Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Repeat!

Well, I pulled out my second consecutive Newlands Cup victory on Saturday!

My opponent Brett is a 21 handicapper so I had to give him 18 shots in the match play final, one shot on every hole. Prior to Saturday, the most shots I've ever had to give up in my two years playing the event was 13. I figured I was in for quite a challenge...

Unfortunately, Brett did not have his game in the early goings. We started on the back nine and the short par 5 tenth hole. Brett's first five holes: triple, bogey, triple, triple, triple. His bogey/net par on 11 gave him a tie but he lost the other holes to go four down after 5. He doubled 15 to go five down after 6 and his confidence was non-existent.

"It's still early Brett...you can turn it around!" I offered with optimism.

Now I was playing well at this point (even through six) but I never like to win matches because the other guy is playing horribly. I really hoped he could put together some bogeys at the very least.

Well, he did better than that.

He finally made a par on 16, with the net birdie beating my natural par. We both bogeyed the tough par 3 17th so his net par took the hole there as well. I missed a seven foot birdie putt on 18, with my par and his bogey/net par tieing. Then, he made another par/net birdie to win #1, pulling himself to 2 down with 8 to go.

"Great comeback Brett!", I exclaimed, as I wiped the sweat from my brow.

He ended up duffing a chip on #2 and made double bogey to lose and then made another double on #3. I now was 4 up again as we reached the mid-length par 3 fourth hole. We both hit our tee shots onto the heavily sloped green. Brett was first to attempt the birdie putt. From 35 feet, he was a bit too frisky, hitting it 8 feet past the hole, leaving himself with a treacherous downhiller for par.

I really didn't think he'd make that putt so I just told myself to get it close to the hole for a tap-in par. From 28 feet, I just rolled it a foot and a half past the hole.

Mission accomplished.

Brett now had the 8 foot downhiller. Again, I expected him to miss the putt and I was just ready to give him his bogey and move on having tied this hole.

Well, I'll be damned if Brett didn't knock the slick putt right off the green.

Damn...

I couldn't obviously give him the 15 footer for bogey and he proceeded to miss that. I quietly conceded his three footer and tapped in my par putt to take the hole. Man...I couldn't believe how aggressive he was with that par putt...but that's match play for you.

So I have him dormie on the 5th hole (our 14th of the day). I end up hitting my second shot WAY RIGHT, into fescue grass about 30 yards from the green. I somehow hit it out to about 30 feet. Brett tapped in for bogey/net par, seemingly giving him the hole.

However, it just was my day.

I curled in the breaking 30 footer right into the back of the cup for my par and the 5&4 victory, my second consecutive Newlands Cup win for the overall match play championship at St. Catharines!

It was a great way to end a match!

I ended the day in similar style, birdieing the last two holes to finish at 71, one under par for the day. This was my third subpar score this month.

They'll be passing out all of the trophies for the year at the Hole in One Party in October. I had my buddy Jay's wedding last year and wasn't able to accept the Newlands for 2004 so I'm looking forward to going this year. I know Jacky will enjoy the night and I think my parents are going to go as well. Should be a fun evening!

On Sunday, the good weekend continued with an excursion to Cedar Brae Golf and CC in Toronto. This is one of my favourite golf courses in the country, an old style parkland course with mature trees and rolling terrain. It's not well known only because it's a private club but it truly was a pleasure to play again. I ran out of gas near the end of the round (making a triple bogey along the way) and shot 79, still my best ever score there.

I just love that course, no matter what my score!

Tonight, a bunch of the guys from the club and a couple of the assistant pros are heading out to Mister B's Restaurant in Niagara Falls, New York for some pizza and wings. We might hit the poker room at Seneca or Casino Niagara as well. Maybe I'll try my hand at No Limit tonight...

Saturday, September 24, 2005

On Vacation!

I'm taking a week off!

This will be my second week off this year and I plan on laying low most of the time. I have a couple golf rounds scheduled, may stop in at work a couple times and also may go to Toronto for a night or two with the girlfriend.

Other than that, the plan is total relaxation.

The Niagara Men's Tour is now complete and I exceeded my own expectations with a fantastic finish last Saturday. Coming into the event in 22nd place overall out of 56 golfers, I'd hoped for a good finish to get me close to the top 15.

I was sharp right out of the gate. On #2, a 195 yard par three, I hit it to about 7 feet. On #3, a par five, I hit my third in tight to about 6 feet. #4 I had about a 10 footer for birdie. Then on #7, I was in close AGAIN, putting from about 8 feet.

Unfortunately, I missed all of those putts.

Fortunately, I did par all of them, along with the other holes on the front nine to shoot an even par 36. I hit ALL NINE greens in regulation and only missed one fairway on the front nine.

Due to very heavy rain during the early morning hours, we were playing 'lift, clean and place' through the green. This helped me on the tenth hole when I got a horrible lie in the rough but was able to mark my ball, clean it, and replace it in a nice lie. I'd hit the green and par. I hit my best iron of the day (which is saying something when I was striping it every shot) on the par three eleventh, hitting a four iron to six feet. I MISSED AGAIN.

I was making good strokes but just couldn't find the back of the cup. Lots of lip outs, including one that went in and then...looped out and horseshoed out of the hole. Ugh.

I missed my first green in regulation of the day on the par five 12th, leaving my approach on the back fringe. My first putt was horrible, as it was propelled 8 feet past the hole on the downhiller. I picked this time to make my first real putt of the day to keep the par streak going.

It ended abruptly on the par three 13th, when I misclubbed off the tee and hit into the front bunker. Good bunker shot and another missed medium length putt (9 feet) meant the first bogey of the day.

All good rounds have 'bounce back' holes and this qualifies as a good round for yours truly. I hit the par five 14th hole in two shots (driver, three-iron rescue) but completely misread my eagle putt, leaving it almost 9 feet away off-line to the right. I buried the birdie putt however to get back to level par. Another par five followed and I temporarily lost concentration due to one of my playing partners making a TEN on the hole (he almost put a club through his cart!) and hit at least two provisionals along the way. I hit a wayward second from the middle of the fairway into the trees left and was lucky to escape to a position just short of the green. I hit a nice chip to three feet and made it for par.

I scrambled the whole way down 16. I hit a terrible tee shot that looked like it might be in trouble, necessitating a provisional for myself. I did find the original tee shot, however. I was about 175 yards away and had to go over trees on the dogleg right par four. I opened up the face of my 6-iron and tried to hit a big cut. I hit the big cut alright but it was hanging in the trees...and then rebounded off one of the branches back into play, safely in front of the green. Whew! I hit a horrible chip shot to 8 feet but made the putt for a good four.

Continuing my suddenly shaky play, all three in our group hit long on the par three 17th, leaving a tough pitch back to a green with water on the other side of the hole. I hit a PERFECT chip shot, right into the bank, and the ball trickled to about 2 feet. Another par.

Feeling nerves a bit, I was able to compose myself on the intimidating par four 413 yard finisher and nail a beauty right down the middle. I then hit a fantastic six iron into the green and almost holed it, the ball trickling past the hole to about 14 feet. I narrowly missed that but tapped in for an even par 72.

At the time, I was the clubhouse leader by three shots. Group after group came in and the lead held up. The Niagara Falls Review reporter interviewed me and took a couple pictures as well. Jacky was there to watch me come in and have dinner with me and she was pretty excited. The last group (containing the four points leaders on the tour) was approaching the 18th green in almost complete darkness, giving me the thought that I MIGHT JUST WIN THIS THING!

Uh, no.

The guy in second place overall on the tour, Jamie, shot a fantastic 69, birdieing the last hole in the dark to emphatically claim the event and also, win the 2005 Niagara Men's Tour overall championship. My 72 placed me second alone, easily my best ever finish on tour. 6th place at Rolling Meadows earlier in the year had been my best finish.

On the strength of this finish, I propelled myself to 11th overall on the tour, a result I'm ecstatic with. I obviously need to be more consistent on an event-to-event basis but 11th overall is a HUGE IMPROVEMENT from last year, where I finished 31st or something. I finished 'in the money' twice this year (gift certificates are awarded to the top six finishers in each event), taking $210.00 in pro shop vouchers. Plus, my 11th place finish also won me a nice Titleist golf bag valued at $180.00 or something. Good stuff!

Even with the second place finish, I got about five paragraphs in the local paper, mostly because the reporter loved the fact I was hospitalized earlier in the week, yet still played great golf on Saturday. I kind of figured I might still get some ink even after only finishing second: the guy had this big smile on his face as he was taking notes from me on the Deerhurst incident. Wish the guy hadn't written me down as 'Mike' instead of 'Matt', but hey, small complaint!

Sunday was the finals of the Niagara Cup at Twenty Valley Golf Club and I played like garbage. What is with this game?? I missed a one and a half footer on the first hole (for some reason the kid I played with didn't understand that you can CONCEDE putts) and never got into a good rythym all day. I was one up through 10 after a birdie there but then he started to play well, birdieing 11 and parring the tough 12th and 13th to go one up on me. He was able to hold on and took 2.5 out of 3 available points.

St. Catharines finished tied for 4th out of the six teams in the final, a pretty poor performance. Niagara Falls Country Club, out of Lewiston, New York, won the overall title, gaining 16 out of a possible 24 points. Hopefully they host the Niagara Cup one of these years...now that's a nice golf course!

My Newlands Cup Final is taking place at 8am Saturday morning. I'm looking for my second consecutive match play title at St. Catharines Golf and CC but this match will be my biggest challenge yet. I have to give Brett, my opponent, 18 shots in the match. One shot on every hole. It will be the most shots I've ever had to concede in my two years playing this event.

Again, steady play usually works well for me when playing higher handicaps so I'll go out and just try to par him to death. I'm playing 'on and off' golf so I'm due to be ON later this morning. Hopefully I can bring home the hardware for the second year in a row.

I'm also lucky enough to be playing beautiful Cedar Brae Golf and CC on Sunday with my buddies Ryan and Jay. Ryan was a member out there last year and still has some priveleges out there so we're going out in the early afternoon. I'm also playing Fort Erie's gem Cherry Hill on Monday with Harris and Preston and may try to tackle Grand Niagara again on Tuesday or Wednesday. Should be a fun week off!

I'll report back on my Newlands Cup effort sometime tomorrow or Sunday. Have a great weekend!

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Niagara District Men's Tour Finale

This is pretty much the last tournament weekend of the year for me.

I will be playing my Newlands Cup Final match next Saturday (most likely) but that is just a club tournament; I'll likely have the benefit of playing with one of my buddies too.

This weekend, however, sees the end of two summer-long journeys...

First up is the fifth and last leg of the Niagara District Men's Tour, taking place later today at Beechwood Golf Club in Niagara Falls. After the first four events, I'm in 22nd place out of 56 golfers that are on the tour. I'd love a nice low to mid-70's round in the finale to give myself a chance of a top 15 overall finish but will just go out and try the best I can, considering the fact I was just in a hospital three days ago. I feel pretty good right now but obviously haven't picked up a club since the scramble on Sunday. Beechwood is a pretty straight-forward golf course and not excessively long (6560 from the tips). Keep it in play and you'll be rewarded...sounds like the blueprint for every great gameplan but it certainly applies here.

Sunday is the Niagara Cup finals, with six clubs having moved on through the regional qualifiers to play individual match play for the title of top club in the Niagara area. This event takes place at Twenty Valley Golf & CC in Vineland, a course I never seem to play well (including an 82 earlier this year in the Men's Tour). The course is well suited for match play, however, so maybe I'll be able to put something together. My game is certainly pretty sharp right now, or at least it was!

Wish me luck!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Bad Things Come in Threes? Uh Oh...

It's been a pretty nutty week for yours truly...

It starts on Wednesday morning, around 5:30am. My girlfriend Jacky is at home (she has a semi) sleeping and hears a loud bang, waking her from her sleep. There is a student house across the street so she thinks it may be some party animals enjoying frosh week or something. She goes to her window to investigate where she finds two men in ski masks on her roof WITH RIFLES!!

Obviously startled, she runs to get her phone, trips and falls ON THE PHONE, breaking it. She then dashes to her bathroom for her purse to get her cell phone. No reception...

She hurtles downstairs and is about to dash into her backyard when she spots three more men in ski masks outside her sliding door!

Jacky hides in a corner and dials 911. She's completely hysterical by this point, not able to really get out words to the operator. "There are men with masks and guns trying to break into my house!" she blurts out.

"Calm down miss. What's your address? Tell me where you are."

Jacky takes about a minute to finally get the words out.

"Maam. Please calm down. Those men are Covert Ops. It's the police. Please go to your front window."

"NO!!! THEY ARE MASKED MEN WITH RIFLES! THEY ARE TRYING TO BREAK INTO MY HOUSE!"

"Maam. PLEASE calm down and go to your front window. It is the police department."

After continuing the back and forth for what seems like an eternity, Jacky finally goes to the front window. On cue, as if it was a movie or something, all of these unmarked cars come screeching to a stop in front of her house and officers come parading out the doors in full SWAT gear, venturing toward the door of the adjoining semi.

It turns out this was part of a province-wide raid on drug and arms dealers and Jacky's next door neighbour is part of the gang.

Of course, the police would tell her nothing except that "your neighbour is in a lot of trouble."

I always kind of wondered about the guy, who was pretty young (late 20's) and had TWO Mercedes automobiles in his driveway. Guess this explains it!

Anyway, one of the cops, a former boyfriend of Jacky's sister, recognized her and told her that this guy has "a lot of money and will likely be out on bail tonight." So, I made Jacky stay with me the next few nights to get her away from the house.

She was REALLY freaked about the whole experience and was forced to undergo counceling by her employer. Jacky works for Family and Children's Services so it is important that she has got her wits about her for the job.

Thankfully she seems to be doing much better right now.

Now to part two...

On Saturday, I had to go up to the beautiful Deerhurst Resort in Huntsville, Ontario for a business convention. We got to play the gorgeous Highlands course at Deerhurst on Sunday in a scramble, which was a lot of fun. The hectic meetings started on Monday. Breakfast from 5:30am to 7am. Meetings from 7:00am to 6:00pm STRAIGHT THROUGH! All meetings are 30 minutes long so we had 20 different meetings per day. There were 54 different suppliers at this convention so you walk from room to room meeting them throughout the week. It's quite productive, as most of the big-wigs are there to hear your concerns and hopefully rectify any problems you may have had during the past year. However, it's very tiring for the distributors like us, who are walking all over hells half acre to each of these meetings every half hour. You're constantly 10 minutes behind it seems.

Anyway, we got through Tuesday intact. My buyer Dave also came along for the meetings and we were both invited to a party thrown by one of our suppliers: Cascades Tissue Group (formerly known as Perkins Paper). Now, I didn't originally want to go to this party because we don't really do much business with them anymore. However, they called us up on Friday and asked why we hadn't RSVP'd yet and that they would really like it if we came.

Fine. Sign us up...

So, we head to Steamers Restaurant at the Deerhurst Resort, which isn't very big and would have to be crammed to fit the 100 people invited to the shindig. We got there early and just relaxed on the patio before people started arriving. So we head in and start mingling with the others. There was a Spanish theme to the evening: we'd be sampling wines from Spain all night and be given food to compliment the wine being served. I believe there was to be six different 'courses' served.

Champagne was served before the festivities were to begin so I grabbed a glass and started chatting with one of the hosts.

There didn't seem to be any air conditioning in this place. I was really feeling warm.

I was just wearing a button down shirt and was thinking to myself "how can this guy be wearing a sport coat in this heat?" After taking a couple sips of the bubbly, I started feeling really lightheaded.

I knew I needed to sit down but before I could head for a seat, the room started spinning on me.

That's when the lights went out.

I collapsed to the floor. My legs just went from under me. Down to my knees and then BAM! Head hits the floor.

Dave had tried to catch me but it happened so fast.

I was down and out on my face in a really weird position so the people around me turned me over to my back.

I almost immediately came to. Very surreal. I thought at first that I was in a dream. A buzz in the air. 20 heads in a circle peering down at me. "Epilepsy", one person said.

What the? Did I just have a seizure?

I was clear headed right away. "Ah shit" were the first words out of my mouth. Some nervous laughter from some of the party goers. "Don't move Matt", they would say, as some of the women ripped open my shirt and put napkins filled with ice on my body to cool me down.

"Can't I just sit up?" I asked.

"Paramedics are on the way!", shouted security, who had arrived in less than two minutes.

I could feel that I was cut on my forehead. "Did I fall on my head?" I asked. Dave was right there. "Yeah, you went down on your knees, then fell on your left shoulder and then your face hit the floor. How's your shoulder?"

"Feels fine" I replied. I had movement everywhere AND JUST WANTED TO SIT UP.

Paramedics arrived about three minutes later. The main paramedic first applied an ice pack to my head then went to work, asking me all of the generic questions (what's your name, where are you, what day is it, what's your birthday, how many fingers am I holding up) to see if I was concussed. No problems there thankfully.

He then started checking my spine and doing feeling tests to see if I had pain anywhere. No problems there. The only thing I had to fess up about was a tingling sensation in my fingers of both hands.

They had cleared the room at this point. "Is this all sweat?" he asked as he looked at me. "No. Someone put ice on my chest", I replied. "It is really hot in here." he confirmed.

"Okay, we're going to take you in Matthew. We're going to put this brace on you as a precaution." So I was fitted with a neckbrace and strapped to a gurney for the first time in my life.

Damn was it uncomfortable.

Dave was still there answering some questions from another paramedic. "Can we take him through another door?", he asked. "It might be a bit embarrassing to go through all of those people."

"Sorry sir. That's the only door that's big enough for the stretcher to go through."

Man. I was embarrassed, sure. But only because these people still had a party to enjoy and here I was ruining the night for people.

So I was stretchered out of the restaurant and past the patio where everyone had been taken to. "Be well Matt!", someone shouted.

"I'm alright!", I exclaimed. "Everyone have a good time!"

With that, I was put in the ambulance and whisked away to Huntsville General Hospital. There, I answered the nurses questions and sat for another 10 minutes strapped to the gurney.

I'm just dying to get out of this thing and rest my head on a pillow. I've got tape across my head that's of course right across my cut and my head is feeling extremely uncomfortable being strapped to this board.

The doctor arrives and after doing some movement and feeling tests, he says "we can get you out of this thing now."

Geez. About time!

So they freed me from the gurney and had me sit up in the bed. Dave was able to keep me company in the room while they went through some more tests (heart rate checks, blood pressure). They also gave me a cardiogram to check my heart out.

"Are you an athlete?", the doctor asked.

"Well, I play a lot of sports but I don't know if I necessarily qualify as an athlete!"

He laughs. "Well, your blood pressure and heart rate are perfect." he said, allowing me to breathe a sigh of relief. "Cardiogram looks great too. I just want to keep you under observation for awhile, keep checking your blood pressure every so often. You should be home in no time."

"It was just slight dehydration coupled with the heat that caused you to pass out." He also talked of some 'sympathy' complex that might have also added to things. He likened this to watching someone getting a needle and you 'feeling their pain, feeling faint'.

"When you noticed the chap in the sport coat in the really hot room, YOU started feeling hot and that's what caused you to start feeling lightheaded."

I thought he was just telling me what I wanted to hear but he confirmed that this does actually happen all the time. Interesting.

I drank about five apple juices and the tingling sensation in my fingers subsided. My blood pressure was checked in 10 minute intervals it seemed. After about an hour and a half, the nurse came up to me and asked how I felt. After telling her I felt fine, she said I could take off.

Dave drove us back to the resort and I was able to check the vanity mirror to see my 'rug burn' on the forehead. It didn't look too bad.

It was now about 10:30pm, three hours after the incident. I wanted to head back to the restaurant and poke my head in to tell everyone I was fine. Dave wasn't really for it but relented. There was one guy on the patio when we arrived. "How are you doing? You alright?" he asked.

"Yeah. I just wanted to swing by to let everyone know I'm okay."

"Go on in!" he said.

So I step in the door. "He's back!", someone screams out. And then everyone starts clapping. Funny. I give a couple bows to more applause. The Deerhurst staff swarm to me. "Would you like some food sir? We saved some meat for you." Haha. LAWSUIT! LAWSUIT!!

Just kidding...it was pretty funny though.

I shook a couple hands and went through the doctor's diagnosis to about 15 people. It was still really hot in the room so Dave was begging me to leave. After a few more handshakes, we were off.

I ended up hitting the bed right away, pretty exhausted. My legs were really stiff, like I had run a marathon or something. I woke up with the alarm clock at 6am but wasn't up for breakfast. Dave came back around 6:30am and I told him I was still too tired for the morning meetings. I think he was worried about leaving me alone so he called the girl who runs things for the meetings to have her cancel everything for the rest of the day for our company.

I ended up going back to sleep until about 9:30am then got up, showered, and checked out of the resort. Dave drove us back home in my car, getting back to Niagara Falls in a little over 3 hours. I ended up hitting my bed right away and slept for another 6 hours.

Still exhausted, I decided that I'd probably take Thursday off to recouperate, which brings us to today.

The mark on my forehead is actually WORSE now than it was on Tuesday night. It looks as if someone took a hot iron and pushed it against my head for a second. I guess I can be thankful that my head hit a carpeted floor as opposed to a hardwood floor. I likely would have suffered a concussion had that happened. Either way, the 'rug burn' will go away eventually.

My legs are back to normal as I write this and I feel pretty darned refreshed after a great night's sleep. I'll be back at work tomorrow and will likely spend half the day fielding calls from concerned suppliers and talking to co-workers about the interesting night in Huntsville.

Looking forward to it!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Newlands Cup Semi-Final

This Labour Day weekend has to rank as one of the most enjoyable long weekends of my life.

After the big round of 68, Jacky and I ended up going for a two hour hike through the Short Hills, a provincial park here in the St. Catharines area. We followed that up with a fantastic dinner at the Vietnamese restaurant Mai Vi. Jacky had a dinner-sized bowl of Shrimp and Mushroom Wanton soup while I had the soup as an appetizer and the Crispy Roasted Chicken dinner with rice and curry as my entree. Oooh was it good! Then it was off to see Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn in The Wedding Crashers. I'm finding it hard to give a rousing endorsement to this very popular film. I DID have fun watching it but found that the movie suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. Does it want to be a raunchy, R-Rated comedy like 'Old School' or does it want to be a sentimental romantic comedy? I don't really know but it tries hard to be both with very mixed results. Wilson and Vaughn aren't to blame - they're both very good in the flick and Rachel McAdams is a sweetheart as well. I think the director is to blame here - too much schmaltzy 'chick flick' stuff and not enough focus on the fun elements of crashing weddings. Plus, Christopher Walken, an extremely gifted actor with fantastic comic timing (for example, that now-famous 'Cowbell' skit on Saturday Night Live) is woefully misused in this film. So, a less than enthusiastic **1/2 stars (out of four) for the Wedding Crashers.

Sunday I got to sleep in a bit which is quite a rare event. I was up at 9am and met up with Harris, his friends Preston and Darnell along with my buddy Toast for some breakfast at the golf club around 10:45am. Darnell took off to Harris' place after while the rest of us headed to the new Grand Niagara Golf Resort in Niagara Falls to play a little golf. The Rees Jones designed course is situated right next to the Welland River and will soon be joined by a private Greg Norman-designed course, scheduled for completion in 2007. My three fellow competitors were hell-bent on playing the back tee deck which measured over 7400 yards. I thought it would be a bit much but I was outvoted, so the back tees it was. We set up a little two-man best ball competition to determine who would buy dinner that night. Harris and Preston teamed up against Toast and myself. I boomed my first drive right down the centre on the 443 yard par four opener and we were off. Quite the golf course I'll tell you. I ended up missing a six footer for par on the first hole and then my tee shot on the par 3 second just went over the green. I make the walk to see where I ended up and find that there is a huge collection area beyond the green that sits about 20 feet below the putting surface. Of course my ball is there so I have almost a full-swing lob shot to a pin tucked about five feet on the green. Hit it perfectly and still ended up 20 feet away. Bogey again. I was +3 through four holes but settled down nicely and played pretty well the rest of the nine, parring all the rest of the holes for a great 39. I was able to carry Toast and I to a five shot lead through the front in the best ball match. However, I ran out of breaks at the 13th hole when my drive ended up in a terrible lie just outside a fairway bunker and hacked around for a double. I made three more doubles coming in and ended up with a 45 on the back nine. I certainly wasn't happy that I followed my 68 with such a high score but I wasn't upset: the combination of lackluster play, 7500 yards and no course knowledge were major contributors to the ugly number. Thankfully, Toast carried ME on the back and we were able to obliterate Harris and Preston in our match, giving us a free dinner at Happy Jack's in Fort Erie, a great Chinese food restaurant. They didn't cheap out either, ordering a virtual feast that was truly fit for a king. Mussels, shrimp, calamari, scallops, Shanghai noodles, Happy Jack's rice, sweet and sour pork, lamb...oh my...the food just kept coming and coming. Highly recommended!

I ended the night by heading over to my buddy Rick's place. Rick is an old university roommate of mine and is now living in Niagara Falls with his wife Lea and their daughter Ella. I chatted with Rick and Lea until about 10:30pm or so...a great end to a great day.

I had a 7:30am tee time on Monday to play my semi-final match in the Newlands Cup. My opponent Dave MacPherson was an 11 handicap so I'd be giving him eight shots on the day. Toast joined me as well and another semi-regular also named Dave rounded out the foursome. The match got off to a very strange start: the morning sun was BLINDING off the first tee and Dave hit a wicked duckhook that we lost sight of. We looked for five minutes but couldn't find his ball. For whatever reason, he wouldn't concede the hole and ended up re-teeing. I hit my second shot on the front fringe, leaving a twenty footer for birdie while Dave struggled to reach the green in five shots. When he didn't condede my FOUR INCH PUTT for par (when he was in with a 7!) I figured I was in for a grind. Using that as motivation, I ended up taking a 5up lead through the first seven holes, making par on every one. I was just playing smart, solid golf while Dave was all over the golf course and couldn't even take advantage of his stroke holes. He finally came through on the eighth, hitting his second shot to about 6 feet on the par five hole. I was in the greenside bunker in two and almost holed the shot for eagle, instead settling for a tap-in birdie. Dave was able to ram home his eagle putt to get back to within four holes. Any momentum he had was lost on the ninth, a stroke hole for him. He walked up and hit a huge slice right onto the driving range. He ended up making a seven while I made a two putt par to retake the 5up lead and end my front nine in 35 shots (-1 par).

He birdied the 10th to take the hole and we both parred 11. However, on the par three 12th, he snapped his tee shot into the hazard and made six while I made another routine two-putt par to go to 5up with only six to play. I was FEELING IT again, by the way. Hitting greens in regulation, knocking down key five footers, driving the ball beautifully. On the tough 13th, I hit an 8-iron approach to seven feet but somehow just missed the birdie putt. Dave made a great 4 himself and won the hole with the stroke I had to give him. Down four holes now with five to play, Dave hit his tee shot on the par three 14th just short of the green while I hit my seven iron right at the flag and ended up six feet away. Dave made a poor chip to about 10 feet and missed his par putt, while I ended up having my ball horseshoe out of the hole on my birdie effort. The tap-in par was good enough to win the hole and end the match at 5&4, my most one-sided Newlands match of the year. I shook hands with Dave and we moved on to the 15th hole.

"God, have you even made a bogey today?", he asked. "Not yet", I replied. The closest I've come to a bogey free round obviously was Saturday's round of 68 where I only made the one three-putt bogey. Plus, I was still one under par at this point and still had a chance to record my third career under par performance. I hit an okay drive and a fantastic 2-iron second shot to get within ten yards of the green. My pitch ended up about 10 feet away and I was able to sneak in the birdie putt to get to 2-under. On 16, I hit a perfect 3-iron rescue club off the tee and layed up to 80 yards on my second shot. My lob wedge third was an indifferent shot that ended up about 20 feet away but I was able to just get the ball to the front of the cup...and have it fall in for back-to-back birdies and go to 3-under on the day!

Wow...where is this game coming from?

Still bogeyless, I reach the long par three 17th and hit a perfect four-iron to about 20 feet pin high left. Thinking '68' again, I get a bit frisky with my birdie putt and knock it five feet by the hole. I then badly pull my par putt and miss, ruining my flawless round. Ah damn...

I end up missing another short putt on 18 and bogey again to finish the round at 71, one under par. Funny how a 68 two days previous makes me DISAPPOINTED in a 71!

Either way, I had one subpar round in my entire life prior to Saturday and then chalk up two over the course of three days. As Toast said to me, I'm not really doing anything particularly special out there; I'm just hitting it straight all the time, eliminating mistakes and making some putts. I once again hit 14 out of 18 greens in regulation and hit 7 of 13 fairways. I had a less than inspiring 31 putts so it just shows that I could have been EVEN BETTER than 71.

I'm going to have to reconsider my plans of leaving competitive golf if this keeps up...

Later in the afternoon, I joined some friends in Niagara-on-the-Lake for ice cream and then went to baseball for our semi-final playoff game. Just topping off the unbelievable weekend athletically, I hit a three run home run, my FIRST EVER HOMER, in a 13-2 destruction of our opponents. Unfortunately, I have a business convention next week and won't be able to attend the final. Jacky joined me and my teammates at Somebuddy's, a local restaurant, to celebrate the victory.

What a great weekend!

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Pardon Me?! What Did You Say You Shot?!?

Golf is literally the craziest game in the world. I thought poker and golf were about equal but what I did today on the golf course is almost beyond comprehension. In fact, twelve hours later, it still hasn't sunk in.

As indicated in my post from yesterday, my golf game has been just awful throughout the month of August. Horrible in fact. The self doubt creeps in and you think that you should just abandon any thoughts of playing competitively anymore because you're having trouble breaking eighty on a low-key Saturday or Sunday morning.

And then today happens...

I finally got out of bed around 7:10am after hitting that snooze button every nine minutes for about an hour, giving me twenty minutes to shower, dress and drive to the club to make my 7:30am tee-off time. There were going to be six of us playing today, meaning two threesomes. My buddy Jay was coming out for his monthly game, regulars Toast, Harris and Gary were going to be there along with Charlie, a Sunday regular making his first Saturday appearance.

I arrived with about five minutes to spare and ran into Charlie at the practice green. Jay followed shortly thereafter so the three of us headed to the tee. Toast was just arriving, so he'd drop back and play with Gary and Harris.

Our group almost always plays the back tee deck at St. Catharines G&CC, which measure 6792 yards with a slope rating of 130. However, Charlie was having difficulites with his wrist and asked if we minded playing the blue tees. "No problem, Char" was my response. "I'm playing like garbage right now anyway." The blues measure 6477 yards with a 127 slope rating so there really is only about a one club difference per hole anyway.

So we're off. I bunt a mediocre four iron down the par four 345 yard first hole and have about 160 yards left from the rough. I end up pulling my 7-iron second long left and chip it to about 10 feet. All I'm thinking about right now is "here we go again." Well, somehow, I was able to coax a putt that broke at least three balls right to left into the middle of the cup for a great par. Okay! Let's start PLAYING now!

The second is a 399 yard dogleg left par four. I drove perfectly down the right side of the fairway and hit another seven iron from about 155 to about 30 feet. Bam! In she goes for birdie! "Did you drop any bombs like that last Sunday in your Niagara Cup match?", asks Charlie. "If I did, I'm quite certain that my fate would have been different", I replied. The 397 yard third hole plays over a large ravine with a raised fairway requiring a drive of 240 yards to reach the apex. I pushed my tee shot into the right rough but was able to recover with a shot to the left fringe, about 30 feet from the pin that was back left. I hit a great putt to about a foot to guarantee my par. I then walk up to the 164 yard fourth and hit a knockdown 7-iron to about 8 feet. I read the thing straight in but it ended up moving a bit left on me, giving me a disappointing par. The fifth is a monster; 423 yards straight away into the wind. I hit a drive down the left side of the fairway and had about 180 left to the back pin. I hit a perfect 5-iron but ended up on the front of the green, over 45 feet away. My lag putting was on, however, and almost holed the sucker, leaving a tap in par again.

Six is another monster; 555 yard par five that doglegs left. I hit my worst drive of the day, putting myself behind a tree in the left rough. I had two options: either pull out a four iron or something similar and try to hit a low hook under the tree in order to get down the fairway to a reasonable distance for my third OR take the safer route, hit something like a nine iron over the tree and work from further away. At one under par, I decided to play safe. I hit a perfect nine iron that barely climbed past that top limb and actually surprised me by going all the way past the 200 yard marker. I ended up having about 175 into the front pin and hit a six iron that never left the flag, ending up 8 feet away. After watching Jay hole a 75 footer (!!!!!!!!) from the back of the green for birdie, I calmly cut him up (we play a skins game and this means halving the hole, necessitating an eagle to win the skin) by rolling my putt into the hole to go to 2-under. I made a pretty routine par on the 172 yard par three seventh before reaching the 487 yard par five eighth. I hit my best tee shot of the day here, leaving myself about 220 yards downhill, into the wind, over water, to a green about 50 feet below the upper fairway. I pull my two-iron out and slightly pull it. I did my best Sergio Garcia impression by running to the crest of the hill to see where it ended up and was disappointed to see it just go into the hazard left of the green. Damn. So I drop back about 60 yards from the pin on the line of entry and promptly hit the wedge to six inches. Charlie is just laughing by this point. Tap in par after taking my one stroke penalty. Still on track! Nine is a 411 yard par four that is downright easy compared to the 449 yard tiger we usually play from the back deck. I still have a 5-iron second into the green but hit another perfectly straight shot to 20 feet. Easy two putt and I'm out in 34 shots for the front nine. "Keep her goin' kid", Charlie shouts out.

Charlie is a two time Club Champion at St. Catharines so I was leaning on him a bit during the round because of his experience "going low". My career low round is a 1-under par 71 and I've only been under par that one time after 18 holes. I always seem to get into trouble around the 12th or 13th. I'm already thinking about that on the 10th, a short 467 yard par five. I hit my drive into a nasty lie in the left rough and am forced to hit a seven iron out to about 85 yards from the pin. I hit a nice lob wedge to 10 feet but miss the putt. Eleven is another short one, this time a 315 yard par four. I hit a big four iron to leave myself 70 yards into the back pin. Another iron shot that never leaves the pin and ends up less than a foot away for my third birdie of the day. Now, my nemesis...

The 12th has caused problems all year for me. From the back tee, it's a 205 yard par three downhill to a green protected on the left by water and the right side is protected by two deep bunkers. Early in the year, I was pulling everything into the drink; lately I've been overcompensating, pushing my shots into those bunkers. I'm probably averaging 4 1/2 shots on that hole this year. Today, from the blues, I get a break. It's only 185 yards but downhill to a front pin means a 7-iron. Right at the flag again!!

THIS IS FUN!

Alas, I must be a bit pumped because it sails over the flag and ends up on the upper tier of the green about 25 feet away. I had so much trouble reading this putt that I asked Jay which way he thought it broke. Undecided, I took my stroke and showed my thoughts about line should have been superceded by the pace, as the ball ended up going 13 feet past the hole. I would just miss the comebacker and tap in for my first bogey of the day. And a three putt at that.

Discouraged, I hit the 13th tee and the #1 handicap hole at St. Catharines, a 383 yard par four that doglegs right around a huge forest of trees. Very intimidating driving hole, as the fairway slopes off to the right and feeds balls right into the woods and out of bounds. I confidently struck my drive right down the pipe and had only a knockdown eight iron into the green. AGAIN!!! Right over the flag to about 14 feet. I'm just shaking my head now. I just can't mishit one right now! The putt is severely downhill and has at least a foot of break. Right in the back of the cup! "Why not?", Charlie exclaims. Jay is just laughing. I give a little fist pump. It's SO ON TODAY! Back to three under.

14 is a 167 yard par three. It's playing longer today with the back left pin position. I decide I'm going to play safe and aim for the middle of the green so as not to mess with the bunker that protects the left side of the green. Ummm...not today big guy! I slightly pull my 6-iron; either that or my ball was just strangely attracted to flagsticks on this day. The ball soars right at the flag and softly lands 7 feet away. Oh my! I couldn't have an easier putt as this was straight in. I badly pull the putt and start walking only to find the ball somehow going hard right back toward the hole...only to lip out! Ha! Even my bad strokes are working hard for me! Of course, Charlie and Jay are beside themselves at my "bad break". "How did that not go in?" "You were robbed Matt!", they say. I just laugh and let them in on the truth.

Number 15 is a 518 yard par five that doglegs slightly right after an elevated tee shot. Water comes into play on the left side, gobbling up any pulled second shots. I hit a really nice tee ball and hit a perfect 3 iron to only 50 yards. A little lob wedge leaves me 18 feet away and I have the putt tracking but it just comes up short.

Now, all this time, we're talking about anything but my score. You know the old adage about not talking to your pitcher about his no-hitter or perfect game, right? Well, it applies to golf too. There's a little halfway house (snack bar) on the way to the 16th tee and also serves people coming off the 3rd and 7th holes. Here we run into Andy, another Sunday regular and Charlie's brother. "How's it going Bo?" he asks. "Doing good Double A, how bout you", I inquire. After exchanging pleasantries, he moves to his brother. "Anyone doing some shooting in your group Char?". "Immelman here (pointing to me and refering to my resemblence to pro golfer Trevor Immelman with my visor on) has really got it going today". "Nice! Where are you at?". "3 under", I reply. Andy winks and says "Keep it going Bud...see you on the patio".

I start my walk toward 16 and feel my knees starting to stiffen. I try to do some breathing but fail miserably. Get a grip man! I try to focus as I tee up on the 496 yard par five, which doglegs ninety degrees to the left. From the blue tee, you can easily cut the corner of the dogleg, hitting it over the trees to the fairway in order to give you a shot at the green in two. I pull out my 2-iron rescue club in order to guarantee a shot high enough to clear those trees and proceed to SHANK THE SHOT! Of course, since I was aiming way left to go over the trees, the ball harmlessly dove sharply to the right and rolled nicely right down the middle of the fairway. I would have a very long layup into the lower fairway for my layup but I was completely safe. If you can believe it, that really settled me down. I laughed off the shot and hit the best long iron in ages, leaving an 88 yard third shot. I promptly stuck that one into about 6 feet and calmly knocked that putt in to reach four under par for the first time in my life!

Funny game golf is. I hit the 17th tee and I'm thinking "Ya know, if I double the next two holes, I STILL SHOOT EVEN PAR!!!" Ha! Well, not today bucko! The 206 yard par three 17th is a toughy but I'm JACKED! I hit a big five iron about four paces onto the putting surface and my putt snuggles right next to the cup for another tap in par.

I walk up the hill to 18 all alone. I'm that pitcher walking to the mound in the ninth inning.

With no words being spoken, I tee up on the par four 387 yard finisher, with out of bounds looming right and slightly sky the drive. Thankfully, it's hit straight and I end up just in the first cut about 165 yards away. Somehow, with no nervousness whatsoever, I decide to pick this moment to hit the only poor iron shot of the day into the greenside bunker left. The ball is sitting nicely but on an uphill lie close to the lip. OK...even if you duff this, you'll still make six and shoot 70! Damn! Get those thoughts out of your head! I make sure my eyes never look toward the patio to see who's watching the groups coming in on 18. No need to make myself more nervous. I dig my feet into the sand and the club falls perfectly into the Ohio White. I look up and the ball is just coming down to the right of the hole, ending up 6 feet away. "Beauty!", Jay shouts over in encouragement. After waiting for Jay and Charlie to hole out, I take one last look at my line, take two quick practice strokes and nail the putt dead centre into the back of the cup!

"You finally did it!", Jay beams as he shakes my hand. "Sixty nine!!!", he says.

I laugh. "That's a sixty eight, buddy!!!", I beam.

I shot a sixty eight! That's right! 68!

My first time in the sixties in my life. I best my career low by three shots. I better my handicap by eight, which is VERY RARE for a lower handicap player.

Five birdies and one lonely, three-putt bogey on the card.

I can play till I'm 90 years old and may never improve upon the round I played today. I can tell you without doubt that if this is as good as it gets for me in golf, I'll still be satisfied.

Like Al Bundy and his four touchdown game at Polk High, I'll be remembering this day for a very long time...

Friday, September 02, 2005

So, How's the Golf Game?

And for that matter, how's poker going?

Ah yes, golf and poker. Where to start?

The golf game is in complete disarray right now. I didn't pick up a club for thirteen days during my Boulder vacation and the week that followed just to give myself a chance to re-energize. Umm...big mistake!

My first round since club championship happened to be the fourth leg of the Niagara District Men's Tour. I was in a solid 17th position overall through the first three tournaments (out of 56 members) and looked forward to moving closer to the top ten.

I shot an 85 that day, my worst score of the year.

To put how bad this score was into proper perspective, when I came into the clubhouse, about 15 others had finished their rounds already. My score was the worst on the board by SEVEN SHOTS!

Two beers later, I found that someone else had exceeded my score - I've found that no matter what the score, there's ALWAYS someone who posts a number worse than you! I ended up finishing the event T-44th out of 51 entrants and that 'performance' knocks me down to 22nd overall on the tour with only one event remaining.

The next day I had to go into battle again in the Newlands Cup quarterfinals against Ron, a 10 handicap. Ron is a pretty darn good ballstriker but has always suffered from the 'yips'. Lets put it this way: in the past I couldn't even look at the guy on the greens he was so lost.

Well, he's gone to the long putter and boy does it agree with him. Although my start must have made him consider walking in early. I was four holes up after four, only requiring pars when he bogeyed all of them. He finally got a stroke on number five and took advantage, with his par/net birdie beating my natural par, bringing him back to within three.

That par was the first of ELEVEN IN A ROW. This is a 10 handicap we're talking about! By the thirteenth hole, he had taken the lead on me and held it until fifteen, a 520 yard par five. He finally broke down a bit, pulling his second shot into the water and eventually made a nice six. However, my two putt par brought the match to all square. Sixteen was his last stroke hole: to this point, he had won all six previous stroke holes with par/net birdies...every one! So I felt I needed a natural birdie just to halve the hole and ended up trying to force a driver through a patch of trees unsuccessfully. I eventually picked up and conceded the hole. I was able to par the 200+ yard par three 17th to square the match again before hitting the par four 18th. We both hit great drives and mediocre seconds. I chipped poorly to 8 feet and missed, giving Ron a four-footer for the win. He picked the wrong time to miss his first short one...

We ended up having to go to the 10th hole for the playoff due to another tournament taking place, where I proceeded to pick up my first birdie of the day to win the match in 19 holes. I shot 77 to Ron's fantastic 79 and barely escaped. The semi-final match takes place Labour Day Monday.

I thought I got the game back but boy was I wrong. I got the opportunity to play some 'business golf' on Tuesday the 23rd at beautiful King's Forest Golf Club in Hamilton. Very hilly course and a true hidden gem. I shot another 85, making a triple, four doubles and four birdies during the crazy round. I'm usually a pretty consistent player but the game has certainly become erratic lately.

I followed up that display with an 82 last Saturday at the club in a game with my girlfriend and her mom. I hit about six greens in regulation that day and was completely lost. Unfortunately, we had the conclusion to the preliminary round of the Niagara Cup the next day, with individual match play as the format, thankfully my strength.

Well, at least I thought it was my strength. I got absolutely waxed Sunday, losing my match 3&1 (three down with one to play) and not getting any points (3 points were available: 1 for winning the front, 1 for the back and 1 for overall). Aaron, the monster of a dude I played, was hitting the ball at least 40 yards past me all day and just played beautifully in his first trip to St. Catharines, shooting 73 to my 79. Thankfully, the Niagara Cup is a team-based tournament and our side ended up defeating Hunters Pointe by a 16-14 margin, putting us into the finals that will take place in the middle of September.

My handicap has gone up a full stroke in less than a month. At this point, the season is almost over so I'm not going to get too concerned but I hated losing so badly to the guy, especially in match play.

To be continued...

No Rest for the Wicked

This summer has proved that one can indeed overextend themselves when it comes to work along with social and physical activities. I barely can breathe I have so little 'down time' but only have myself to blame.

My busy schedule has caused some conflicts with the girlfriend and it's something I'm trying to work out. I'll give you an idea of what my average week has looked like this summer. I work Monday to Friday until about 5:30pm or so. Monday night is baseball night with a co-ed team I've been playing with for a couple years. Tuesday nights and Thursday nights have been dominated with ball hockey games. Wednesday nights have been free for the most part but that's the night Jacky plays golf with her friends. Friday night, she hangs out with her friend Shelly and her two kids while I usually work on Eastside Hockey Manager research (more on that in a future post) or hit the golf course for a practice session. I golf on Saturday and Sunday mornings and I almost always have at least one tournament round of golf every weekend (I think I've played 15 tournament rounds this year so far). Saturday afternoons I'm usually so dead tired that I take a nap. We play hockey almost every Sunday night. Throw in a couple hours of online poker in there too.

There's just hasn't been a lot of time with the girlfriend...

Now, I'm my own worst enemy here and don't deserve an ounce of sympathy. I've got to cut back on the extra-curricular activities and I will. Baseball is a goner for sure and I won't be playing volleyball this winter either. I'm also going to cut back on golf tournaments a bit too in order to lessen the load. However, I'm still going to get my two rounds/week in. Hockey isn't going anywhere...hell, I'm Canadian...there's got to be a rule somewhere saying Canucks can never stop playing until they die. I made all of these commitments before meeting her and don't like to shirk on those promises I've made, hence me continuing with baseball. I just won't sign up again.