As much as I love golf, I have kind of had a not-so-awesome relationship with tournament golf. It was like that for a while when I was younger and had reached the point where I had gotten there before. As a kid, I would get so worked up about playing in a tournament that I was almost paralyzed by the whole process.
I don’t think I was afraid of failure, but I cared so much that I kind of got in my own way. At some point, I kind of got over a little bit. At least that’s how I would like to remember it.
Before we go any further, let’s talk about the reality a little bit. I am somewhere between a decent and an above average golfer. I can shoot a score in the mid 70s, but I can also go out and shoot 83 or so just as quickly. I’m not going to win big state events — simply getting into the state amateur, for example, would be a great accomplishment — and I openly acknowledge that.
There’s part of me that enjoys tournament golf, especially tournaments where handicaps aren’t used. I like seeing where I stand — cue Ty Webb measuring himself against other golfers by height here. I like playing with different people or playing at different places. All of that is good.
But I had reached a point where I hadn’t played in a real tournament for a while. Some of it had to do with the quality of my play going south and my handicap going up over the past couple of summers. Part of it was the frustration of not qualifying for the state am enough times to kind of question whether it was worth spending the cash to try. Some of it was maybe coming to peace with the reality that I just wasn’t good enough.
All of that gets us to this past weekend’s match play club championship at my new course. It’s an event that wasn’t part of the tournament schedule at my old club. There was a season-long match play, but there were strokes involved and it just wasn’t the same. This format was simple: Play Friday afternoon, play Saturday morning and play Sunday morning. You had to win at least one match over the first two days to play on Sunday.
As I’ve written, I have found some new confidence in my game over the past month or so. I had no idea where I stood against other people at my club as I have played the majority of my rounds alone or with guests. I was hoping for the best.
Friday, however, turned out to be the worst. While I didn’t make immediate mistakes in my match — I parred the first two holes — the next seven holes or so were among the worst I played all year. I hit it in a bunker on No. 3, hit an awful bunker shot and made double. On No. 5, I had to punch out and then proceeded to hit my third shot on the par 5 off of a tree and out of bounds for another double. I followed that up with a 3-putt on No. 6. And it went on from there.
I was 5 down after the front nine and this match was, for all intents and purposes, over. I did win a hole on the back, but i think I made four or five double bogeys and was closed out after the 13th hole. If it was a stroke play event, I probably would have shot 85 or 86. I was, to be honest, pretty down that night.
Was I that bad under pressure? Was I simply uncomfortable? Was it/is it worth torturing myself this way moving forward?
When I got to the club on Saturday morning, I had a simple goal: I wanted to play well and really didn’t care if I won or lost. Now I wanted to win, but if I didn’t, I wanted it to be because my opponent played great. It turned out to be the beginning of two days of pretty good golf.
Saturday’s consolation semifinal began with a two-putt birdie on the second hole to grab a quick lead. Six holes in, I was up 3. I had a 2-up lead at the turn and quickly stretched that to 3 up with a birdie on No. 10. While I made a double on 11 — a PBF (post-birdie eff up) — I stayed in control of my emotions. I was 3 up through 14 and then I experienced the only real drama of the match. I got a bad break on 15 that led to losing the hole. On No. 16, I drove it into a fairway bunker and eventually made bogey. Suddenly I was only 1 up.
The 17th hole might have been one of the most satisfying experiences on a course in quite a while. I smoked a drive down the middle of the fairway that left me with 110 yards to the front edge. With the pin up front, I try to cut a little 9-iron into the pin. The result was pretty damn perfect. High with a slight cut, the ball landed just short of the pin and ended up about 18 inches from the cut. Nothing like a birdie to win the match.
A day later, I play nearly as well. My only birdie of the day on No. 4 put me ahead for the first time. I then string together five more pars over the rest of the first half. The combination of me hitting fairways and greens and my opponent struggling let to me being 5 up at the turn.
He did eventually cut the lead to 2 after the 14th hole, but I then won Nos. 15 and 16 to finish off the match.
While my play on Friday was awful, there was some consolation in how I played the rest of the weekend. I largely kept the ball in play. I avoided most mental mistakes. I putted well. And I stayed out of my own way. That might have been the biggest thing.
It was great fun. And I left the club on Sunday afternoon a lot happier than I did on Friday.