Monday, July 09, 2007

Niagara Men's Tour: Port Colborne G&CC

The fourth leg of the 2007 Niagara Men's Tour took place yesterday afternoon at windswept and rainy Port Colborne G&CC.

I want to first set things up by briefly going over my 'warm-up' round Saturday at St. Catharines.

I've been playing some of the best golf of my life lately and my ball striking especially has been incredibly good in relation to what I've done previously. The key for me has been two subtle changes:

First, I lowered my hands at address and let them hang down naturally instead of setting them high. For me, it almost feels like I'm pressing my arms down into my stomach but in reality that's not the case. This is allowing me to start in a proper position on the backswing and my hands are returning to where they should be on the downswing.

Secondly, I am setting my wrists earlier than I have in the past, cocking them around 9:00 on the dial. For whatever reason, this is simplifing things at the top of my swing and taking some moving parts out before my transition to the downswing.

These two rather simple moves have me hitting almost 12% more greens in regulation than I was at the same time last year. That's nothing earth shattering but one or two more greens in reg means less up and downs for par and more birdie opportunities.

Regardless, I have a lot more confidence than ever with long irons in my hand.

All that being said, it's like I forgot how to play golf on Saturday. I started my round with five consecutive bogeys and no fairways or greens hit in regulation. Just peutrid in every respect.

Boy was I discouraged.

But I made a nice up and down for par on six and parred the other holes on the front to go out in 41 shots (+5).

That's when I got hot.

I made a nice putt on the 15th hole for birdie to go THREE UNDER on the back nine and only +2 on the round. I'd lip out for birdie on #16 as well but then the wheels fell off at the end of the round, as I finished bogey-double to shoot a 77 (+5).

I was pretty peeved about the finish but it was a pretty solid result overall considering my start.

So anyway, that leads us to Port Colborne and the 4th stop on the men's tour. I entered the day in 14th place overall on the tour after finishing sixth in the two-round first event at Lookout Point and Peninsula Lakes, an ugly 32nd at Whirlpool in the second event and a disappointing 12th place finish at St. Catharines, my home course.

I truly felt that I had a solid chance to shoot a subpar round on Sunday and possibly contend for my first ever win on tour due to my recent form.

I had a great group: I was playing with the current points leader on tour, Matt G, a former Ontario Junior champion and another young gun, Andrew E, who is currently 6th overall on tour. Both of these kids can flat out play. Our fourth was Frank M, a great guy from Lookout that I beat in the
Niagara Cup finals last year at Beechwood.

I nailed my first drive perfectly down the middle of the par five first and we were off. I got a bit antsy waiting for the group ahead as I had only 235 yards in for my second and ended up snapping it well left of the green. I ended up nailing my lob wedge long, chipped over the green again and finally got up and down for a brutal bogey. Ugh.

The second hole at Port is a toughy: 378 yards dogleg left with a little creek running down the left hand side. I drove perfectly to 115 yards and my pitching wedge to the back pin location stopped four feet away. Made it for birdie to get back to even. Whew!

I drove perfectly again on the par five third but again, my rescue approach left little to be desired and ended up in a creek right of the green. Thankfully, the creek was completely dry and I was able to play it out nicely to 20 feet and two putted for par.

I parred the 180 yard par three fourth, using a nine-iron off the tee which illustrates just how much wind was out there. This hole was playing three clubs downwind!

That brings us to the interesting risk-reward par four fifth hole. Playing only 268 yards from the tips but there is a large pond in front of the green. I decided to go for it and ended up about 15 yards to the right of the green in good shape. My pitch shot went 12 feet by but I inexplicably three-whacked for an infuriating bogey.

The 210 yard par three sixth was playing into the strong wind but my perfect 3-iron rescue went long. Couldn't get that up and down either and now I was +2.

My struggles continued on the difficult par four 7th but I made a nice up and in from 20 yards in front of the green for par. I'd get into trouble once again on the 402 yard 8th hole, necessitating a pitch out from trees. Another bogey there and a routine two-putt par on nine for a 39 (+3) on the front.

Matt G had a disappointing even par 36 on the front after starting out -2 through 4 holes while Andrew also shot a steady 36.

I started playing much better golf on the back nine. Routine two putt par on 10 and a disappointing par on the par five 11th. I barely missed my 15 foot birdie putt on the 174 yard 12th and was still even on the back.

My poor form on par fives continued on the 13th. Great drive; pathetic rescue shot just right of the green and I couldn't get up and down, having to make a tough four footer just to save par. Geez. The par fives out here are very benign and I just couldn't take advantage.

I ripped a nice drive on the straightway 14th, a 343 yard par four and my wedge approach ended up 15 feet past the flag. I knocked that one down for birdie to move to +2 overall on the round.

I made a nice up and in for par on 15 and barely missed my birdie effort on the par five 16th to set things up for the difficult 17th just as it started to ABSOLUTELY POUR!

It's a 184 yard par three that was playing into an unbelievably stiff breeze and a large pond fronts the green. We also had to sit in the rain for ten minutes as the group ahead of us finished. Bernie B, a fellow St. Catharines member, was playing in the group in front of us and chunked his tee shot here all of 25 yards. We watched as he flew the green on his approach and somehow got up and down from there for the great bogey.

I watched as my fellow playing partners went right (Matt G) and left (Andrew) before I hit the tee. My 4-iron was perfect: right at the flag the whole way and it stopped only three feet away as the rain continued to come down hard! Awesome!

I curled that in to applause from my playing partners to reach +1 on the day and have a chance at this thing!

However, I lost my grip a bit in the rain on the 18th tee and had 214 yards left on the 434 yard par four finisher. I ended up just right of the green, chipped to three feet and MISSED, making a disappointing bogey to finish with a 74 (+2).

Andrew ended up shooting an even par 72 while Matt G must have been feeling some of the home-club pressure I felt at St. Catharines, as he stumbled to a 41 on the back and a 77 overall. Frank also came in with a 77.

The scores were a bit lower than usual at Port, with the wind and rain really the only things causing havoc out there. I finished in a tie for 8th spot. There were two 71s, two 72s and 3 73s.

Still, the 74 is tied for my second best score ever on tour, with only my 72 at Beechwood two years ago bettering it so I'm pretty pleased. I believe my finish at Port will move me up to 11th overall on tour with only two events left. I also get to 'throw out' my worst round, as the tour uses only the best five events when calculating the standings at the end of the six event tour so hopefully I will improve even more when they throw out my poor result from Whirlpool.

The next leg of the tour takes place in August at Pelham Hills G&CC in Welland, another course where scores will be low.

I'll be playing quite a bit of golf this week as I'm finally taking a week of vacation time, my first since my honeymoon in November of 2006! I'm scheduled to play St. Catharines tomorrow, Cutten Club on Wednesday then I'm back at St. Catharines on Thursday right through Sunday.

I play my first Langley Cup match (St. Catharines G&CC match play championship for 0-7 handicappers) on Thursday and will be getting FOUR SHOTS in the match, as I play young up-start Jamie, a +1 handicap! What a match that will be!

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