I grinded like heck for all three days.
In the end, I’m pretty satisfied with how things went during my favourite event on my golfing calendar.
Next up for me is my quarterfinal match in the Langley Cup – if I prevail, I will be facing my good buddy Cal in the semis. We always have great matches against each other and I’m sure if I get the chance to play him, it would be no different this time around. But that’s looking too far ahead…
I also have the fifth leg of the 2007 Niagara Men’s Tour coming up on Saturday afternoon at Pelham Hills Golf Club (formerly Welland GC) as I look to improve on my 11th place standing.
I’ll be back Thursday with the results of the Langley!