Monday, May 14, 2007

Niagara Men's Tour: Peninsula Lakes

The second round of the first tournament on the 2007 Niagara Men's Tour took place yesterday afternoon at Peninsula Lakes Golf Club in Fenwick, Ontario.

As indicated in my last post, the first event is a two-round tournament that doubles as a qualifier for 44 other players looking to pick up one of the 24 spots available and join the 30 exempt players for the 2007 season.

Thankfully, I'm one of the lucky exempt players after finishing in the top-30 on the 2006 tour so I could just go out and try to put a good round together and hopefully, finish in the top-five.

Things started great, took a serious bad turn then the ship was righted.

Sounds like every one of my rounds...

We were playing the original 18 (Hillside and Quarry nines) at Peninsula Lakes, which is now a 27-hole facility. The first hole is a short par four and I went four-iron, wedge to about three feet and made that for a birdie to start.

The 227-yard par three second saw me hit a four iron just short of the green, hit a poor chip to about 10 feet but I made that to stay at one under.

The wheels came off on the straightforward par five third. With the wind blowing right to left, I picked a bad time to hit a high hook and it bounced hard left off a bunker and went about five yards out of bounds. I reloaded and nailed it down the middle.

With no chance to reach the green, I pulled a five iron from the bag and pull-hooked it a foot out of bounds AGAIN! I don't know how I kept my composure...

Reload again and hit it to about 130 yards. Hit on from there, two putts and I'm on the card with a NINE. Ugh.

The signature fourth at the Hillside is a big dogleg right par four over water. Hit a great drive right to the 150-marker but my uphill seven iron came up just short. I couldn't get up and down and was now four over through four.

I settled down from there. Two putt par on the par three fifth; up and down for par on the par four sixth. I almost hit the par five seventh in two but missed a ten foot birdie putt for my third consecutive par. Routine two putt par on the par three eighth and then I knocked home about a 12-footer for birdie on nine to somehow finish the front in 39 shots despite the quadruple bogey nine.

I was pretty pumped about that!

On to the quarry nine and the first hole is a very difficult 430 yard par four with water all the way down the left side. Think #18 at Sawgrass, but not quite as intimidating. I bailed out right and had 205 yards with a horrible lie in the rough. I hit it left of the green, hit a horrible pitch to 18 feet and promptly made it for par. Ha!

Got up and down on the par three second for another par and made two more up and downs for par on three and four.

The putter started to fail me a bit from there but I had been making everything to that point so maybe it was just karma or something. I three putted the fifth and sixth holes for bogey then almost hit the long par five seventh in two. Hit a really nice chip to about six feet but hit an aeration mark on my birdie effort and it slipped wide left.

I three putted for the third time in four holes on the par five eighth and barely missed my birdie on the par three ninth to come in with 38 on the back side and a 77 overall.

Scores were much lower at Pen Lakes than they were at Lookout the week previous but I still managed to move up one slot to sixth place overall for the two-day event with my 157 aggregate score (80-77), a nice start to the year for me. My best finish last year was eighth I believe in the last event of the season.

I barely missed 'the money', as the tour provides vouchers for the top five finishers for each event - last year it was the top six so I was getting on the tour committee for that, jokingly of course!

On the ugly side, while there were some fine finishes by some of the qualifiers, it turns out that a two-day total of 176 was good enough to qualify for the tour. That's 88-88 folks...

It seems that the tour is watered down somewhat this year and it's a colossal disappointment. I wish guys like Gary and Toast would try to qualify, as they, along with many others, are good enough to contend on this tour but they have their reasons for not playing (don't like afternoon golf is Gary's reason). I would guess that there are only about 20 guys that truly have a chance at winning any particular week, and that is likely being generous.

I include myself in that mix, so it may be exceedingly generous! ;)

That means a lot of 'field-filler', which is too bad. The tour and the hard-working committee deserve more.

Regardless, it won't ruin my enjoyment. I love the competition and had a blast yesterday, playing with Jim, the tour champion last year. He shot an easy 71 yesterday and it's truly a pleasure playing with guys of his calibar. It's pretty easy to keep your mind in it when you have someone playing well like that, especially if you are as competitive as I am.

The next event is in two weeks and will be held at the highly-regarded Niagara Parks Whirlpool Golf Course. It's a great old Stanley Thompson design and I think scores will be pretty low out there. I look forward to trying to improve on my sixth place finish!

Unfortunately, Harry won't be around for the rest of the year on tour. He shot a disappointing 87 yesterday, with two 8's and two 7's on his card. That's too tough to overcome. With a 95 in the first round, his 182 aggregate came up six shots short of qualifying outright and four shots short of being an alternate.

I know he's frustrated: Harry hits the ball as long as anyone at St. Catharines, is a good ball striker and has some decent touch around the greens too. We just have to work on his mental game, specifically course management and he has to get more accurate with his scoring irons. He has a willingness to improve and practice and knows his weaknesses, so I strongly believe he will start to get better in short order.

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