A couple buddies of mine, Jay B and Ryan D, came out to enjoy some twilight golf at St. Catharines on Friday night. They are both former members at the club but don’t get the opportunity to play much these days. We had a great time: the course was completely empty and we were able to get around in about three and a half hours, barely beating nightfall. I played decently, shooting a 76 but didn’t make a birdie for the second round in a row.
I’ve kept scoring records for my last three years and this 36+ hole birdie drought qualifies as the longest in that period.
Still, I had a bit more confidence teeing it up on Saturday afternoon at St. Catharines, as we hosted Rolling Meadows GCC for the first leg of the semifinals of the Niagara Cup competition. I was facing Kevin D, a solid southpaw from Rolling Meadows in a singles match.
I started off by stiffing my approach shot on the first hole and knocking in my three footer for birdie to take the quick 1up lead. I’d par the 2nd hole but then I started to fall apart.
Hole 3: Double Bogey
Hole 4: Par
Hole 5: Double Bogey
Hole 6: Bogey
My opponent’s start, you ask?
Hole 1: Bogey
Hole 2: Double Bogey
Hole 3: Double Bogey
Hole 4: Par
Hole 5: Triple Bogey
Hole 6: Par
So I’m four over par through six yet still lead 2up in the match. Unbelievable.
I would settle down and start making a bunch of pars, winning the last three holes on the backside to take a ridiculous 5up lead through the front nine.
I was still five up after 13 holes but then the bad weather rolled in. We took shelter at the halfway house for about an hour as the lightning and thunder rolled through St. Catharines.
Once we got back on the course, I quickly closed out my opponent with a par on the 14th hole to win the overall match 6&4, a pretty lopsided result considering how poorly I was playing (+6 after 14). I’d make a par on the last hole to win the back nine 1up and take all three points in my match.
St. Catharines as a team locked up a ridiculous 17 of the 18 available points in the first leg of the semis, with the second leg taking place the next day at Rolling Meadows.
That was an event I’d have to miss, as I had the fifth event on the Nevada Bob’s Men’s Tour taking place that afternoon as well at LochNess Links.
Now, having shot a 79 the day before and flaming out in the club championships a week earlier, I wasn’t exactly the most confident guy in the world going into the day.
I get to the course around 1pm and it is just POURING out. Raining cats and dogs. My buddy Bernie had opened his trap the day before about the fact that the Tour had never had a rainout in its 8-year history and it was looking like he jinxed the event. Puddles were forming in the fairways and on the greens.
But this isn’t the PGA, folks. The Niagara Men’s Tour plays in EVERYTHING. So we were off.
I made solid contact, all things considered, off the first tee ending up in the right rough. From there, I hit 6-iron to the middle of the green, hit a poor putt that went five feet past the hole then made the comebacker for the par.
The rain really started to come down as we hit the 240 yard second hole. Hitting 2-iron hybrid, I hit a stinger that landed just short and stopped in its tracks on the wet turf. I had a little chip shot to the front pin and sunk it for the awesome birdie! Great start! One under through two!
I’d give it right back on the par five third. I’d hit a weak drive to the left and draw a poor lie in the rough. I’d advance the ball about 150 yards to leave myself about 130 yards into the green. With the rain just teaming down, I’d push my approach into the right rough then lip out the chip, rolling four feet past. Somehow, I’d miss that little putt for the bogey to drop me back to even.
The next hole is an animal. 450 yards, uphill, into a stiff wind with the rain coming down hard. I nailed my drive but still had 205 yards left. I’d hit another fine hybrid shot but still came up short. My chipping was on though: I’d knock my wedge to about two feet and tap that in for the great par.
I’d bogey the easy and short par three fifth after hitting long off the tee and not getting up and down. On the par five sixth, I’d drive down the left side but hit a horrible 5-iron layup shot into the right fairway bunker about 150 yards from the green.
The bunker, of course, was drenched and I ended up topping the ball out, barely missing the water. I was still about 50 yards away, hitting my fourth shot when I reached the turning point of my round.
With turf so wet, you worried about either skulling the shot or laying the sod over the ball, I hit a perfect little wedge that took two bounces and hit the flagstick, dropping stone cold stiff to a foot. SWEET! Tap in par after hacking around the hole.
It was a boost I needed.
With the rain still coming down in sheets, I made a great two-putt par on the tough par four 7th then did the almost impossible on the 245 yard par three 8th. I knocked in a 20 footer for yet another birdie.
I birdied both 240+ yard par threes on the front nine! NUTS!
I’d play the tough par five ninth hole perfectly but miss a 15 footer for birdie, settling for the par and a GREAT front nine score of even par 36.
We moved to the other side of the road for the 10th hole and like magic, the rain started to lighten up.
My swing felt great at this point. I used a hybrid off the 10th tee and nailed it to the 150 marker then almost HOLED my approach, landing about six inches short of the hole and stopping four feet away. I’d roll THAT in for yet another birdie and I was back to one under on the day!
It was a nervous walk to the 11th tee. It was here, for one of the first times ever, that I started to think about winning an event on Tour. One under HAD TO BE LEADING considering the weather.
However, the rain had completely stopped by this point and the sun was even trying to poke through the clouds. I ripped another hybrid off the tee at the 11th right down the pipe, again avoiding water on the right side. I had an easy 9-iron approach but the pin was tucked in the back right portion of the green, a tough placement. I hit a loose shot, coming up just short but then chipped to four feet and made the putt for another par.
I’d give a shot away on the par three 12th when I made the cardinal mistake of hitting left but made routine pars on both the 13th and 14th holes.
Disaster almost struck on the difficult par three 15th. I hit a nice, solid hybrid on the 215 yard hole that just went through the green. It was a tough chip shot to the pin though, with a huge slope that took the ball left to right and down a hill, so tough that I had to aim almost 90 degrees left to have the ball feed properly to the hole.
However, I didn’t make good contact and barely moved the ball, just getting it onto the green and not reaching the bottom shelf. Damn!
I now had a 30 footer down the slope and while I hit a good putt, I still went seven feet by. Geez.
Staring double bogey in the face, I somehow mustered the courage to firmly hit my putt through the break, dead center into the cup to save the bogey.
Whew! Now one over on the day with three holes left.
The short par four 16th was next. I hit a great drive down the middle and had another of those testy 30 to 40 yard wedge shots left, with a bunker directly in front of the green. Again, I was so conscious about not laying the sod over the ball that I ended up skulling this shot through the green into the back bunker.
Trying not to show any anger, I splashed out nicely to about 10 feet but couldn’t knock the putt home, making a very disappointing bogey on the easiest hole on the course.
Undaunted, I hit my best drive of the day down the pipe on the long, straightaway par four 17th but hit my 6-iron approach a bit fat, ending up on the front of a very large green, with the pin cut all the way in the back. I’d hit my birdie putt and leave it six feet short…..but make the par putt to stay at 2 over!
I figured I’d need a birdie on 18 to have any chance. It’s a shortish par five with an elevated tee shot and water running all the way down the left side. It’s not an easy drive, let me tell you.
That said, I continued my solid ball striking off the tee, striping it down the middle. However, I was well back, about 250 yards to the flag. With water looming, I decided to play it safe, hitting an 8-iron to 115 yards then hitting a gorgeous gap wedge to 12 feet.
“You got a run at it!”, my playing partner Ken proclaimed.
It was a pretty easy putt, left center and up the hill. However, it broke off a bit more than I anticipated and I just missed on the amateur side. I’d tap in for the par and a total score of 74 (+2), quite a great number considering how tough the conditions were.
I was the clubhouse leader and over a couple beers, watched as group after group came in, with no one bettering the score. I’ve been in this position before, back in 2005 at the last event when someone in the final threesome came in to dash my hopes of winning my first title.
So, needless to say, I wasn’t getting overly excited.
Which made me all the more dumbfounded when Bernie came over, hand extended and silly grin on his face, offering his congratulations.
I won the tournament!!! I WON THE TOURNAMENT!!!!!
My first ever win on Tour in five years of participation. In fact, as best as I recall, this is the first time I’ve EVER won a stroke play tournament. Yeah, I’ve won a couple match play titles but other than some junior club events back in my late teens and winning a local qualifier for the Ontario Junior Championship, I can’t recall ever winning ANYTHING before.
This is easily the biggest event I’ve ever won in my life and I’m just ELATED! There I am below with my little crystal trophy after the win.
There was a nice writeup in the local paper about the event too. If interested, check it out right here. I assume it won’t stay online for long, though.
Now, it’s time to rest. In fact, I’m even taking next Sunday off from golf to do some painting before the baby arrives. Shock of shocks!
What a great year it’s been!!!