The first event was doubling as the Spring qualifier for the Tour – there were 37 exempt players and 37 potential qualifiers also participating, from which the Tour was going to take the top 15 and ties, for a total field size of 52+.
Thankfully, I’m exempt for a couple of years after my win at LochNess Links last year so I could just go out and play without too much pressure.
Pen Lakes is an above average course for the area and always is in great shape. It’s a bit quirky in spots, with short par fours that take driver out of your hands, some solid par fives and some extremely difficult par threes.
I’ve never played particularly well out here, shooting in the 70’s only a couple of times despite it being a par 71.
Confidence was short upon arrival due to my terrible early season struggles. I was able to hit some balls on the range and did well with my irons off the mats but seriously struggled with my hybrid, something I’d need to have any chance of scoring out here.
My group started on the Hillside nine and the short par four first hole. I elected to hit a 4-iron into the wind and hit my shot thin, coming up well short of the 150 marker. I’d lose concentration immediately, setup poorly to the ball and pull my second shot into the greenside bunker. I’d splash out nicely to seven feet but kind of yip my putt long on the tough right to lefter and make an opening bogey.
The next hole is borderline unfair – 230+ yard par three, playing into a strong wind with the pin all the way back. One of my playing partners hit driver and I contemplated it as well before deciding on a 2-iron hybrid, the biggest club in my bag other than the big dog.
I actually made excellent contact with it, pulling it ever so slightly toward the cart path just left of the green. I’d chip to about six feet and make the straight-in uphiller for the satisfying par.
I started to think things might go my way when I killed my drive on the downhill par five 3rd right down the pipe. I had about 270 yards into the green with the wind helping and I proceeded to completely snaphook my hybrid out of bounds left.
I’d drop another and try again and of course, I’d do the exact same damn thing, only this one MAY have stayed in.
Indeed, we’d find that second ball about three feet from the boundary fence so I’m now hitting my fifth shot. The ball is sitting on mud but at least I had a full backswing. I’d muff that shot just short, chip terribly to about ten feet and make the long putt for a double.
The fourth hole on Hillside is their signature hole. A 400 yard dogleg right, with water down the left side and also another pond up in front and right of the green. It’s really a difficult tee shot, especially downwind, as the Driver is too much club.
So I’d have to go to the pesky hybrid again but this time I’d fire one right down the pipe. I’d thin my 7-iron approach but get a great hop, finishing ten feet away but I’d leave that putt short and tap in for par. Still, a good score on that hole.
I’d hop on the bogey train on the fifth and sixth holes and make par on the par five seventh before coming to my nemesis hole at Pen Lakes: the benign, 150 yard par three 8th.
There’s nothing to this hole. It’s got water in front and left but it’s a huge green and you’re only hitting a 7-iron at most. Today, it was a baby eight and like always, I chicken out and come out of the shot, hitting it into the right greenside bunker. It’s already my third bunker shot on the front and I’d obviously get scared of the water long because I completely duffed the shot, barely escaping the bunker and leaving a treacherous 30 footer over the ridge for par. I’d do well to get it to three and a half feet but proceed to miss the short putt, tapping in for double.
Another double on that bloody hole!
I’d miss an easy six footer for birdie on the par five ninth to finish the front nine at 43 (+7).
I’d head to the shorter Quarry side but the first hole is a doozy – 410 yard par four with a boomerang dogleg left around a huge holding pond. It was screaming downwind which meant hybrid yet again. Keeping up with my one shot good, one shot bad ratio, I snapped it right into the pond and just laughed.
It wasn’t going to be my day.
I’d have to make a tough three footer just to save double there. I’d get up and down for par on the short second hole then make bogeys on the third and fourth, the latter on a three whack to really knock me out of it mentally.
Of course, I’d end up playing well from there, seeing as it was my 14th hole of the day…all year, it seems like I play well from the 14th in, just to make me think I’ve FINALLY figured out how to play this stupid game.
Solid, two putt pars came on the 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th and I actually had great runs at birdie on all four, barely missing each time.
The last hole was another par three doozy – measuring 205 yards into a stiff, stiff breeze. It was likely a hybrid but I just couldn’t let myself hit that bloody club again. So I wailed away at a 4-iron and actually hit it right where I aimed, which was the right greenside bunker. I wouldn’t get it up and down, going 0-5 in bunkers on the day to make bogey and finish my round with a horrible score of 83 (+12).
I’d end up finishing in a tie for 38th place on the day, one of my worst finishes in years on the Tour. I’ve played much worse in other rounds this year so I can take some solace in that…my mistakes were just too big on this day…too many doubles and not enough putts made.
The good news was that everyone I know from St. Catharines that tried to qualify for the Tour made it in. Brad B shot 80; Jeff G shot 81; Harry and Stevie G shot 83 and Calvin shot 84, which was the cut number for qualifying.
So St. Catharines is going to be very well represented on the Tour in ’09.
Next event takes place in three weeks at Grand Niagara, another course I’ve had little success at. Hopefully, I start gaining a bit of consistency with my game over the next couple of weeks to get some confidence back. A few rounds in the 70s would do the trick nicely!