That said, for posterity purposes, I’m going to briefly recap my experience in the biggest club event of the year at my home course, the 2014 St. Catharines G&CC club championship.
The event is always held during Civic Holiday weekend, a three-day holiday here in Canada. I’ve played very poorly for the majority of the year and up until this weekend, I hadn’t even strung together consecutive rounds in the 70’s. That’s right – not even ONCE have I shot two rounds in a row in the 70s in 2014!
Therefore, I made the very easy decision to play in the “A Flight” championship, which is one rung beneath the “Open Flight”, which for all intents and purposes is the TRUE club championship.
We had a 17 person field in the flight and only the top nine and ties after two days would make the cut and advance to “Championship Monday”.
We had a picture-perfect weather day on Saturday morning for round one and after a pretty decent front side of 39 (+3), I proceeded to start absolutely LIGHTING IT UP on the back nine. I’d birdie the 10th, leave a birdie putt just short on the 11th, hole a 15 footer for birdie on the 12th, again leave one just short on #13 then hole a BOMB on the par 3 14th for another birdie to go three under on the side and back to even for the tournament.
I’d make a bogey on the par five 15th but finish with three straight pars to come in with a scintillating 34 (-2) on the back nine and a season-best 73 (+1) on the day. That score, incredibly enough, was the lowest by anyone at the club that day, regardless of flight and gave me a one shot lead going into day two.
We had an early tee time on Sunday morning and dealt with rainy conditions for the first six holes. I started off a bit sluggishly, with bogeys on two of my first three holes but overall, it was another good day, with nines of 39 and 38 for a fine 77 (+5) and a two-day aggregate score of 150 (+6), putting me in a tie for first place going into the final round. Third place was three shots back, fourth place was four shots back and fifth place was six shots back.
We went off in threesomes on Championship Monday and I strongly felt that the winner would come from our group. However, I had no idea how much the “pressure” would get to me or to my two other playing partners.
Simply put, I completely started choking almost from the outset, with a duffed chip on the first hole, a sculled chip on the second hole, a duffed fairway bunker shot AND a duffed chip on the 5th hole then finally a chip out from the base of a tree on the sixth hole after a SECOND duffed fairway bunker shot. It was truly bizarre – my forearms were so tight they felt like they would explode and I was in a complete daze. I played those six holes in six over par and truly, if it wasn’t for my putter, I could have been 10 over!
The two guys in my group weren’t much better, with both shooting 41 (+5) on the front nine to my 42 (+6). Essentially, we had just let the entire field back into the event!
Thankfully, our scores improved on the back nine but for me, I was still hitting the most obscene shots imaginable – a thinned long bunker shot on the par five 10th soared over the green but I’d get up and down for par. A drive way left on the short par four 11th into a pine tree, necessitating a chip out. I’d get up and down from there for another par save then do it AGAIN on the par three 12th after almost hitting into the creek way right of the green. Three incredible par saves and I had gotten back into a tie for the lead. I’d bogey the 13th and 14th but after a par on the 15th hole, I was tied for the lead once again with one of my playing partners.
We talked as we walked up the 16th fairway, with both of us agreeing that even par from here (we were both +8 on the day) would be good enough to win. I got him laughing when I said that if we ended up tied, I was just going to concede the title to him, as I was way too burned out to head to a playoff!
Things would swing in my favour on that hole, as I’d hit a sand wedge approach to kick-in distance for my first birdie of the day to get back to +7 while he would hit his layup into the hazard on the left and do well to make bogey.
I had a two shot lead going to the long par three 17th!
I’d hit my best shot of the day, a 5-iron to 25 feet and two putt that while my opponent made a great up and in to save par. Still two up!
The 18th features out of bounds down the entire right side and the nerves definitely set in off the tee, as I’d turn my hands over and hit my drive into the adjacent 1st fairway, way, way left. He’d hit down the right hand side, safely in the fairway.
There was a huge gallery watching the play come in on the 18th and I made the ill-advised choice to go for the green over all the trees instead of just taking a nine-iron out and hitting a shot maybe 20 yards short. My 5-iron was poorly hit and ended up striking one of the trees, with the ball cruelly coming down right beside the trunk.
I had no real shot hitting it right handed so I started making left handed practice swings, as the crowd started to murmur a bit.
Was this my “Van de Velde” moment?
Well, under the pressure, maybe it wasn’t the right choice but the only way I could advance the ball was left handed so I went for it, struck the ball well but saw it ricochet off another tree. Thankfully, it bounced away from the other trees and I had a clear fourth shot to the pin. My hands were practically shaking as I attempted the 50 yard pitch shot and I did extremely well to hit that to about 15 feet.
So there I am, with a putt for bogey while my playing partner had an eight footer for par. I walked all the way up to the main scoreboard, just to confirm that no one in the other groups could catch us and indeed, it had come down to the two of us currently on the green.
I had a bogey putt for the win, struck it well but it would hit the lip and dribble out, setting an inch from the hole. With my head down, I’d walk up, tap that in and watch the rest of the drama unfold. I was in with a double bogey six and an 81 (+9) on the day and my playing partner Jamie had an eight foot par putt to tie me and send it to a playoff.
His putt would just miss on the low side and despite struggling with nerves all day, I had just won my first ever club championship.
I have so much respect for people who play this game for a living and just as much respect for anyone who competes at any level, whether it’s the pros, high-level amateur play or just club-level events.
Simply put, it’s HARD to win, no matter the level of play.
Even though it is only the “A Flight” event, I’m really proud of the win and especially proud that I was able to prevail without any semblance of a swing and with nerves shaking me the entire day.
What a thrill!
Congratulations as well go out to my good buddy Bernie, who won his EIGHTH overall men’s club championship and despite being only 52 years old, he’s now won the event in four different decades, with his first championship coming in 1989 and subsequent wins coming in the 90s, 2000s and now the 2010s.
What an incredible feat!
Congrats as well go out to my good friend Harris, who shot fantastic rounds of 76-74-76 to finish in a tie for third in the open flight, his best showing ever. Way to go buddy!